Rants

07
Mar

The 31 things you need to know about SXSW for 2019.

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If you’re coming to South by Southwest in Austin, here are a few quick tips to make your week even better.

1. Learn the lingo. South by Southwest is called “Southby” by the locals. Attendees from out of town are “Southies.” Since you’re coming here for the event, thou art a Southie. Be proud.

2. Locals either leave town or immerse themselves. I know plenty of people who take a week vacation, get a wristband and spend the week hitting a dozen shows a day.

3. Everything is crowded. Accept it. At least people are friendly and chances are the weather will be nice. Or it could be cold as hell and rainy or hot.

4. There are parties everywhere. Some free. Some hard to get into, but expect LOTS of freebies.

5. Pack an umbrella and jacket but hopefully you won’t need it.

6. South Congress is called SoCo. Great people watching. Big free music event in the parking lot of the San Jose Hotel. Food, crowds and music.

7. Best sidewalk tables? Guero’s on Soco. I have Table Karma and no matter how crowded it is, I always get the first table near the corner. We’ll often spend a long afternoon there with friends stopping by and sitting down for great Mexican food and ice cold Coronas. There have been plenty of weekend days where we’d spend hours there with multiple generations of friends stopping by for food and beer. Becky is usually our server and she puts up with us. That’s my favorite place but there are other nice sidewalk dining spots opening. Up on 2nd street there are a dozen places with good food and drink and energy. But if it’s a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and you see a guy that looks like me, say hi.

8. Great shopping for cool local stuff on Soco from custom made boots to clothes to housecrap.

9. Another great area is 2nd street. Hip bars and sidewalk cafe’s.

10. The Bar at the W will be the center of the known universe. The Red Room there is amazing. The people are beautiful, the drinks good and the food very nice. Awesome buzz and very swank energy. Supermodels mingling with dorky interactive nerds carrying their goodiebags and laptops.

11. The One True Bar is is Peche on 4th Street. In my opinion, the best bar on the planet, anywhere, anyhow… And I can prove it. Go in and ask for a Trifecta. The bartenders will give you that “damn, you’re cool” look and ask you some questions and start working. It’ll take ten minutes, but what you’ll find in front of you will blow you away. Finish up with the burger. You’ll need it.

12. All around Peche are great venues, enjoy em all. Get a coffee and a cigar at Halcyon and sit on the sidewalk and discuss big issues.

13. There will be a thousand bands playing on 6th Street. Seriously, a thousand bands. Mostly the clubs are ratty, but well worth it. The street is often shut down to traffic and it’s an amazing scene. You’ll see a lot of very drunk college kids staggering around but they’re mostly harmless. I was talking to a longtime Austinite a few years back and she was complaining about 6th Street. “It used to be really cool but now when I go down it’s a bunch of drunk college kids…” It took her a few minute to do the math and then she laughed.

14. The Four Seasons on the lake is beautiful. Great place to eat or drink with many bands playing during the week. More upscale and chi-chi than most of town.

15. If you need a break, go jump into Barton Springs Pool. You’ll freeze, but it’s worth it. It’s a true Austin treasure and the people and energy are a big part of what makes Austin a great place to live. But don’t move here. Seriously.

16. Get out on 360 to the cliff overlooking the bridge. It’s a great local spot with the best view in the city. You’ll see cars parked just northwest of the bridge. Park there and go up the trail. It’s an easy walk and stunning. A favorite sunset spot. Don’t jump off. It’s a long way down.

17. Eat… There are a lot of GREAT restaurants in Austin. Spend lots of money there so they stay alive! Many of them are locally owned. Too many to list but you probably won’t go wrong wherever you go.

18. West 6th. It’s a pretty newly hip area. A dozen clubs opened up the last few years (the blueprint place is now a hip club… thats how things go). Everyone is beautiful and well dressed.

19. The Trail. There is a loop trail that runs along the lake. Great energy, thousands of healthy people running, walking, riding bikes, walking dogs etc. Get out on the trail and enjoy the energy.

20. The Blanton Museum. Tired of hipsters and music? Wander up to the UT campus and check out the Blanton. Great museum with a very nice collection. Peace. Quiet. Pretty shiny things.

21. Driving. The traffic is terrible. It’s always bad in Austin, but twice in five minutes during the last Southby I saw people driving the wrong way on one-way streets. Hell, one of them was driving on the wrong side of Congress. We Austinites are bad enough drivers normally, but when the town is full of tourists in rental cars, watch out.

22. The East Side. It used to be that I-35 was the dividing line in Austin. West was rich and hip and east was poor and ignored. The last few years have seen a huge influx of hip to the East Side and there are great venues there for food, drink and music. Too many great places to mention but a personal favorite is Justines. Fantastic food, drinks and energy and everyone is  more beautiful than you are.

23. BBQ. We love our BBQ and there are some great mentions. Franklin’s is impossible to get so don’t even try. The Salt Lick is great and out in the sticks but County Line is great as well. Rudy’s is everywhere but it doesn’t do much for me. My favorite was Freedmans but they’re gone.

24. Lake Travis. If you want to get out town, it’s only 30 minutes west. Awesome lake. You can even run around naked at Hippie Hollow. It’s an official state nude beach. Go figure.

25. Rent a bike. There are bike rental joints all over town or you can just hop on one of the bike stands everywhere, whip out the credit card and ride away. Ride down the Town Lake Trail and do the loop. Lot’s of places to stop, enjoy the scene, eat, drink and soak in Austin at it’s best. One of our weekend adventures is to take the bikes down, ride a ten mile loop and hit all the bars along the way.

