Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Planners, take your best shot

That's my face on a dartboard.
Correction, that's my much younger face on a dartboard.

And if you are a Planner or you are involved with Strategy or the construction of briefs with their many triangles, trapezoids and parallelograms, not to mention bullet points, asterisks, and run on sentences, today is your lucky day.

Today is about retribution.

And getting back at the old 44 freelance copywriter.

You see, fresh off the chart-busting success of my previous book, Round Seventeen &1/2, the Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient, I began work on my next opus. That's right another book is on its way.

Regardless of what you've been told, people do judge a book by its cover and so a lot of time and thinking has gone into the packaging. I had already picked the design for the front and was going over the many options for the back. That's when it struck me, more accurately that's when a certain unnamed Planner from NYC who took exception to my current WPP campaign, because of my "tired hate the planner trope" struck me.

So I've decided to let Planners have their day.

And plaster the back cover of the new book with scathing, go-for-the-jugular literary reviews. It's not even important if they have read the book -- which if they have been following Round Seventeen, they have -- it's more about the opportunity to flip the table and turn the skewer into the skewee.

What do I mean?

Here's a picture of the back cover of Round Seventeen & 1/2:

It's littered with fake nasty reviews from real literary publications.

"Blowing out a candle does not make one a firefighter, any more than clacking away on a keyboard makes one a writer." -- Tim Farnsworth, Ploughshares.

The plan is do something similar.

Only with real quotes from real Planners.

This is not just an opportunity to flex your creative muscle. This is an opportunity to exact some measure of vocational vengeance. To vent. To lash back at the irrelevant dinosaur who has ruthlessly torn into your profession and left the bloody mess scattered about the blogosphere for all to see.

It's Open Season on the Creative Department.

Lock and Unload.

Winners will be selected based on wit, cruelty and inventive invective.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Almost at the Finish Line

Sir Martin Sorrell receives an online petition from change.org requesting Rich Siegel be made the new Chairman of WPP.

"Helen, what is this? I think my iPad has been hacked."


"Helen, have the IT guys add another block to my account: George Parker, Bob Hoffman and Rich Siegel."


"Helen, alert the press, we have our new Chairman."

These are just some of the possible reactions to my impending candidacy. Of course none of this happens unless the petition reaches the bare minimum of a hundred signatures. At this writing we are 88% of the way there.

If we don't reach our goal, and thanks again to Gregg Bergan for starting the effort (without any prompting from me, BTW), then advertising as we know it will continue on its dreadful course.

You know what I'm talking about: thin margins, data-driven dreck and the proliferation of FFDKK, Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™.  It can change, but only if you take the requisite 3 minutes to click the link, sign your name, give a fake address and be done with it.

This month we've reached the highest traffic numbers ever in the 8 years I've been writing RoundSeventeen --about 15,000 page views.  And in that time I've never asked you for anything.

Except for the occasional call for new taglines.

Or the time I begged you all to buy my book, RoundSeventeen &1/2, The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient.

Or the time I figuratively swam across the Straits of Gibraltar to raise $1200 for the Wounded Warriors.

Or a year later when I repeated the swim, only longer, across the English Channel to raise $4000 for our veterans.

OK, I have asked in the past, but most of you have just ignored me and enjoyed this semi-premium daily dose of humor absolutely free.

I've been digging around the very public financial records of WPP and discovered they (we?) command more than $19 billion in revenue. I can't promises, actually as the new Chairman, I can make plenty of promises. And $19 billion butters a lot of bread, wink, wink.

So, the 100 of you that get on the change.org list can look forward to many handsome rewards: an office with a window and a door that closes, weekends off, Saturdays AND Sundays, and a personal invitation to my end of Summer New Orleans-themed BBQ, I make a mean Sazerac.

Those of who didn't sign the petition will find yourself on a different list. One that I have committed to memory. 

Did I mention I have the memory of an elephant?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Hills are Alive...

You might not gather from reading this blog or even knowing me in person, but I like to think of myself as open-minded.

I'll eat new foods (particularly if they're spicy).
I'll drink new drinks (particularly if they're alcoholic).
And I'll work for new clients (particularly if they're paying well).

And so it was with great curiosity that my wife and I, while doing our regular hike up the Baldwin Hills Scenic overlook, came across a group of musicians playing in the pavilion erected for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and other events where people might congregate for pigs in a blanket.

There, we saw a group of musicians cobbled together with no rhyme or reason (literally), "playing" before a spellbound crowd. We had been walking a good three and half miles before we stumbled upon the trio and had assumed we got there just as they were warming up.

There was a lot of tuning up.
A lot of random note playing.
A lot of silence, in between the short spasms of sound.

Little did we know, this was the "music".

Even more confounding were the throngs of people pushing through to get a good seat to listen, I'm sorry, experience, this one-of-a-kind performance. We waited and waited and the music never seemed to get going.

