• What'd We Learn When Grenadier's Jeff Graham Hosted ONCE?

    / Comments (2)

    What’s ONCE? It’s a chance for a small group of hand-selected individuals to make the most out of an opportunity that is given to them once. One night. One hostage. One group of peers. One location. That will never be replicated again.

    A few days ago, Jeff Graham — partner and account lead at his just-over-a-year-old Boulder agency, Grenadier — hosted a Session. Eight individuals had Jeff as their “hostage” for several hours, with gloves-off access to the brain of a former Account Director at Arnold, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Core and Crispin Porter + Bogusky. He’s lead brands like Virgin Mobile, Geek Squad, Volkswagen, Epiphone Guitars, Indian Motorcycle, Microsoft, Triscuit, Old Navy, Under Armour, Jack Daniels and the NFL. And he taught all of us an amazing amount about being an account lead clients love and creatives love to work with.

    Here's some of what we learned.

    – – – 

    The location, an abandoned building located in old-town 5 Points, helped set up our “top secret,” intimate event. The cold, brisk air completed with snow falling from the sky helped create a sense of calmness as I embarked on this unknown experience. Inside, I was greeted by other account folks who, just like me. weren't quite sure what to expect. After shaking hands with everyone and getting a quick bite to eat, we all sat down in a very small room — lit by a single lightbulb and situated ourselves in a circle around a cooler full of booze.

    There we sat, getting to know one another, understanding each other’s paths — where we started, where we’ve been and where are we now. It became apparent that although all of us in the room were “considered” account folks, each one of us played a different role at our agency and were at a different part within our career. However, as we continued to Q+A with our host of the evening, Mr Jeff Graham, I think we all realized that at the end of the night, despite our roles, career paths and even chairs that we were asked to bring — we all were focused on how to be a better account lead. Mr Graham, was honest, yet inspiring as he opened up to all of us. He confirmed that no one is perfect, but we can always strive to be better. And the best way to be a better account lead is to be true to yourself and find what works for you and own it.

    At the end of the evening, I realized that it’s a very rare occasion that any of us are surrounded by our like-minded peers in a non-competitive, "anything goes" type of environment. It was nice to be able to ask questions and speak openly without the fear of being judged. For once, it was an event that you didn’t have to be associated with an agency per say, but instead a group of your peers who understand what you’re challenged with, day in and day out.

    – Kara Watada | Account Director | FEAR NOT

    – – –

    Jeff started the session by speaking to the diverse and talented ad world in the Denver/Boulder area. “Why not us?” was his message. I heard a very similar message from the Seattle Seahawks quarterback the night before when they won the Super Bowl and, while advertising is a very different "sport" than football, the message was clear. We can be just as strong as the ad community in NY, LA, Minneapolis and are well on our way. It showed that he has a lot of faith in Colorado agencies and was a great confidence booster for all the hungry account people crowded in the basement of a junky old building, during a snowstorm and at the end of a full day of work.

    Jeff's clear message about the two items that all account people should come to a creative kick off with —- a unique insight and great energy — is such a simple and attainable goal, yet so easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of crunched timelines, limited budgets and demanding clients. If all account people could arm themselves with those two items before ever downloading a creative, we would have much happier and more productive creatives — ultimately making the life of an account person easier.

    In referring to himself as a “Creative Account Guy” he explained that being creative in an account role can range from getting scrappy with some self-made research, creative methods for meeting a deadline, all the way to developing a truly unique insight that instantly sets creative in motion. We all have something to offer and can have an effect on the end result.

    Finally, even if you don’t develop a perfect brief, if you take the time to create one and challenge yourself to look at it from different angles, put energy into it, show that you care by being prepared and come with some motivation and positivity to a creative download, you will inevitably gain more respect and be better received by your creative team. This, in turn, makes the process more fluid and creates better work, which makes for happier clients and ultimately a more successful agency. Jeff’s raw delivery and innate passion and respect for the creative process is such great inspiration for any account person at any level.

    – Blakely Strickland | Group Account Director | LRXD

    – – –

    :: Your creative brief should be a reflection of your agency. The culture and philosophy should be baked in, in some way. No two agencies should be able to use the same one. And if a client can understand and fill out your agency's brief on their own, it's probably not the best creative tool.

    :: We, as account people have a responsibility to set the tone for each and every project that we run. Even if the client is less than thrilling, it's our job to find the silver lining and to motivate the rest of the team. Passion and enthusiasm are contagious, as are negativity and pessimism, so if we expect good work from our team, we absolutely need to avoid the latter. Jeff Graham is living, breathing truth of how important this is in driving great creative work.

    :: While it's easy to let the daily grind and ridiculous insanity of advertising get in the way of what drew us all to it in the first place, it is possible to keep your enthusiasm and passion for the industry alive and well. There are innumerable things about Jeff Graham that make him one of the best account guys of all time, but his continuous love and appreciation of great advertising has to be at the top of the list. It's truly impossible to hate what you do when he's around. It's no wonder everyone wants him on their team.

    – Jen Miller | Account Manager | Victors & Spoils

    – – – 

    1. Respect the brief.
    It is all about the brief. No, really, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE BRIEF. As an account person, you have to learn the importance and treat it with the same thought and time that you expect out of the creative project that you're briefing on. Coach clients on the importance of the brief and their input. It is important for them to understand that the brief is an integral part of the strategic process that they hired your agency for.

    2. Your agency is your client.
    Understand that your team and your agency is your number one client. Harness and grow that relationship. After all, these are the people who will be in the trenches with you.

    3. Know the importance of maintaining your own personal brand by truly being you.
    Like the brands we serve, create and maintain, you, too, are a brand. Everyone on a team is a contributing piece to the overall puzzle. Know what your piece is, how you can make the puzzle better, and be the only person on the team who can fulfill that space.

