It can all change in the blink of an eye.

October 16, 2009

In the summer of 1987, I was not far out of college. Despite my accomlishement at interviewing at nearly every ad agency in Seattle, nobody would give me a job. So instead I hooked on as a writer on the client side. I knew that working at an agency was my ultimate goal, so I kept tabs on the comings and goings at various shops in town.

My Mom was a great lover of art and architecture. (Forgive the sharp right turn; it’s relevant.) She called me one day to see if I wanted to join her on a tour of downtown Seattle homes and condos. This was back in the day when Belltown was desolate — and actually living in downtown Seattle was still a bit of a novelty. Despite enjoying spending time with my Mom, I wasn’t too inclined. As bait, I’m sure, she told me that Mike Mogelgaard’s condo was on the tour. At that time, Mogelgaard and Associates was one Seattle’s hottest ad agency — and Mike was Seattle’s resident advertising bad boy. So I went on the tour.

I don’t remember much from that day. No idea how many condos we saw. But one memory is pretty clear — and while the detail may have fogged up in the ensuing years (decades!), the impression is crystal clear.

Leonard HaglerI remember walking into Mogelgaard’s bathroom and taped to the mirror was a newspaper picture. It was taken moments after Sugar Ray Leonard defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in their highly publicized title bout. I’m no boxing historian but this was a battle of the ages. Sugar Ray Leonard was on the last legs of his career and Hagler was the champion — widely awed and feared. Leonard, like a lot of fighters, wanted one more shot. He wanted to go out on top as the crowning point of his career. Nobody gave him much of a chance. in fact, if I recall correctly, people thought Hagler was going to simply annihilate Sugar Ray. But they would be wrong. Leonard shocked everyone. Most of all, Hagler.

The photo on Mogelgaard’s mirror showed Leonard with the belt around his waist and the crowd hoisting him onto their shoulders. The shot is from behind Hagler, and you can see him watching the crowning moment. This unbelievable glorious celebration that was supposed to be his. Everyone knew it would be Hagler’s moment to shine.

Only it wasn’t.

And as I recall, Mogelgaard had scrawled underneath the picture what I can only assume was a daily reminder to himself. “It can all change in the blink of an eye.”

I’ve never forgotten it. For me, there are many, many ways this has been instructive. Sure, there’s the most obvious interpretation. Don’t get overconfident because there’s always someone gunning for you.

But more and more I think about it in a slightly different context. This is a topsy turvy world we live in. “Expect the unexpected” is a cliche because it’s true. Probably now more true than ever. Think of all the things in life — or business — that you don’t see coming. Should you?

I suppose at that moment, standing in Mike Mogelgaard’s bathroom, I learned something not only about the advertising business, but about life.

Stay a step ahead. Never be surprised. Be ready.

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.