So we laughed and decided we had better things to do with our time -- maybe clean fish or snake the drain in the shower or refill the window washing fluid in the Acura.


So on the way out we stopped by the admissions desk and grabbed a flyer with more information and a schedule of upcoming events. I'll want to save the date for those.

Turns out the entire extravaganza was put on (and I use the words 'put on' intentionally) by the quintessentially Los Angeles, SASSAS -- Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound.

I wish I had video captured the event -- which was like every Woody Allen trope about Southern California all baked into one Bundt cake. Sadly, I didn't.

But SASSAS has thoughtfully archived hours and hours and hours of their musicians, in what can only be described as the Shoah of Performance Art.

To wit:

Even though the event was free, I still wanted to ask someone for my money back.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Senseless in Seattle

Sent to me by my daughter, from the campus of the University of Washington.

Apparently the Students for Justice in Palestine or the Popular People for the Liberation of Palestine or the PLPF or PPFPL (obscure Life of Brian reference) have adorned one of the campus quads with fake tombstones to commemorate the loss of life in the resistance.

What these ill-informed students fail to realize, or more accurately choose to ignore, is that the loss of life in Gaza or on the West Bank is largely due to Palestinian provocation.

Had these innocent "freedom fighters", walking through the streets of Jerusalem or Haifa, not whipped out a 10 inch kitchen knife and tried to stab an Israeli on his or her way to work or the bakery or the dry cleaners, they would still be breathing fresh air.

Similarly, had the tunnel-builders in Gaza not fired off homemade rockets or rockets smuggled in from Iran and launched them across a sovereign border, they too would be eating falafels and not pushing up daisies in some hardscrabble parking lot which by the way with a little work and elbow grease could be an incredible oceanfront resort on the Mediterranean Sea. Or a school. Or a hospital.

Of course that's never been the Palestinian way.

They prefer victimhood to livelihood.

Or as one Hamas leader famously put it,

"We love death more than you love life." 

If that statement is to be believed, shouldn't my daughter's imbecilic classmates at the University of Washington be thanking the State of Israel?

Were they to open their eyes and look at the entire region they'd notice equal rights, safety and security are found exclusively in the Jewish state, where women --showing their face no less-- drive cars, gay people are not thrown from rooftops and Arabs openly serve in the Knesset, that's the Israeli parliament for those of you not up on the region.

Most perplexing however, is the deafening silence from these "students" with regards to the 300,000+ people gassed, bombed and murdered just a few hundred miles to the north in neighboring Syria.

And the 5 million refugees displaced from their homes, at the hands of their fellow Arabs, now pouring into Europe, not Turkey, Lebanon, or Egypt.

If they were to construct a graveyard marking those figurative and literal victims, they'd need considerably more empty space than what they found on the campus at UDUB.

About this much more:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jacob's Ladder

Don't know about you, but I make it a point to stay on top of industry news.

It's good to know which companies are losing accounts. And which companies are winning accounts -- which they will no doubt lose once the "branding" campaign fails to generate more than 138 Facebook likes or 79 Youtube views and franchisees/dealers/VC investors demand the agency start moving the needle.

But as I tell other freelancers, or creatives who are forced to freelance because they Got Quit, turmoil is your best friend.

It's also good to stay abreast on who is getting promoted.

Last week, I noticed several folks took on new and semi-important titles. I'm sure these promotions were followed by celebratory mylar balloons, nominal social media congratulations from jealous colleagues and a lot of hemming and hawing from the Executive Suite:

"Congratulations, you now have the title and responsibilities of a Group Creative Director. But uh...we don't have any more money for you. We've all got to tighten the belt. I'll tell you more about your new job when I come back from Cannes."

Who wouldn't want get promoted, right?

Well, it's taken me 44 years, but I'm here to tell you it's all Fool's Gold.

Particularly in the creative department of an ad agency, where the goal is to finally be the one who decides what gets shown (and hopefully sold) to the client and what gets left in a deck that will never been by anyone but the janitorial staff.

Guess what Mr. or Ms. Young Group Creative Director, you're not the one making those important decisions. And neither is the guy or gal above you. Or even above them.

In fact, unless you have your name on the door and your mugshot is the first one people see on the agency website, you have no more voice in the matter than the Assistant Associate Content Strategist, who only last year was organizing the bake sale at the University of Wisconsin chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma.

In today's world of advertising, and this happens in every agency from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, the Chief Creative Officer is a not an officer at all.

He or she is a Committee.
A Council.
A Partnership.
A Board.
A Panel.
A Bureau.
A Conclave.
A Tribunal.
A Junta.

And I've only reached the third paragraph of the online thesaurus.

Years ago, you'd hear many agency people derisively call Focus Groups, Fuck-Us Groups.