    4. It's ok to have a bad mouth.
    We are in advertising, and some of the most successful thought leaders in our industry have a crude vocabulary — it's who they are, it's ok, and it can be charming.

    5. Care about the creative as much as the "creatives."
    The end product is what matters. Repeat.

    – Camille Heinrich Ziccardi | Senior Account Manager | Karsh Hagan

    – – –

    Last week's ONCE Session was inspiring. It was such a unique experience, to hear Jeff's point of view on a range of topics, in the company of account people from almost a dozen other agencies. I learned a lot, but maybe the most important thing was that the things we stumble over on a daily basis will never go away. We have to turn our focus to making the work better, from our perspective, as account people. Jeff talked a lot about the value of a good creative brief and input. We were all aware of the power of a good brief, but he inspired me to put the responsibility on myself, as an account person and the originator of each campaign, to make this step of the process more meaningful and inspiring to the creative team. He shared examples of good and bad briefings that led to good and bad work, pointing out the opportunities taken and missed. He challenged us all to be a bigger part of the creative process and to become more effective account people.

    – Kristin Lee | Account Executive | Cactus

    – – –

    Jeff's comments on the importance of a creative brief struck me the most. Certain projects are just as mundane and boring to an account person as they are to a creative team. If the brief lacks enthusiasm or any type of insight, then the greatness of the work is limited and bound to be just "okay." Not every brief will be amazing or inspire, but there is no excuse as an account not to provide a creative team with a piece of invaluable insight at the start of the project.

    Hearing about Jeff working under a CD early in his career who welcomed his creative opinion and wanted him to break away from being a stereotypical account person resonated with me. I was fortunate enough to work under a CD who told me to go out and get an idea notebook, try and write it in every day. Just like Jeff's CD, he hated the idea of the division of departments. His whole point was that anyone can be a critic, but the best relationships between a creative and account come when the feedback is given in a relatable manner. Because at the end of the day a creative is tasked with having to make something fucking awesome every day.

    – Desmond Branche | Creative Account Coordinator | Cultivator

    – – –

    :: Account needs to hold themselves responsible for the client relationship — If you have a difficult client relationship, then it is your job as the account liaison to change the situation. Which leads me to the next point...

    :: Mentoring clients is just as important as mentoring staff — Let's make it a focus of Account Service to make better clients, not just better account people. Spend time educating clients on how your agency works and the steps that need to be taken in order to get the best creative product.

    :: Research is not planning — Planning takes research and turns it into an actionable strategy and point of view. This key insight is the foundation for any brief as it gives the creative a clear perspective and starting point for developing concepts.

    :: Your most important client is your agency — While Account Service can be the internal voice of the client, ultimately you need to be true to your team and be a champion of the creative product.

    :: Be the account person that creatives turn to, not run from — Be yourself, give the teams the input and direction they need, understand they have the hardest jobs in the agency, and stand united with them.

    – Ainslie Fortune | Senior Account Director | Factory

    – – –

    It was snowing, negative degrees and I was walking into what looked like a dimly lit abandoned building on Brighton Ave. with little idea of what to expect. I had heard about rumors ONCE and the night certainly didn’t disappoint. Jeff’s intense passion for the art of advertising was contagious and lit a fire in me.

    :: Every creative brief needs an insight. Period. We all know this, but so often find ourselves strapped for time and dumping what Jeff referred to as “dirty diapers” on our creative team’s desk to let them clean up. Don’t do this. Give the brief the time it deserves, it’s your objective yardstick. As account people, we have the ability to set the tone for each and every project we introduce. Come to the table with passion and smart, strategic thinking even for the un-sexiest of projects — the creative will follow suite.

    :: Be a creative account person. Don’t work at places that don’t allow this. Be scrappy, imaginative and above all else passionate.

    :: Be the account person your team wants to work with. Respect the work and the process; give your team what they need to be successful. After all, how would you like to live with the fear that one day you might run out of great ideas?

    :: Your agency is your most important client. Don’t lose sight of this. Fight any necessary battles before the presentation; when you’re with the client you’re a team.

    – Brenna Hersey | Account Executive | Amelie

    – – –

    I thought this was a great event, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Honored that you guys asked me to be an account side speaker for this. The idea of "Ted Talk meets Fight Club" is a perfect way to describe ONCE.

    I loved the cloak & dagger aspect of not knowing where it's going to be, or who is going to be there. The venue was very fitting. I liked the range of attendees — from young/new account folks to people who are group account leaders. It allowed the conversation to go from very basic stuff to higher level topics. Be sure to maintain that. This is an incredibly cool, innovative event series — and I hope you're able to get more folks to do it.

    – Jeff Graham | Partner_Account | Grenadier

  • The Power of the Olympic Brand

    / Comments (1)

    With the Sochi Winter Olympics in full swing, which is capturing the attention of most of the people in America and for that fact the world, I thought I would take a look at the power and strength of the Olympic brand. The Olympic brand is so strong because of its longevity, neutrality and people around the world’s love for sport! Let’s take a look at some of the numbers that support the power and reach of the Olympic brand.

    It is pretty amazing that in America alone, the 2012 London Olympics brought in more than 219.4 MILLION viewers, making it the most watched event in TV history, surpassing the 2008 Beijing games (215 million viewers). According to olympic.org, London 2012 had a global reach of 3.6 billion people – the highest in Olympic Games history – drawing in viewers from 220 countries and territories around the world. In contrast, the last time the Olympics were held in London was 1948, marking the first time TV coverage was available to viewers in their homes. Nearly 500,000 people tuned in within a 50-mile radius of the city. Sixty four hours of programming were made available.

