Good morning

February 2, 2009

It’s not many mornings that I get a chance to see my kids off at the bus. When I do, it’s always a good day. Won’t be long now before there’s no need for a flashlight.

The Super Bowl and what it says about me

February 2, 2009

I’m pretty much obligated to watch the Super Bowl. As an ad guy and all, I know that for the next couple of weeks, people will ask me what I thought about the ads. So I watch.  For the record, I didn’t think there was a lot to write home about.  There were some decent spots.  I laughed out loud a few times. I was surprised at what some companies spent.  And the game? Pretty darn good. I wanted the Steeelers but found myself happy when Larry Fitzgerald sprinted into the endzone to take the lead.  And when Santonio Holmes reeled in that catch and managed to keep two feet in, well, I was happy again.

springsteen-slideBut maybe what I noticed to most about the Super Bowl was the halftime show. Springsteen. The guy is still a showman.  I’ve seen him live a couple of times — but not for something like a two decades or something. So when he made for the piano and jumped up on it with a low degree of sprightliness, alarm bells went off for me.  When he jumped from the piano, I winced. And when he was down with the microphone, I was sure his knees weren’t going to allow him to get back with any grace whatsoever.

I guess I was relatively wrong. And, judging from posts like this and the tweets in response, perhaps I’m in a distinct minority.  springsteen-tweet1

A little slice of Paradise

January 31, 2009
Fishing camps on Wing Point, Bainbridge Island circa 1905

Fishing camps on Wing Point, Bainbridge Island circa 1905

The article came out just a few weeks ago. Yeah, the New York Times did a story about the island I call home — Bainbridge Island.  It reminds me of when Seattle was voted “best place to live” by Money, or some magazine like that.  And because the list can’t be the same the next year, you wait for your fall from grace.

We bought our house on Bainbridge in 2007 and moved here full time just last summer.  So we’re real newcomers.  Maybe if our kids live here their whole lives (yeah, that’s likely) then maybe they’ll some day be considered “Bainbridge old-timers.”

Our friends can’t fathom why we would move over here after 20  years of living in the city.  Well, here’s one:  my house today is in all likelihood on the beach directly behind where these old cabins stood 103 years ago. Couldn’t afford that in the city.  The schools are among the very best in the state. And the commute people can’t imagine doing? Yeah, I spent it tonight enjoying a cold Bud Light with two friends after a really long week.  No driving.

John and Owen, Wing Point beach, 2007

John and Owen, Wing Point beach, 2007

But now I’m catching a bit of grief from friends.  They suggest that perhaps we’ve got a really good PR campaign going on behalf of the Island.  (Not true, though you could start a pretty impressive ad agency on Bainbridge just based on the number of our ilk who live over here.)   What I can’t figure out is why more people aren’t moving here.  And though I would love to enjoy Island life with even more friends, I suppose I’m a bit like a lot of people who move here and want to close the door behind them and not let anyone else move over.  Actually, that’s not true.

Did you see the news today?

September 29, 2008

Heather LocklearRight now we are in the midst of the most dire financial circumstances many of us have ever seen in our lifetime.  Congressional leaders worked through the weekend to craft a rescue plan for our economy only to have it scuttled in the House of Representatives today.  Wachovia Bank was bought today.  Other banks have been auctioned, while investment banks have been allowed to drop into bankruptcy.

These are unparalleled times.  So what was the most read news story on Reuters today?  That’s right, you see it, Heather Locklear was arrested this weekend.

What a sad commentary.  I have nothing more to say.

Thinking of Mom

August 1, 2008

Mom and Dad
I was on my bike this morning, riding to work.  I looked at my watch to make sure I was on pace to get to the ferry on time. And I noticed the date — August 1.

It was in this month, 10 years ago, that my mother passed away after a long battle with cancer. It was three months before my daughter, Grace, our first child, would be born.