In our collective race to the bottom, we have successfully pre-empted those soul-sucking gatherings of know-it-all housewives and deadbeat tuna fish sandwich hoarding dads, and internalized our own everyone-gets-a-voice, politburo-like processes. Yeah, Go Team!

On the death of creativity, I have seen the enemy.

And it is us.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Feel The Bird

Last week I declared my candidacy to replace Martin Sorrell as Chairman of the WPP organization, one of the world's largest advertising holding companies.

Many of you mistakenly read the piece as nothing more than Swiftian delight, an exercise in hyperbole and inside-the-park trade satire.


So very wrong.

You see, on this matter, I'm as serious as a missing page in a PowerPoint deck. I really should be the next WPP Chairman. For the reasons I spelled out earlier last week. And for many more, which I will put forth today.

First, let's talk about the criteria that guides all decisions in the advertising world -- the creative quality of the work. (Cupping ear with left hand) Oh, I'm being told that is no longer the case and the number one criteria governing decision making is now, wait for it...Money.

Fair enough.

As has been reported in the trades, Sir Martin Sorrell's compensation package including stocks, options and "performance" bonuses over a 5 year period was approximately $120 million USD.

You can be sure other potential candidates will be swinging for the same fence. But this 44 year old freelance copywriter will not.

I'm gonna do the gig for less. Substantially less.

I'm a man of modest needs. I don't like wearing suits. Or hard leather shoes. I don't need $100 haircuts. I trim my own mustache. I like Knob Creek and Maker's Mark, but have no problem drinking Jack Daniels. Get me near a pool, some free weights and a hiking trail and I won't need any expensive gym memberships. Plus, I like driving my 2007 Lexus LS 460, so I don't need any new fancy wheels.

And because I like round numbers, WPP, I'm in for an easy $10 million a year. Easy.

I haven't even talked about the money spent on traveling. I don't like flying. I don't like the food in London. Paris makes me feel claustrophobic. And a $5 million Brownstone in New York? Won't be necessary.

I'm prepared to perform all my duties as Chairman of WPP from the comfort of my home in Culver City. I would however put in for a new Herman Miller chair as the mesh netting on my current model is beginning to yield to the constant pressure of my 200+ lbs. butt.

I understand as the titular head of such a large organization that I will need to make some appearances east of La Cienega Blvd., and here again my modest nature will pay handsome dividends to the WPP organization.

You see I am more than willing to fly Business Class. I don't need the exorbitant and wasteful niceties found beyond the faux crushed blue velvet curtain. Give me a wide seat and promise I'll never have to eat the Beef Stroganoff they serve in Coach and I'm good.

Special Note: I get to fly Business Class even if travel time is less than 6 hours. I know HR and Finance people get sticky on this but on this point there can be no negotiation.

I'm running out of room and I haven't even discussed my platform or policy changes, which I think many women, brown people and Fucking Jews will appreciate. In the next few weeks I shall continue to use this digital soapbox to lay out my qualifications for the job as your new chairman of WPP, which originally stood for Wire and Plastic Products.

Here too, we see how life has come full circle. My first job, other than running two newspaper delivery routes, was working in my father's office in downtown Manhattan at the Brownell Electro Company, the nation's 138th leading distributor of industrial electrical wiring spools.

And my intimate knowledge of wire products did not end there. Upon landing in California after college, I also drove a forklift at the Brownell Electro warehouse in Compton. And stood shoulder to shoulder with many Crips, Bloods and former residents of the Department of Corrections.

In other words, I'm a man of the people.

And I will be a man of your WPP people.

Rich Siegel 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It's a Dog's life

If you're like most dog owners -- maybe "owners" isn't the right terminology, god knows I don't want to offend anybody -- you pick up food for your dog at the supermarket. Or at the PetCo. The PetSmart. The PetBox, whatever. And if your dog has special needs, maybe you go to one of Los Angeles' many doggie boutiques.

In any case, you slap your money on the counter and they fork over the food.

What a lucky bunch you are.
You see, apparently I'm not like other dog owners, again I apologize.

A couple of years ago, Nelly, pictured above, had her gall bladder removed. Her liver was malfunctioning and her enzyme count was too low. Or too high, I don't remember. I do remember shelling out a semester's worth of college tuition money to remedy it all.

And as you can tell from the smile on her face, it was well worth it. I'm no poet and don't have the faculties to put into words what it is we get from dogs, I only know that we do. And knock on wood that the 14 years we have enjoyed with Nelly will go another 14.

My wife says I'm being stupid and unrealistic.
But it's not the first time I've heard that.

Since the surgery, Nelly has been on Prescription Dog Food.

Prior to all this, I had no know idea there even was prescription dog food. I suspect you hadn't as well.

I grew up in a middle class suburban neighborhood that still bore it blue class roots. When dogs or cats got sick, or caught a cold or broke a leg, they simply put 'em down. There were no veterinary hospitals or 100,000 square foot warehouses filled with automatic water dispensers, electronic fences and lambskin doggie beds.