    In 2012, the host broadcaster, Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), produced more coverage than ever before, which was provided to the International Olympic Committee’s Rights-Holding Broadcasters (RHBs). The RHBs in turn broadcast approximately 100,000 hours of Olympic coverage across more than 500 television channels around the world during the Games – far exceeding the 61,700 hours that were broadcast during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Digital coverage also grew considerably in the four years since Beijing, with internet, mobile and other digital platforms exceeding television coverage for the first time. In total, official broadcast partners delivered over 1.9 billion video streams globally on more than 170 websites and other digital platforms during the Games.

    For the first time, the IOC also broadcast live and on-demand Olympic Games content on its YouTube channel in 64 territories in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, providing more than 2,700 hours of broadcast coverage and delivering a total of 59.5 million video streams during the Games, including 34.5 million live streams.

    No wonder you have advertisers in the United States, and the entire world, who are clamoring to be included in, connected to and part of the power and reach of the Olympic games and brand. The numbers and amount of coverage is huge! In today’s digital and social media world and the rush of over 11,000 press at the Sochi games is going to be bigger than ever! The Olympic brand and reach is one of the most recognizable and powerful around the world. Let’s sit back relax and enjoy the sport and spectacle of the Olympics and their brand!

    Michael Doyle is Founder and CEO of Denver's Brand Iron. This piece was originally posted to the agency's blog, Seven Secrets of a Brand Champion.

  • My Wife Doesn’t ‘Get How It Is In Advertising.’ (And Maybe Yours Shouldn’t Either.) - Mike Howard

    / Comments (4)

    Remember the whole Magnolia cupcake thing?

    This isn’t an entirely rhetorical question. I have friends and colleagues now who were very possibly in their early teens when the Magnolia cupcake thing was a thing. I’m also willing to acknowledge that some of you will have never heard of the Magnolia thing, hence couldn’t possibly remember it. So for the sake of clarity, allow me to share what I’ve come to know:

    At some point during the waning years of the 20th century, a little bakery opened in the West Village, and apparently they made some freaking epic cupcakes.

    In fact, if you’ve currently got any sort of “upscale” cupcake concept littering crumbs on the floor of the food court at your local shopping mall, you owe a debt of gratitude to the Magnolia Bakery, 401 Bleecker at West 11th Street — Ground Zero of The Great Cupcake…Craze? Revolution? Thing? Whatever.

    Of course, as with all great New York Things, by the time Magnolia cupcakes made cameos on Sex in the City, Saturday Night Live, and in the pages of US magazine, its cool had already chilled. As the Mainstream queued up to gobble their little pastel-frosted baked goods, those who arrived first to Magnolia party had already backed away from the table.

    Be that as it may, my wife still wanted her some o’ them fancy New York City cupcakes, dammit! And I was tasked with securing them.

    We were living in Miami at the time. Julie was seven months pregnant with our first daughter. I’d uprooted our little family from Boston just two short months earlier so I could take a job at what was arguably the most acclaimed and innovative advertising agency in the whole, wide world — Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

    It was a dream opportunity — a potential career-maker, for sure, but much more than that, it was an identity. It was like being selected for the US Advertising Olympic Team. Or maybe more like being initiated into the Advertising Hell’s Angels.

    CP+B was not the sort of place that hired established ad-industry rock stars. It was the sort of place that made them. Lots and lots of them. My friend Rob Strasberg, himself one of the most talented and awarded creative directors in the business, took great pride in the fact that CP+B was populated with creative mutts like him — people who couldn’t get hired at the more storied, “elite” creative agencies, but who’d instead found a special home with this scrappy upstart in South Florida.

    Alex Bogusky, the creative heart, soul, brains, dreamy hair, and leader of the agency had a tremendous talent for recognizing these mutts, and was forever optimizing and streamlining the structure and the culture of his agency to remove every single, solitary obstacle standing in the way of the work we did.

    And work we would. Harder than we’d ever worked in our lives. Harder than we ever thought we could. In return, the work we did would be some of the best of our careers.

    Critics both inside and outside the agency, would decry CP+B as a “sweatshop,” but then, it wouldn’t be the first time a great creative culture had to bear that cross. Steve Jobs’ Mac development team, was the stuff of legend with its “90 Hours/Week and Loving It” tee-shirts. Indeed, Apple’s longtime ad agency, Chiat\Day was long characterized both with pride and derision by its infamous nickname, “Chiat\Day and Night,” and mottos like, “If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday.”

    Ninety-hour weeks notwithstanding, dismissing these cultures as “sweatshops” just means you don’t get it (not to mention, you definitely don’t get the dynamics of an actual sweatshop). By the way, I’m not insane. I completely get why you wouldn’t get it. Especially if you aren’t in advertising or some other business like it.

    Those who do get it will understand. CP+B was an opportunity factory. One colleague summed it up nicely when he told me, “You could build yourself a whole career just picking up the little assignments people drop on the floor here.” He was right. There were no piddly jobs. No dogs. Everything had the potential to be great. Everything was expected to be great. Those who do get it will understand how rare that is. Those who do get it will understand the weekends, the all-nighters, the double-all-nighters — they will understand no sacrifice is too great to be part of something so great.

    I got it. My wife, however, did not.

    She did not get, for example, that child birthing classes at 4:00 PM on a Thursday were simply not gonna happen for me. Newborn care classes? Baby CPR? Prenatal yoga?

    “Yeah, kind of a pain in the ass, babe. I’m super slammed at work. Do I really need to be there for all that stuff?”

    She didn’t get my point. Not one bit.

    She didn’t get that when you go to the West Coast for production, there would sometimes be down weekends with nothing to do. She didn’t get why I couldn’t come home for those weekends, even though it meant a redeye on Friday night, a completely delirious Saturday, and a return trip on Sunday that would positively wreck me. She needed my support. She needed me home. And so no, she didn’t get my point.