There’s something great about being on a bike, going up and down hills, because it gives your mind time to roam. And my mind jumped from thinking of these past 10 years to a poem by Billy Collins.  It’s in his book, The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems.  It’s called The Lanyard and, for me, it is a wonderful expression of the conditions of love between a parent and a child.

The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past —
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift–not the archaic truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

The painting above is one I did of my mother and father, Janet and Gordon Livengood, who I miss every day.

The Reverse Graffiti Project

June 28, 2008

Not too long ago I wrote a post about graffiti and the role it plays in our society.  I was pondering at what point it is simply vandalism, and at what point does it rises to the level of art and commentary that is beneficial to our society.  I understand that’s a highly subjective call, especially when balanced against the rights of property owners.

But on this subject, I really loved this work by Paul “Moose” Curtis.  He’s a graffiti artist that was brought to the project by my friends at DDB San Francisco to publicize their client Clorox’s new Greenworks product.

As an advertising creative — and an artist — I come to the same conclusion: This work is brilliant.

Our moment in the sun with Tim Russert

June 27, 2008

Tim Russert is gone and Sunday mornings won’t be the same.  Not that I was up at the crack of dawn on Sundays, so I tried to catch the rebroadcasts.  And I always loved that Russert asked the questions I would want to ask (or I would like to think I would have been smart enough to ask).

But that’s not what this post is about.  This is a before now, untold-story about when our corner of the “ad” world crossed paths with the hallowed NBC show.

It was not quite three years ago in the lead up to the G8 Summit, we were asked to produce an advertising campaign on behalf of that would put pressure on world leaders to commit their countries’ resources to end poverty in the world.  It was a monumental feat.  We had to capture footage of a speech Nelson Mandela had given, edit his great words, translate into many different language, and develop a print and digital campaign.  And we had less than 10 days to do it.

After working non-stop for days, we were in the midst of editing when we heard that Russert would be interviewing Bono on Meet The Press and he wanted to use the spot we were still making.  I saw the final rough cut at about 1am Pacific Time and when I approved it, it was sent by satellite about an hour later to Washington where it was on the air just a couple of hours after that.

The funny thing, because of the incredible rush of this project, Bono had not seen the spot until the moment Russert’s producers broadcast it to the nation.  I guarantee we were all awake for that 6 am broadcast of that show.  More than anything, we were curious what Bono would do.  He’s a smooth cat, that’s all I can say.

Thanks Tim.

I read the news today, oh boy

May 16, 2008

california ruling

Yesterday California’s Supreme Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. I should be walking on clouds today, but instead I’m fixated on what it all means and I have this dreadful sense of deja vu.

In the interest of full disclosure, marriage equality is something I absolutely believe in and have fought for both personally and professionally.  It was our agency, DDB in Seattle, that worked with Equality California Institute to develop the Let California Ring campaign and the television spot that, hopefully, helped create an environment where yesterday’s ruling is viewed by most as just. I spent many, many hours over the course of more than a year helping bring this creative perspective to life.

So I should be thrilled.  And in many ways I am.  But I also feel like the timing is as unfortunate as it was four years ago.  It was in the run-up to the 2004 Bush/Kerry election that gay marriage jumped onto the front pages and became national news.  San Francisco began marrying gay couples and the story became a media sensation.

But it was also clearly a gift for the right who used constitutional amendment ballot measures to energize conservative voters in swing states.  Conservatives used this as a wedge.  And it worked.  Look at Ohio.  Before Florida and hanging chads, the election in 2004 hinged on this state. Ohio’s anti gay marriage amendment drove a lot of very conservative voters to the polls — and convinced other voters who might have gone for Kerry to vote for Bush because he was the candidate who would protect “the sanctity of marriage.”

Are we about to replay 2004 all over again?  I’m sure there are many people I have worked with on this cause who will think that my view is far too pragmatic — that I have abandoned my ideals.  And, in some ways, I suppose this criticism is probably true.

Better books. Please.

May 15, 2008

I sat down with a young guy recently to review his book. He’d gone to a good, graduate level creative school.  I liked him.  Turns out we had some commonalities in our life and background.