There was Ralph on the corner, selling replacement puppies.

But times are different. And since switching over to the prescription dog food there has been a remarkable improvement. So much so that we decided to keep Nelly on these low fat, gastrointestinal FDA-approved nuggets of protein, protein and more protein.

On my last visit to the one store in Los Angeles that carries these foul smelling, fishy meat pellets, I was told my prescription card had expired. Meaning, if I didn't get it renewed I would no longer be able to get Nelly's fix.

All of which has me wondering, is there some kind of Prescription Dog Food Black Market that I'm unaware of? A Mexican Cartel of K9 Nutrition Profiteers?

"Yo homie, check it out. I got ten kilos of free range chicken. This is the good stuff man."

I'm not one of those people who prattle on about the Nanny State. I understand the need for limited regulation. But doesn't the government have better things to be doing?

Like monitoring public restrooms.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May I present your next WPP Chairman...

Last week it was announced that Sir Martin Sorrell, Chairman of WPP, one of the world's largest advertising holding companies, has begun the search for a replacement.

I know this is normally not done, but I'd like to throw my proverbial 'hat in the ring.'

Let's start where all good arguments start, with Maurice Levy, Chairman of rival Publicis, another one of the world's largest advertising companies, who said, quite publicly...

"Whoever succeeds Sorrell needs to be a good human being -- not wicked and nasty, generous and not greedy, sharing and not selfish or egotistical."

With the exception of egotistical, I believe I measure up to all those criteria.

Despite my gruff writings, I am a good human being. I put the seat down. I pet puppies. I give dollar bills to people standing at the end of freeway exit ramps, unless I judge from their appearance that they are going to spend the money on drugs or airplane glue.

And I am in possession of a good working moral compass. That alone separates me from 75% of the potential field.

I'm not wicked and nasty, though I have been known to exhibit a short fuse with people in the office who are: a.) stupid, b.) incompetent, c.) drunk, or d.) all of the above. This, I would contend, is an indicator of leadership.

And to Mr. Levy's last point, I believe I am generous and share easily. On more than one occasion I have used this blog to take a stand on greater profit sharing for all agency employees. I've railed against C-Suite money grabbing. And have always gone out of my way, in presentations and/or interviews to use the "we" word and acknowledge the contributions of my partners, even if they wasted countless hours watching Internet porn.

My fabricated endorsements don't stop there.

At the recent International Andy Awards Festival, my former boss and advertising icon Lee Clow said:

"Every ad agency should be led by a creative person."

Some might argue that Clow was referring to a thoroughbred recognized creative with a closet full of awards and odd-sharped acrylic trophies.

I never picked up a Cannes Lion, mostly because the one agency coordinator "accidentally" omitted our ABC submission, two years in a row, but I am in possession of a 1997 LuLu Silver and a 2004 Telly Award, ok, it was Merit of Excellence.

You might be thinking, "Rich, you're a 44 year old freelance copywriter, what do you know about business, real business?"

I'll grant you I'd need some boning up on the bean counting. But my father was CPA. My uncle is a CPA. And my brother is a CPA. Plus, I'm Jewish. I don't know if you've heard, but we're good with money.

Last week I bought chlorine for the backyard jacuzzi. I found an online source that sells the 5 lbs. jug for the same price as the 3 lbs. jug found at the brick and mortar store. Saved 42%.


I don't know how this is all going to go down. But for all my friends at Team Detroit, JWT, Y&R, Possible, etc., you need to stuff those ballot boxes, lobby hard for me, and sign all your time sheets with: Siegel for WPP Chairman.

Do that, and I promise:

-- More free Bagels

-- Offices for everyone

-- The abolishment and/or reduction of Frivolous Fuckwadian Digital Knick Knacks™

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Not So Urgent Care

Let's say you're on your way to work.

Maybe your day started a bit earlier than normal. Maybe the neighbor's dog managed to sneak through the gate and get out before the sun has risen. And maybe, for no apparent reason started barking, loudly, at the cinder block wall.

On your way to work and the never-ending slog up Stinking' Lincoln Blvd. you spot this young lass twirling a sign like a veteran Chinese Plate Spinner. And you think to yourself, "Yes, bacon and eggs does sound good." And, "Yes, I happen to have two dollars and ninety nine cents in my possession."

So you "treat" yourself to a spontaneous breakfast at Norms.

That's how these sign spinning things work.

And as you've probably noticed, it's not just apropos of greasy spoon diners.

Apparently, this ubiquitous marketing can induce a spur of the moment car washing, the preparation of one's income tax returns or even the purchase of a new home.

I get it.

But imagine my surprise, when leaving the gym the other day, I spotted this fellow.

(Note: I literally drove past him, then a mile and half later decided it would be worth a trip to circle back and get his picture. Ironically, the guy holding and spinning the sign was so stoned he didn't mind posing for me.)