    And she didn’t get that when I traveled to New York for business, it was a business trip, not a cupcake-getting opportunity. She didn’t get that I could not, during the weeks I would spend away from home, commit to stealing away, even for a single hour, in the service of her cupcake errand. She didn’t get it, because it was our wedding anniversary, after all. Our fourth. Our first we’d spent without each other. And those cupcakes were all she’d asked for.

    “It’s work, honey. I’ll try, but seriously I can’t promise.”

    Nope, she didn’t get that. Not at all.

    My wife and I have met plenty of advertising couples in our travels — there are plenty of them to meet. People fall in love with their co-workers all the time, of course. It happens in every profession, and I’ve got exactly zero statistical evidence to prove it happens at any significantly greater rate in the ad industry than in any other.

    Still, there is some undeniable correlation between the demands, the pressure, the hours, the passion, the battle fatigue, and the abundance of of young hotties both male and female in our business that seems to make people more prone to making out with, and eventually marrying, their colleagues.

    Sometimes, they continue to work with one another. Often, one of them takes advantage of the opportunity and bails on the business, leaving the other one to take it for the team. Some have children, others don’t. No matter what their current circumstance, some version of this exchange always seems to take place at some point:

    Them: “Yeah, it can be rough sometimes — the hours and the stress (or some combination thereof) but I was/am in advertising, so I know how it is. I know how it goes.

    I get it.

    What about your wife? Was she in advertising? Does she get it?”

    But no. No she wasn’t. And no she doesn’t.

    No, our new, cute little ad-couple friends, we can’t offer you that convenient handhold. See, my wife and I met long before either of us had a career of any sort. I was an aimless college dropout and a (masterful) tender of bar who partied entirely too hard. She was an aimless hippie chick, smoking lots of weed and clerking at a little shop that sold silver jewelry.

    When we finally got engaged we had only slightly more direction in life. I was back in school, still tending bar at night, and working as a secretary. (Full disclosure: I was secretary to the aforementioned Mr. Bogusky, but that’s another story.) When we got married, I was taking an ill-fated stab at law school (I quit after just four months). In short, we’d struggled through plenty of challenges in our relationship. The advertising business was only the latest of them. After all we’d been through together, my wife wasn’t about to let me off the hook now. She wasn’t about to let us, and the family we were building together, take a pass. She wasn’t about to simply lay back and “get it.”

    Yet here it was, my last day in New York. My flight back to Miami was that afternoon. And I still had no cupcakes.

    I was working with some friends at an edit facility up on W. 25th near Broadway. Again, my wife would not get it, but it was the middle of August, and it was well north of 90 degrees, which would make for an exceedingly sticky cab ride down to W. 11th and Bleecker. Not to mention that, when I finally gave in and embarked on the journey, my NYC cabbie insisted the two streets did not intersect. He insisted the address didn’t exist! I found this funny somehow. It imbued these cupcakes with a sort of talismanic quality, which to me, just added to the foolishness of it all.

    But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, because way before I ever considered getting in a cab, I was still back up on W. 25th, and I was a very, very important person. I was a very important client, in fact, working at a big-time editorial facility on a very important project on behalf of (lest you forget) perhaps the most acclaimed and innovative ad agency in the whole, wide world! But when I phoned Magnolia Bakery, they didn’t get it, either.

    As it turns out, they didn’t deliver. I figured as much. No matter. I asked if they could pop a half-dozen or so of their finest cupcakes into a pastry box and I would send a courier down to pick them up for me. Because that is how playaz roll.

    Their answer: “No sorry, we can’t.”

    Me: “You can’t?”

    Them: “We can’t put our cupcakes in a box.”

    Me: “You don’t have boxes?”

    Them: “We do, we just can’t do that?”

    Me: “Still not following. You’ve got cupcakes. You’ve got boxes. Can you put six of one into one of the other?”

    Them: “You could send a courier and he could do that himself.”

    Now, I’ve been to bakeries before. Granted I’d never been to this one, but nothing I was asking seemed to deviate from standard bakery operating procedure as I’d understood it up to this point. So I still didn’t exactly understand what’s going on here.

    Me: “But I don’t want sweaty, greasy courier hands on my wife’s cupcakes. Wait, did I mention these are for my wife? It’s our anniversary? She’s pregnant? First child? We live in Miami but I’m here on business and all she asked for were your Magnolia cupcakes?”

    Them: “That's nice, sir, but we still can’t box them for you.”

    Me: “Can’t? You mean you’re physically unable to place cupcakes into boxes?”

    At this point, negotiations deteriorated rapidly. F-bombs were hurled from both sides. My favorite part was when I spat furiously that I would tell every single living organism I knew now, or would ever meet, about my abysmal Magnolia Bakery cupcake service experience!

    The man on the phone scoffed, “Okay, you be sure to do that.” And just like that, he hung up on me. Magnolia Bakery Guy called my bluff. I should note this was the world as it existed a mere two months before Yelp was founded.

    I realized I’d been shouting. So did all the other people in the edit facility. I was still shaking with the remnants of my impotent rage when some of the folks who worked there approached me cautiously to ask what was going on.

    Magnolia is overrated, they assured me, and gave me the name of another bakery that produced a far superior cupcake product minus all the Magnolia hype.

    Heartened, but still quaking with indignation (and somehow still completely oblivious to how ridiculous I was being), I called Julie.

    I recounted the dialogue in detail, did my best to relate the rudeness — the nerve! — to which I’d been subjected. Who did these cupcake people think they were?! How dare they treat their customers like that?! My voice was getting shrill again, and I was working up a sweat.

    “Can you believe that?!” I said, “I’ll be damned if I’m buying their fucking cupcakes!”

    I suddenly realized I’d been going on for some time with absolutely no response from the other end of the line.


    “I don’t care,” she said calmly.

    “What?! Seriously?! I mean, you wouldn’t believe…”

    “It’s not my problem, Mike.” Again, perfectly calm.

    “Are you saying you still want me to go there and give our money to these assholes?!”