But nothing about his portfolio of work excited me.  It looked like so many others I see.  There were spec print ads that used quirky visual solutions – but not in a very sophisticated way.  There were the out-of-home guerilla-ish ideas.  Books these days are often so formulaic, it’s unbelievable.

So, as nicely as I could, I asked him if he ever did digital work – anything on the Web.  “Oh, yeah, I love that stuff.  But I’ve been told to keep that stuff out of my book because it will just typecast me.  I’ll get stuck just being a “Web guy.”  Typecast?  The fastest way to be typecast is to show work that’s not reflective of our current reality and where the world is headed.  This guy should get a refund on his tuition because his professors gave him such profoundly bad advice.

A creative book is, after all, simply a means of showing a prospective employer how you think.  How you solve problems.  What kind of intelligence and insight you bring to a creative challenge.  I suppose it does level the playing field to some degree when all books have essentially the same kinds of work.  Then it’s all about the quality of the ideas – the creative thought – rather than how it’s delivered.

Except that’s presuming that how and where you tell a story – and in what combinations – isn’t nearly as important as what you say.  I know there are agencies out there whose go-to media continues to be TV, print and radio.  At DDB in Seattle, our world is very different.  And we need to see candidates who reflect a new way of tackling the world.  How do they think about sight, sound and motion in a digital age?  How will we consume information a year from now? What about social media?  What about surrounding your audience rather than using a single media in hopes of snagging them?  Imagination in the delivery of ideas is a lot about what creativity is these days.  It’s what makes campaigns greater than the sum of the individual executions.

Well, if your book is tradition bound, it’s going to be tough to excite us.  Some of the people I’ve been most excited about hiring recently are those people who clearly understand communications in this digital age, but also have the knowledge, desire and skill to ideate in traditional media.   They know how to bring it all together.  To surround an idea.

Without those skills, a candidate isn’t likely to find a job here.

PS  I’m not just talking about creatives, etiher.  The same is true if you plan to be a great planner, media strategist, or account person.  It’s a new day.


May 13, 2008


Back in 2004, I never really understood how people could be undecided in the Presidential election.  George W. Bush and John Kerry were two very different choices. Today, regardless of whether the Democratic nominee is Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, the choice between a president who is a Democrat or a Republican is pretty stark.

Sure, there are tons of issues at the heart of this differentiation.  The environment, the war, the economy …  The list goes on. But one significant factor is the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is cloaked in mystery.

There is no doubt, however, that recent nominations to the Court has made it decidedly more conservative. If you like the rightward shift, vote for McCain and a generation of conservative rulings are sure to follow. If you don’t, vote for either Democrat.

You may think you’ve probably heard this argument in past presidential elections — and not much has changed.  In some ways that’s right.  But that has largely to do with who has left the court recently (Rehnquist and O’Connor) and who replaced them (Roberts and Alito).

But a couple of things are different now.  First, Presidents are getting better at picking justices who will rule as expected.  Clarence Thomas, appointed by Bush1, has been reliably right.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, appointed by Clinton,  have been reliably left.  And John Roberts and Samuel Alito, appointed by Bush2, while still new appear to be reliably on the right.

So it really comes down to who will replace John Paul Stevens (who is perhaps the most liberal on the court — though appointed by Gerald Ford) will be 88 when a new president takes office.  And Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 75 on January 20, 2009.  Right now the court is split, but tips to the right with Anthony Kennedy in the middle as the swing vote.  If a Democrat is elected, this very precarious balance is likely to remain because presumably a Democrat would replace these two justices with appointees who vote much like Stevens and Ginsburg. If John McCain wins (and Stevens and Ginsburg do, in fact, leave the court), the make-up of the court will be decidedly conservative for a generation to come.

Given how many issues that affect our lives come before the Supreme Court, the stakes are high for either side.  If you are interested in reading a little more, there’s a good article by Anna Quindlen in Newsweek.  And if you are interested in reading a lot more, I would recommend Jeffrey Toobin’s book, The Nine.