Let that sink in for a second.

It's a man holding a sign (though they really should have sprung for the giant arrow shaped model) coaxing drivers into the Playa Medical Urgent Care Center.

I'm trying to picture how that works.

"Mmmm, I've had this open sore on my forehead. And now it's starting to ooze. And oh, damnit some of that pus just got in my mocha frappaccino. But wait, there's an Urgent Care Medical Center that can tend to the gaping hole in my skull and guarantee future specialized coffee drinks will not be besmirched by my unwanted and unsavory bodily fluids. Ooo, and they offer validated parking."

Since I was up close and personal with the sign spinner, who honestly did a lot more shimmying and shaking than spinning, I asked him up why they had him out there on the corner.

"I don't know, man. I guess they just trying drum up some business. They need the the money. Something about a lawsuit."


Dirty (I've been inside there once before), desperate and currently under litigation, everything I'm looking for in a health care facility.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Planners may want to plan to look the other way

If you find yourself getting excited and want to board the bus for the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference --Oh yeah that's a real thing -- well, don't.

The magic markers have been put away. The whiteboards have been scrubbed clean. And the assemblage of our industry's best and brightest thinkers/makers/linguistic gymnasts have already disassembled, returning to their respective agencies, ready to semantically torture any junior copywriter or art director within earshot.

The 2016 Planning-Ness Conference, God, I love saying that, was last week.

I could not attend as I was actively engaged in real advertising -- writing BOGO ads for a leading maker of eyewear, building traffic for a software distributor and crafting a Summer Sales Event for one of America's leading automakers.

"Hurry in now cause Summer's going fast and so are these deals."

You know, the stuff that keeps the lights on and pays the salary of account coordinators and holding company officers alike.

Selling shit.
Moving merchandise.
Making Skip ads.

I didn't have time or the inclination to make it to some of the rigorous, informative sessions:

How to Have a Good Day.

How to Design for Happiness.

How to Find your Yoga 

(no touching your toes or yoga pants required)

By the way, if you were to check the link, you'd see those were actual forum titles. I'd like to say that I made them up, but I didn't.

I take a lot of guff for the way I manhandle planners and poke fun at whatever it is they do or purport to do, but the truth is I could never out-mock the self-mockery found within the hallowed halls of the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference -- did I mention how much I love saying that?

Lest you think I am alone in my open contempt, you should know, I am not.

I receive emails and texts, almost on a daily basis, from fellow writers and art directors who thank me for my tireless battle with those who would enslave us with their 9 page briefs, indecipherable trapezoids and parallelograms and jargon-fested word salads.

In fact, a hat tip goes out to one of these unnamed copywriters for alerting me to the 2016 Planning-Ness Conference. As well as an equally-amusing Tumblr called Planners Talking Planning.

From there, I give you this amazing navel-gazing video which manages to illustrate everything I've been saying for the last 8 years of blogging in just the first minute and 37 seconds.

To be honest I couldn't, like, you know, like, get past that, you know, like, point:

Perhaps as a counterweight to all this I should reserve a bus and a hold my own seminar next year:

Bullshitting-Ness 2017

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Week's Top Pix

I have always wondered how good photographers are able to snap pictures worth looking at. How hard can it be? You point the camera and click the button. It's something any idiot can do.

Except this idiot.

I had an uncle, or a cousin, my father was never good with keeping track of family, who was a professional photographer. He must have been good. He had a house on Long Island. And he drove a Cadillac.

In those simpler times you could always tell who was successful. They drove Cadillacs. Either they were very good at their job. Or they were mobbed up.

My oldest daughter has a good eye for photography. Her art teachers always told us she was uniquely talented in this arena. But she has decided to forego that interest in Photography for the more lucrative field of Public Health Administration.

In any case, the writing muscle needs a little R&R today, so I've decided to share some photos I found on my iPhone.

Spotted at a welding shop on Jefferson Blvd. on my near daily walks to the Baldwin Hills Overlook.

 Taken at the Baldwin Hills Overlook.

Last week we hiked Fryman Canyon, where an old VW Thing had fallen over the crest and been buried in the ground. I convinced my reluctant wife to sit in the car.

For no apparent reason.

And finally, to end on a laugh...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Formerly Empty Nest

I was told by those who know, that when both my daughters left the house last September, my wife and I would find unexpected pleasure in the Empty Nest.

I wrote these people off as kooks.

Possibly misanthropes who did not love or enjoy their children as much as we did. There was no way I could take joy in my girls being away. A thousand miles to the north and the east.

I had the hardest time with the beginning of their college adventures.

But now one of the messy birds has returned to the nest. And with the completion of coursework in Early 17th Century Russian Furniture Upholstery and Organic Chemistry 101, the other one will not be far behind.

Oh shit.