    “I’m saying, it’s all I asked for. For my anniversary.”

    “But the guys who work here — who live here in New York — they say there’s this other place that makes much better…”

    “I didn’t ask for cupcakes, Mike. I asked for Magnolia cupcakes.” So calm. So…disappointed.

    I spluttered something else, then just stood there, agape. She didn’t get it. She wasn’t going to get it. I didn’t get it.

    Cut to me, at Magnolia, saturated with sweat. It was much tinier than I’d imagined. Modest. Cute, even. And even in August, even in the midday heat, the queue was formidable. I took my place in line and waited, just like everybody else. My self-inflicted 11th hour ticking away.

    At the time, I recall actually cursing my wife for being such a diva about all this. I recall cursing myself for indulging it. And yet somehow, I don’t recall recognizing an ounce of irony in adopting this perspective.

    All told, I spent a little more than three years working for arguably the most acclaimed and innovative ad agency in the whole, wide world. Then my wife decided she’d had enough. She didn’t lay down any ultimatum. She didn’t force me to do anything. She simply told me how she felt.

    I’d just returned home from a long trip. We were at the beach watching our little girl try to fly a kite, when she told me she wasn’t sure, given the current state of things, whether she and our daughter would be better with me or without me, but she no longer felt she could count on me to be the kind of partner she wanted and needed in her life.

    As it turns out, this had nothing to do with where I worked. It was a problem she had with me. In hindsight, she made that abundantly clear, but at the time, I was still convinced she just didn’t get it, and she never would. So I made the decision I believed I needed to. I quit. And for a long time, I would resent it.

    As a couple, we would continue to struggle with our divergent sense of priorities and duties for years to come. We still do.

    Only now, almost ten years after The Magnolia Cupcake Incident, am I able to say with genuine pride that my wife still steadfastly refuses to get it. I continue to do what I can to accommodate that fact. I continue to become a better and happier person as a result.

    As a result, I’ve learned to be more efficient with my time. I’ve learned to pay closer attention to my patterns of productivity and spend less time banging my head against fruitless walls. I’m learning to put my worries in a box and lock them up at quitting time. I’m learning how to walk away.

    As a result, I’ve attended lots more dance recitals, parent-teacher conferences, school events, sports practices, and holiday dinners. I’ve come to understand that I have very real obligations on a number of fronts, each of which needs to find its appropriate priority.

    As a result I have a much clearer sense of what is important and the relative, realistic importance of the role I play within it all.

    Could I have been more successful in my career if my wife hadn’t refused to get it? Could I have become one of those advertising rock stars? Fuck that. Nothing constructive can come from such speculations. Obsess over them and they either become part of the set of lame excuses you make for yourself, or they fester into resentment. Probably both. There is no way to answer those questions that isn’t some form of cop out.

    A good friend once shared a very simple piece of advice with me — her own personal key to happiness: Mind your own business. We’ve all got our own circumstances. Some you’ve chosen. Some you’ve been dealt. But none of them will stand up to the scrutiny of hypotheticals or comparison. However you find success and happiness given your circumstances — that’s your own business. Mind it well.

    When I finally made it inside the doors of Magnolia, I had to admit, I could kinda understand what the jerk to whom I’d spoken on the phone had been trying to tell me.

    This was not some premeditated concept store designed for volume, calculated growth, and nationwide franchise. It was just a little shop.

    They worked hard, they made great stuff, and they got really popular as a result. They baked their cupcakes one pan at a time, the way we all do it at home. Then they set them on their window sill across from the counter, in an honest-to-goodness vintage Tupperware® cupcake container. The opacity of the plastic covers had been dulled yellow with age.

    People standing in line then grabbed a pastry box and snatched them up buffet-style, much faster then they could be replenished, hence the line outside. So no, they really couldn’t accommodate deliveries or phone calls from self-important fucks like me.

    Suddenly I got it.

    When my turn came, I collected my cupcakes and paid for them discretely, simultaneously wondering which of these people I’d traded barbs with, and desperately hoping he wouldn’t recognize my voice.

    The cupcakes did not survive the trek back to W. 25th. The cake part was relatively intact. The pretty pastel frosting however, fell victim to the heat of Summer in Manhattan.

    This piece originally appeared on Medium and is reproduced here with Mike's very kind permission.

  • Why Super Bowl Ads Don't Work Hard Enough to Justify Their Enormous Cost

    / Comments (2)

    Full disclosure: two of our sister agencies at Project: WorldWide – ARGONAUT and Motive – will each feature a commercial at the Super Bowl this year. I very much like both spots for VW (ARGONAUT) and Pepsi (Motive). But that’s not the point.

    The Super Bowl commercial wankfest has officially begun. Spots to tease the spots are airing ad nauseam. Lists and rankings are being drawn up by USA Today and the trades. Brand flacks are furiously lobbying for top slots for spots that haven’t run yet. And I am writing an op-ed piece about it – the paragon of literary onanism.

    Admittedly, Super Bowl commercials are accepted gauges of brand relevancy, and the ad industry brings its A-game to the Big Game. But with recent reports stating that only 20 per cent of Super Bowl ads actually boost sales, I cannot condone the sheer excess and waste that the ad community continues to ignore.

    Sure, people talk about the ads after the game is over but not because of their intention – not a single person I know has ever actually bought something because of a Super Bowl ad. People talk about these spots like they talk about an eccentric uncle: he’s always pretty funny after a couple of drinks, but no one wants to drive him home at the end of the night.

    It has become increasingly clear that Super Bowl ads don’t work as hard as other sales-driving tactics. Let me explain.

    The price for a 30-second spot at the Super Bowl inexorably increases annually. This year, the average price for a half-minute brand story will reach $4m. For reference, ad agencies aired 46 commercials during the Super Bowl in 2013. At this year’s prices, brands will pay $184m to air their ads.

    Imagine if advertisers and agencies took that money and did something good with it. Like help the world, their neighbours, a non-profit, a hospital or university. Or their actual customers. You know, real people. Not the ones that play them on TV.

    Last year during Cannes – another prime example of our industry’s misguided excess – a pair of Dutch creative directors launched a website called Instead of a Lion. Reacting to the record-breaking $25m that agencies collectively spent in submission fees for their own work, the website calculated how much other stuff could have been bought for that amount. The exercise ended with a startling revelation: instead of spending the money on congratulating itself, our industry could have given 1,345,943 families access to emergency water kits in a war-stricken country like Syria.

    So, if $25m of Cannes money can help more than one million people, how many people could $184m of Super Bowl dough help? This simple math presents an enormous opportunity for our industry.

    Havas Media’s Meaningful Brands report showed that 54 per cent of us don’t trust brands anymore. And 71 per cent of us think that brands and companies should be actively involved in solving social problems, but only 20 per cent of brands worldwide actually do so.

    If we – the ad industry – actually redirected our Super Bowl ad budgets to a bigger purpose, would people trust brands more? Would brands actually be able to boost sales by more than 20 per cent if the Super Bowl was no longer the bastion of the big spenders but a forum of true creativity and meaning? Because if our industry’s sole purpose is to simply be creative on behalf of our clients, then why only display it once a year for 30 seconds? There has to be something bigger than just the Big Game.

    Max Lenderman is the founder and CEO of School, a strategic and creative firm that creates purpose-led stories and products for brands, companies and organizations. Boulder-based School is part of Project: WorldWide. This piece was originally featured on TheDrum.com and can be found here.

  • Reconnecting to Connect

    / Comments (9)

    Many agency people might remember this one junior writer. He was brash. Overambitious. Work became his obsession, and calling it an obsession was an understatement. He scratched and clawed with merciless talons to win every creative shootout. Every one. He became an ad junkie. The more he won, the more he wanted. Losing was not an option.

    Funny thing is, during this rampage, this guy never really clicked with any of his teammates. He wasn’t an ass or anything. He just did his own thing. At office parties, you’d find him sitting alone amongst the laughter holding a beer, but not a conversation. He shrugged it off. He knew the scoreboard. This guy was the apple in his Chief Creative Officer’s eye, rubbed elbows with celebrities in Vegas, slept in Hollywood’s posh hotels surrounded by the glitterati. He was jaded. He was the ego of egos.

    And, he was clueless. He…was me.

    In the summer of 2005, everything changed.

    My wife Tonja and I decided to add to our family. Already blessed with two wonderful sons, we wanted to adopt a girl, their sister. So after swimming through a year of paperwork, our adoption agency sent us to Russia, where they had strong, diplomatic ties.

    First stop: Moscow. Dismiss any notion Mother Russia lays in freezing cold, gray communist ruins. Moscow today thrives as a flashy, colorful metropolitan, mirroring the vibe and energy of Times Square. The Russian capital, however, was not our final destination.

    Next stop: Kemerovo. You know it better as Siberia and it’s a far cry from the cosmopolitan Moscow. Take the sun, for instance. Every morning, it rose doused in blood red from the dense pollution, choking the air courtesy of the region’s unchecked industrial factories. Pocked, broken roads took our van past trenches of full garbage sacks, half-destroyed buildings burned and bombed out from past skirmishes, and unemployed men brandishing beer bottles and cold dead stares of hopelessness. We eventually arrived at our no-star hotel, where the door never fully closed thanks to many KGB boots successfully kicking out the bottom.

    The following day, our van pulled into Alena’s orphanage. There, first graders stood outside next to rusted, decaying swing sets and glass shards. And yet, these children were happy. They were jumping up and down. Cheering. Waving.

    They knew this van. They knew someone was going home.

    Then inside, the moment we waited for. The nurses carried out this beautiful baby girl—our daughter. Our Alena. No words could tell the emotions that overcame us the moment we met one another. It was a fairytale come to life. She was everything we dreamed of. She was the perfect addition to our family.

    We did notice Alena exhibited some interesting traits, and not good ones. Over and over, our nine-month-old daughter kept flashing those very blue Russian eyes. She was flirting. A lot. Too much. She was craving attention desperately. Then, while eating at a nearby restaurant, we caught her stuffing food into her diaper. You read that right. This little girl wasn’t living. She was surviving. And it became painfully obvious how badly we needed to get her out of Russia and back to America.

    Back home, she clung onto Tonja tightly like a spider monkey, never wanting to let go. That was the good news. It was a different story for me. No men worked at the orphanage, so my deep, gruff voice intimidated her. She couldn’t connect with me. She wouldn’t connect with me. I was crushed. I felt helpless. I so much wanted her to know she would never again have to wake up scared. She was safe. She was loved. She was home.

    This…was when I woke up. This was the jolt I needed in life to connect. Really connect. It changed my life. It changed me.

    Following daddy leave, I returned to the agency a different person. I stopped acting like such as lone wolf, and started reaching out to my teammates. I didn’t just ask questions about concepts or briefs and ad stuff. No. I asked about their families, their lives, their favorite movies.

    These connections extended beyond the agency walls. I volunteered for roles with ADCD, Ad Club and Ad2, learning the hopes and dreams of advertising newbies and perhaps I could find jobs for them. My relationships grew tighter, trust levels went up, and—wouldn’t you know it—my work became stronger, too. Winning shootouts no longer stood as priority one. This may come off as cheesy, but I was winning something bigger.

    Look at the ways we connect today. We text. We post. We tweet. We reach out to people in amazing ways. They bring all of us closer, but not quite close enough.

    I believe there’s something still very powerful about face-to-face interactions. It’s important to do this. I must remind myself to keep doing this. It’s all too easy to be swallowed up by emails, texts, all that stuff. We’re all busy. I get that. But take five minutes to just talk. It makes a world of difference.