The second bathroom upstairs already looks like a landfill of make up, and wet brassieres and other mysterious feminine toiletries I know nothing about.

The kitchen sink is full of dishes that can't go in the dishwasher, because last night's load has not yet been emptied.

And the neighbors have once again begun shooting me dirty looks for taking up valuable parking space on the street with our three vehicles.

Oh and the good sharp Irish cheddar cheese I like to treat myself to, is all but gone. There's not enough to make one nacho.

It's still mid-Spring and I have a whole Summer of this mishegas to look forward to.

Perhaps this bout of grumpiness has also been compounded by the fact that I am dealing with a Strep Throat. Infected by a germ that was no doubt living peacefully in Boulder, CO but managed to attach itself to my daughter's 113 lbs. of luggage, board a Southwest Airlines 737 and take up residence in my previously unswollen salivary glands.

Oh well, I always have that prescription cough medicine. Mmmmm, sweet nectar of relief and possible dizziness and euphoria.

Also, by the end of August, when it's time for them to go back to school, I'll be singing a different tune.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An evening of high culture

As the tagline, which I haven't changed in more than two years, of this blog indicates, I never sugarcoat. Telling the brutal honest truth may not be the most brilliant strategy. But it's the only one I've got. And it's a little late in the game to change the filter. Or buy a new one.

Part of the "all truth, all the time" philosophy means coming clean with myself. And so I am here to confess I am the world's worst reader.

My wife, who at times is a voracious reader, will often point that out. Sometimes to perfect strangers.

We could be at a party.

"Hi, I'm Debbie, a sales rep for Harvard Business Review. This is my husband Rich. He's a writer. But he doesn't read any books."

She takes great pleasure with my incongruous illiteracy.

It's painful. And I'm trying to remedy the situation. Scattered among my files, mostly TV commercial scripts and screen grabs of Kim Jung Un, I have lists --100 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Suggestions by Ernest Hemingway, top English professors, even BuzzFeed.

I'll buy the books, but never get around to reading them. It's hard to commit time to reading when LeBron James is running up and down the hardwood or when the Internet is teasing me with can't miss videos. Did you see the one of the bear eating a handful of habanero peppers?

But I have made more of an effort, and succeeded, with a few books written by David Sedaris. He's dark. He's twisted. And he writes in a style that is conducive to reading, in that I can pick up one of his books and find myself thoroughly entertained for 3 hours at a clip.

And so a few months ago, I suggested my wife and I attend a book reading he was doing at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. The same building where my synagogue, overflowing with congregants, holds it High Holy Day services.

In fact, the seats we had to listen to Sedaris were just a few rows in back of the seats we normally sit in to listen to God. I'll tell you right now. Sedaris is funnier and more compelling than the Host of Hosts, Our Almighty Father.

I, for one, would much rather hear about Sedaris buying culottes, an interesting sartorial choice that enables optimal scrotal ventilation, than King Solomon slaughtering lambs and taking on the Babylonians.

Prior to this evening, I hadn't been to too many book readings and did not know what to expect. I'm here to tell you I may be going to many more. I can't remember when I laughed so hard.

In between the hilarious stories, David would litter the evening with tiny anecdotes, how he goes about writing, and a tiny glimpse into the life of a celebrated author. He tells of one fan who purchased two books, one for himself and for his estranged mother.

"Mr. Sedaris, this book is for my hateful mother. Can you inscribe it with something incredibly disturbing?"

Dear Miriam,

Your son left terrible teeth marks on my cock.


David Sedaris

Like the title says, An evening of high culture.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Bite at the Apple

Oh no, I can hear you muttering, we've reached that point in the RoundSeventeen Self Promotionpolluzza where Siegel whips out old ads in a desperate attempt to remain relevant and contemporary.

Yeah, that's why I posted an old full page newspaper ad. Because nothing says contemporary and ready to tackle the new media landscape like 400 square inches of pulp-based antiquity.

The truth is, I was nosing around my garage, weeping over old photo's of the kids -- photos you could actually hold in your hand, by the way -- and came across across this classic from 1994.

For those of you keeping track, I was 22.

Also, perhaps by fate, I came across an interview with my former boss Steve Hayden, the original copywriter on the classic 1984 Super Bowl commercial.

Steve was one of my favorite bosses. He's a tall silver-haired man with the kind of upper crust whiteness you'd expect to find in a restricted Connecticut golf club. He's also incredibly smart, professorial PhD smart.

But his appearance is completely deceiving.

Because not far below that intimidating surface is a self-deprecating, prank-loving, mischief maker who could hold his own with any 14 year old. Sometimes I can tell a story and make people laugh. Steve can tell a story and make people snort all manner of liquids through their nose.

He was also my mentor during those turbulent days at BBDO, working with the Apple client. As I describe on my resume, these were the dark, rudder-less, Steve Jobs-less days in Cupertino and the company was literally circling the drain.

My partner and I had the good fortune to draw this assignment -- celebrate and thank the makers of the original Mac computer. And rereading the body copy, I like to think I was able to mimic the distinctive Apple voice.

If memory serves, there was a follow up on the very next page that read, "And Why 2001 will not be like 2001." (I can't find that ad) But I do remember we had to secure permission from the author of 2001, A Space Odyssey book, Arthur Clark, who was living in the swampy suburbs of Mumbai.

It isn't often that advertising facilitates such close contact with the iconic forces that have shaped our culture.

Pretty...pretty... heady... stuff.

And I consider myself very lucky.

Had it not been Apple and had it been 2016, a thank you sentiment from a client would have merited nothing more than a 1/4 page ad in the back of the program at the San Luis Obispo Dinner Theater presentation of Guys and Dolls.

Parking validated with a stamped admission ticket.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Honey Badger Do Care

In my early days as a staff copywriter I was told -- on many occasions -- that I cared too much.

I was raised to believe that if I was going to do a job I might as well do it right. So caring too much never made any sense. There were other cliches as well. All equally baffling.

"You need to learn to pick your battles."

"Don't fall on your sword so often."

"I think your works sucks, but don't take it personally."

As I've mentioned on this blog before, that led to a great many heated confrontations. Rightly or wrongly, in hindsight mostly wrongly, I took great pride in my work and what I put on the table.

Eventually the hairs on my head stopped growing. The hair in my ears started. And my skin got thicker. Meaning I became more immune to the slings and arrows aimed squarely at my ideas.

I'm 44 now.
No longer a staffer, but a sniper.
Just a paid mercenary to come in, take the shot, and collect a check.

The wisdom that was wasted on my youth is finally sinking in. I think I've finally kicked this annoying caring habit.

Well, almost.

Last week I was hired to do a job, remotely. I was dealing directly with the Chief Creative Officer. Who was looking for platforms, TV scripts and digital engagement ideas. In other words, my perfect working conditions.

At the end of each day, I would send my progress to the remote location. And at the beginning of the next day I would receive feedback. This is where it gets tricky, because it's hard not to care when the reactions goes something like this (not to violate any NDA's but these are verbatim):

"Great stuff."

"LOL, Love you, Rich."


"FUUUUKKKKKK, these are perfect."

Each of these appreciative quips were followed by a detailed lengthy directive on what was expected next. Orderly, concise, and to the point because it came directly from the top. For one brief week I actually enjoyed what I was doing and had some fun at this advertising business.

I hope that's not going to be a problem.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Playing with Fire.

It has now become a weekly occurrence.

One of the trade magazines, Adweek, AdAge or AgencySpy, will announce the hiring or promotion of one or several executives to high level positions. With it, comes the obligatory, carefully-styled press photo.

If in that photo, there is not one woman, one African American, or one member from the LGBT community (though I don't know how he or she would be possible to identify) the social justice warriors kick it into high gear.

It is as automatic as the folks at WingStop getting my order all wrong.

This is not to say that I don't understand.
I do.

I agree that the business is dominated by young, soft handed, white dudes with an overabundance of lumberjack shirts and stupid over-manicured beard cuts. And I fully concur that the industry would be much improved with a heaping helping of diversity -- including some more old people in the Creative Department, I never hear that from the outraged keyboard clackers.

Once more, I also understand that even going near this topic is opening myself up to a torrent of criticism. Thankfully, I'm getting to a point in my career where I can speak my mind, because frankly I don't give a shit what people want to believe about me.

Truth is, I hear and read a lot of complaining about this scenario, but very little in the way of concrete solutions. Allow me to suggest that the answer may be in gardening.


You see an ad agency is like a tree. For it to grow and bear sweet, juicy fruit, it needs pruning.

First, let's get rid of C-Suite Ass Nuggets -- People who make rape jokes. Bosses who manage up and never see the people beneath them. Drunks, drug users and anyone, particularly CEO's, who operate with a broken moral compass. Or, more precisely, no moral compass at all. That's a good place to start.

Second, let's identify the redundancies -- An account, even a difficult account, does not require a legion of Planners. We already have too many cooks in the kitchen. Do we need too many recipes as well? One planner, on one account, should suffice. And if you've been reading RoundSeventeen for any length of time you know that even one, may be one too many.

Third, let's keep identifying the redundancies -- Sorry to get repetitive, but the planning department is by no means the only culprit. How many times have you walked into a meeting to discuss a banner or a down and dirty 15 second spot and been confronted with an army of attendees? What the hell do all these people do? Making Skip Ads is just not that complicated. It's not.

Fourth, let's put the management in Management -- How is it that an assignment can change 5 times in the course of two days? Why are the people with MBA's and supposed logistical expertise not able, or willing, to steer a client? And guide them along a well-thought out path towards an agreed-upon goal? I suspect there's more order and efficiency in the governmental offices of Mogadishu in Somalia.