    Hopefully, you already connect with people regularly. If so, good for you. You figured it out faster than I did. To all the lone wolves out there now, why not reward yourself more by looking up from our iPhones and see a real, live breathing person sitting right there, smiling at you.

    Emails and texts can wait. Posts and tweets can wait. Life can’t.

    Jay Roth is an Egotist Recommended copywriter, brand builder, story teller, problem solver and idea champion-er. He's available for freelance copywriting and conceptual thinking now. Go hire him.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #31: Jennifer Hohn

    / Comments (8)

    Dear 1998 me,

    First of all, what the hell is going on with that outfit? Seriously. Do they even make things out of rayon anymore? Between that and the hairspray, pretty sure you’re a walking fire hazard.

    Oh hey, if I remember correctly, you’ll get to see Pearl Jam at Fiddler’s Green next month. So that’s cool.

    You have no idea who you are yet. And that’s okay. Take the time you need to figure it out. But be aware now, if you really want to be in advertising, you have to love it. So much so, that you can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s very hard to break into this industry, and staying relevant is even harder. However, getting paid to follow your passion is an honor never to be taken for granted.

    As you nervously sit in that agency lobby, completely intimidated by everyone walking by, know you deserve to be there. It’s just the beginning. And beginnings are scary.

    People are not judging you – because, like you, they are probably also self-conscious. Smile, laugh and relax. You’ll be fine.

    Over the course of your career you’ll have many successes and many failures. You’ll learn from them all. I guarantee everyone that does great things had to overcome adversity in some form or another. The defining difference is what you do after a door is closed or a tough card is dealt. Do you pick yourself up and push harder? Or, do you cower behind defeat? Either way, don’t settle for the status quo. Do something.

    Don’t try to plan everything, and stay flexible. In 2009 you’ll show up late to your first Ad Club meeting and miss out on volunteering for The Fifty – which was first on the meeting agenda. Instead, you’ll get the opportunity to launch a new intense portfolio program. This, and the talented people you meet through the club will change your career path. And don’t worry; you’ll get to do The Fifty later.

    After all those years of getting lost in your own head, you’ll realize your brain’s not wired like most people who can clock in and clock out of a job. You have to create and help others create. There’s not much you can do to change that, but work to balance life better. (If you find your mind wandering when you need to be present, wiggle your toes. Trust me, it works. And it’s only weird if people see you do it.)

    These will inspire you in your work and will help you see other perspectives. Never underestimate the power of empathy and divergent thinking. Creativity is simply the ability to combine things in interesting ways. And, without a good idea, the rest is irrelevant. Remember that.

    Take great advantage of every small opportunity you get. The more you exceed expectations through seemingly insignificant things, the more credibility will start to stick. And you’ll get bigger opportunities.

    You’ll learn on both sides of that equation. These relationships are your quickest route through the creative ranks. Helping others grow will help you grow.

    If you’re not getting the experience you need at your day job, find ways to make those opportunities happen through side projects and volunteering. There’s no short cut for experience. Put in your time and never think you’re entitled to anything. You’ll go much further with hustle and humility than with excuses and ego.

    In your career, there will be one thing you’ll deeply wish you could have changed. At an award show, you’ll run into one of your favorite young creatives that you mentored years ago. With his quirky smile, he’ll tell you things are going great. His distant eyes will tell another story. This will be the last time you see him. And that final memory will haunt you. The most important thing I can tell you is to always be there for your network.

    Well, I’ll let you get back to your meandering path through this treacherous, yet exhilarating advertising adventure you’ve chosen. Good luck out there and I’ll see you down the road.

    2013 me

    P.S. I really hope this future-self advice doesn’t mess things up in a Back-to-the-Future sort of way. Well, I suppose time will tell, right? (By the way, did you get that winning lottery number list I sent you last month? Judging from my bank account, I’m guessing no.)

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #30: Mike Sukle

    / Comments (1)

    Dear Younger Me,

    Congratulations on getting your first job in advertising.

    Believe me, I know exactly how you feel. Part on top of the world, part scared to death.

    I’m here to tell you it’s going to be great.

    We’ll have more good days than bad.

    We’re going to meet some of our best friends ever.

    And it turns out that we have a pretty good knack for this sort of thing.

    We even have our own agency now.

    But you’ll have no idea how fast time is going to fly by. Don’t waste it.

    Spend as much time as you can with your boys. (Yeah, you actually did get a date.)

    And don’t ever forget, how lucky you are.

    We get to sit around all day, tell bad jokes and make cool stuff. And, get paid for it.

    But that’s just a small part of all the amazing things that are going to happen.

    America is going to elect a black man President.

    People will be able to buy pot in stores.

    And the Broncos are actually going to win a Super Bowl. Or two.

    No kidding.

    Like I said, it’s all good.

    There's only one thing that could make it better.

    So I’m going to give you three magic words.

    Google, Yahoo. Twitter.

    They may sound like gibberish, but they’re your ticket out, the only things that will save you from having to write a Dear Me Letter for the Denver Egotist.

    I know, who?

    Don't blow it.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #29: Andrew Price

    / Comments (1)

    “Please, stop talking.”
    That's how the conversation begins with my younger self.

    The day I started I was lucky, I knew it all. I was steadfast design ruled the world. If it looked amazing, it was amazing. I believed the day began with a hangover and ended with blurry vision. I believed that we worked all day, dialed it in all night, and in the end a hero would be named. The one who stuck it out to the bitter end. The one who will save lives with this pixel masterpiece. The one whose presentation begins in 10 minutes and there is still one comp to bang out.

    Since that day, how much have I learned? Too much to measure.
    How much do I have still to learn? Way more.
    How different am I from the day I started? I know each is day is an opportunity to learn.

    The question is, how would you teach this experience? Even to yourself?
    How do you know, what you do and don't know?
    How do you learn to identify a good idea? A concept?
    How do you create a campaign from a strategy document?

    When do you understand pressure and timelines make your work great?
    When do you grasp your profession is not defined by your first success?
    When do you become truly grateful for what you currently have?

    You don't. You can't. You aren't. You never will be.

    You only know what you know.
    It's the journey that teaches you.

    So I would say to myself, “Please, just listen."
    Because when you take the time to listen, to your peers, to your clients and to yourself.
    That’s the day your career truly begins.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #28: Rob Schuham

    / Comments (0)

    Dear Rob,

    Welcome to the wonderful world of advertising! If you denote a soupçon of sarcasm, that is because this note is from your older, more experienced and, yes, wiser self. I know you already know everything, but please Rob, listen up: I’m writing to save you loads of precious time and many headaches by sharing a few account management basics I've picked up along the way.

    I didn’t do everything perfectly the first time around, but through my accumulated knowledge and years of experience I’ve written an indelible set of “Golden Rules” that should make your career path—and your future employees’ lives—a less bumpy road.

    Follow them, and your learning curve will be steep; your career should accelerate.

    Rob’s 11 Golden Rules of Account Management

    1) Manage your business as if it was your own. (Because it really is your business. Manage your account as if it’s your company. Because guess what….it truly is. All the way down to the bottom line.)

    2) The work is paramount. (Great creative drives the following: Happy clients, an energized culture, and this wonderful feeling of being proud of where you work.)

    3) The details are everything. (Check, re-check and then check one more time. And then there probably is still a typo. So check again. The reality is that you can be brilliant in 99% of the work and that one little mistake can cost you your credibility.)

    4) A client call a day keeps the reviews away. (If you don’t have a reason, then find something relevant online, or in the trades and write a point-of-view…)

    5) Know your client’s business better than they do.

    6) NEVER ASSUME (You will surely find you assumed wrong.)

    7) Have an opinion. (If you don’t, get one. No milk toast. And guess what, it’s OK to be wrong once in a while.)

    8) Proactively manage your business. (Don’t wait for the client to ask you to do something. Remember, you drive the business. Make the recommendation before they even think about it.)

    9) Manage up and down. (Make sure your manager is managed too. You will find this pays off in the end.)

    10) Get help if you need it. (Manager’s proverb: Bring me a problem early and you will have a partner in solving the problem. Bring it to me late and you will have a judge. And when you bring an issue to someone’s attention, always bring two+ smart recommendations along with the problem.)

    11) Know your audience. (Every time creative work, letters, documents or any communication goes out the door, it must be relevant and meaningful to whoever your intended audience is. Put yourself in the place of whoever is receiving and viewing it. Ask yourself if you would understand it if you were in that person’s shoes…be it your client or the consumer/end user. Simple stuff. All ya’ gotta do is use your head.)

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

  • Dear Me, On My First Day of Advertising #27: Andy Dutlinger

    / Comments (5)

    Dear Me,
    I'm writing you today to say congrats, you made it to nearly 40. Actually, this letter is technically two-fold in it's function, but I thought I'd get the most important part over with first. The second part consists of me writing you from the future (yep, we all got hover boards) to give you advice on you first day at your new job in Advertising. I have an inside source that tells me you're not one for being told what to do, nor for letters with super long paragraphs, so I'll try to keep this digestable for your underwhelming brain abilities, and merely advice you can take or leave.

    You are about to walk into a job for which you feel you are not trained or qualified. You went to design school, and have nothing resembling an advertisement in your portfolio. Who fucking cares? It's not about what you have in that stupid, overdone, overpriced, box of bullshit you made at school, but what bounces around in that ADD-addled organ you call a brain. For once, people will pay you for all that stupid stuff you've made up in your head for years. I know, it's hard to believe.

    When first asked to do this, I immediately began to jot down the usual, and somewhat clichéd advice for this career path. Then I realized that the ideal use of this letter is to put things into perspective for you, because perspective is the best part of getting old. Well, that and not giving a damn what anyone thinks about you anymore. Right now, your biggest worry is which show to hit next or who's having the party this weekend. Well, in just a few years, you're about to get punched in the gut with the gift of cancer. You read that right buck-o, you're gonna get so fucking sick your hair falls out, your skin looks green and you look like a goddam sekeleton (more so than usual). But guess, what, it will be the most eye-opening, awakening thing you will ever experience. Suddenly you realize that life is just that – LIFE. And this, my friend, is just a job.

    Now, I'm not telling you to not care about this job, because if you don't care you will never go anywhere, and you and I will probably have very different portfolios. I'm just telling you to throw yourself into it bereft of fear and doubt. Don't be afraid to fail or suck or say something stupid. As long as you're breathing, you're winning, pal. Have fun with this thing; enjoy it, take risks, put yourself out there, and please don't take yourself too seriously. I can tell you that in the end it all works out, and the journey is half the fun. You'll miss out on the ride if you're obsessing about the future or success or money or whether you're good enough. Life is too short.

    Lastly (I know, too long and preachy, but bear with me), life is about people – put them first. You are lucky enough to have a lot of really great people in your life. Your wife puts up with you, which is a miracle, and your son is like 723 billion times cooler than any fruit you thought your loins could produce and you have friends that would qualify as true family. You are also lucky enough to work with tons of amazing and talented people that are nice enough to show you the way in this crazy business. Do me a favor and treat all these folks for what they are: the most important thing in your life. Show them respect and learn a lot sooner than I did that killing people with kindness works a lot better than the other options.

    Oh, and your faical hair never gets any thicker, stop hoping.

    PS – Don't drive home from that Galactic show. Trust me. Call a cab.

    To read the entire 2013 'On My First Day of Advertising' series, click this.

Rocket Fuel