And finally, let's respect our elders -- This one is self-explanatory. And if it's not, consider the fact that a tree's growth and sustainability are a largely function of a quality root system.

If we took any or all of these suggestions and pruned wisely, there'd be more room at the top, and everywhere in between for women, African Americans, Asians, Latinos and gay people.

Oh and old guys.

Did I mention old guys?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Can you keep it down?

If you know me at all -- I've only given you 1439 posts on this blog to manage that meaningless feat -- you know there is nothing I treasure more than peace and quiet.

If you've seen me in my natural environment, sitting in my Herman Miller chair, hands on the keyboard, and littering the Internet with random snarky comments, there's a better than 95% chance I'll be wearing my Bose Quite Comfort 15 over-the-ear-headphones.

I've now owned two pair in the course of 6 years and gone through enough AAA batteries to power a a jerry-rigged, broke-down Polish submarine around the world.

I'll watch sporting events on TV while wearing them.

I'll occasionally nap wearing them.

I've even worn them through a meal with my wife. She's fine with that and doesn't want to listen to me drone on anymore than you do.

Now, as you can see from the picture above, I have a new weapon in my arsenal to wage in the never-ending battle against unwanted noise -- whether it be barking dogs, my neighbor's annoying 6000 horsepower Ford Mustang or the 5 AM reverse beeping alarm of a garbage truck at nearby Sony Studios.

(Editorial Note: If you're standing behind a garbage truck at 5 AM in the pitch darkness of early morning and you don't have the good sense to get out of the way of a 10 ton vehicle, precipitating the need for a high pitched alarm that travels miles in all directions, you deserve to be run over and crushed like a worthless penny at a carnival midway.)

These new HUSH earplugs just arrived this morning. I'm tempted to spit out my coffee, shed my cargo shorts and climb back into bed just to try them out. I'm so excited I'm like a kid on Christmas morning, only without all that screaming and jumping up and down and excitement.

OK, bad metaphor. I'm more like an old Jew on the morning of Yom Kippur. Wake me up when I can eat.

I discovered these newfangled earplugs online and gladly signed on during their Kickstarter campaign.

Were they expensive? You're damn right they were expensive. But I've decided my daughters need to start dating men of wealth so I can spend some of their inheritance money on Me.

I'm pretty sure these new French made gadgets are going to do the trick.

After all, anytime an enemy has come knocking on their borders or threatened the sovereignty of the French nation, they've been pretty good at ignoring it and sleeping through the whole affair.

I know, a cheap joke, but I'm already getting sleepy.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Lost Art of Storytelling

Know the difference between a 44 year old copywriter and a 24 year old copywriter?

About 30 seconds.

Allow me to rant, because if I don't get this out of my system my intestines will start a mutiny, half the house will come uninhabitable and my wife, generally of pleasant disposition, will hound me about the placement of my running and hiking shoes in every room but the closet.

As it has been pointed out to me in many private emails and direct messages, I go to great lengths (and possibly take too much pleasure) in pointing out the vocational flaws of my younger colleagues.

I'd love to stop.
Really, I would.
But this one particular pet peeve happens with such regularity, I dare say it's like clockwork.

I'll be summoned to a creative check in. For you laymen, that's when copywriters and art directors are called upon to genuflect before their superiors -- the Planners and the Account Executives -- and present the work they have developed, you know, since the last creative check in, 5 hours ago.

It is a fascinating study in agency dynamics, where one can witness career jockeying, pointless posturing and the full range of modern day office backstabbing techniques. It's also where I get to see the next generation of creatives present their hastily-assembled ideas.

And when I say "ideas", of course I mean their regurgitated drivel that manages to click off every box, tonal instruction, support point and mandatory found on the planning brief.

This is where the inexperience shows. Because the reading of a typical 30 second TV script can often last 7-8 minutes.

You know you're in trouble when you hear the rustling of the paper and the young copywriter takes a breather, a sip of water from his or her  plastic water module, and turns to Page Two of the script.

Here's a hint young people. A TV script for a 30 second spot is like a resume, even an over-enhanced resume. It all needs to fit on one page.

Similarly, a 15 second spot should not include more than three "Cut To's". Too many scenes equals too many reasons to Skip Ad or change the channel.

I'm well aware of how this comes off. So let me just say that I, and my many various art director partners, have stepped in the same piles of shit. Our spots were too wordy. Too complicated. And too labored. It's all part of learning the craft.

It's what you do when clients keep adding messages to the messaging.

The 10 lbs. -- now 11 lbs. -- must fit in the 5 lbs. bag.

I get it.

It's hard to navigate all the various agendas.

It's not easy to say No. And it's even more difficult not to be labeled, "difficult."

Perhaps that's why so many 24 year old staff copywriters become mercenary 44 year old freelance copywriters.