26. Need to see Austin in a vintage 1971 Citroen DS? Let’s talk. If you see one, say hi.

27. Soco Sunday. This is something I invented. It seems that every year I find myself down on Soco on the first Sunday of SXSW. There is a great crowd of Southies wandering aimlessly. Live music. Great food. All very entertaining. I always get Parking Karma and Table Karma. Meaning I park on Congress and I end up getting a sidewalk table at Guero’s and end up there all day. They’ve got great TexMex and ice cold Corona. We park ourselves on the sidewalk and friends come by and join us for a few beers before wandering off. We’ll be there pretty much all day. If you see us, say hi.

28. Other tourist crap. The state capitol is cool. Worth the walk. You can see Civil War memorials on the lawn and wonder how long they’ll still be there. The Hill Country is great. Nice roads and pretty. Lake Austin and Town Lake are really pretty. There is good fishing not far from town. There is some crazy guy in a biplane that will take you up every day around sunset with the sole motivation of irritating me with his loud plane. There are cool vintage stores and everywhere you look you’ll locals who probably work at a tech company and play bass at night.

29. We’re glad you’re here. And I always laugh when I think about the sign that used to be on the California/Oregon border. “Welcome to Oregon. Enjoy your VISIT.”

30. Fucking Scooters. They’re everywhere and they irritate everyone. You’ll trip over them wherever you go. If you’re a foolhardy soul, hop on and zip around town. They go fast and you’ll wrap yourself around a tree or get run over by another Southie going the wrong way on 6th street. Your life is in your hands. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

31. The Michael Cross Peace, Love and Blues Band plays every Friday night at a little neighborhood joint called Stinson’s. If you want to get a genuine taste of the real Austin music scene, see these guys. They’re all old-school Austin musicians who have played around town for dozens of years. They’ve never practiced, there is no set list. They come together every Friday night and hold forth with great music that will never happen exactly again. And they have a great web site… www.bluesband.com.

I know a lot about these guys because I’m the bass player. I wrote this so I get to plug my band!

Welcome to the city I love. It’s a wonderful place with great energy, happy people, music, dance, rivers, blue skies and cook-a-chickenfried-steak-on-the-hood-of-your-car summers. You’ll love it too.

 

 

04
Feb

The teams took the field and it was fallow.

Ok, I’m bitter. I admit it.

The Saints shoulda been there.

Of course I went to a friend’s house for a party and ate chips and dip and brisket and drank a couple beers and caught up with folks and laughed and had a fine time.

A great American tradition and a welcome respite from life.

But let’s face it, the game was dismal. Boring. Failure. Meh. Word.

Had New Orleans been there it mighta been fun.

But beyond the boring game, there is the halftime and the commercials. The trifecta of national attention for a few days of our short attention span.

Halftime, who cares. I’m too old to have cared about any of the music. It was over produced and slick and flavorless. I cared not.

So the game, zero-zero. The music, meh-whatever.

Now the focus of an Ad Guy’s attention and my lifetime pursuit.

The Commercials.

My take? Either I’ve succumbed to an existence as the Eternally Jaded Ad Guy or there wasn’t much there to excite me.

But beyond the idea of a commercial winning if it’s entertaining, what if I throw my own monkey wrench into the whole machine.

“You made me laugh, now go the hell away and don’t bother me again whoever-the-piss you are.”

Does a great, entertaining, cleaver, snarky, funny commercial really make for good advertising. Which means, did it sell stuff. Let us ponder.

For entertainment I dug the elevator with Jason Bateman thing. He was the right guy for the job and the copy for the spot was great. Bringing grandma into “the talk” was a stroke of genius. Everyone on earth went “ick” at the same time.

We laughed. We were entertained. And yes, we’re talking about it now but this morning I asked my longsuffering spouse about the spots and we both agreed that was a great piece but then I asked her, who was the commercial for?

“Some car company I think.”

Yup. Some car company. It was maybe Kia or Hundai or something.

That got me to thinking. In the early part of my thousand years in the creative side of the ad biz, I’d always tried to come up brilliant and entertaining ideas for my work. Most of the time it worked really well. Sometimes not. As I grew in judgment and made my mistakes, I learned that sometimes the great creative is great creative but not really great advertising.

It’s an interesting piece of algebra. Great creative idea – profile of potential buyer – mountain of money you spend to jam great creative idea into the mind of potential buyer.

If you have great piles of money, you don’t need to worry that much about it. You’ll win eventually because you threw money at the problem. That’s not a luxury I ever had. I spent most of my career launching startup brands so I had to play Go with all my creative.

As in think a hundred moves ahead. Not just burn money.

Woulda been nice though.

I got to thinking on my first big agency job in LA. Us Creative Types really didn’t care all that much about selling products. We wanted to sell great creative. Clever, snarky, fun, unique… Anything that would get us a great book so we could jump ship to another agency to make more money.

We might have all been better off working on sitcoms.

We won awards and had fun.

But let me pose this question. Is great creative always the answer? If not always, when. And how do you know when?

I honestly don’t know the black and white answer over the years I’ve developed a good instinct for knowing when to be clever and when to be really focused. Maybe everyone figures this out eventually. Us creative types learn eventually because we get beat up by account types and client types enough times that we start to question our own reality.

Which is good.

My advice? If you’re a client and all you get is wildly creative, entertaining, snarky, fun creative, then feel free to bring in a Jaded Ad Guy to spill some reality into the keyboard.

If you’re an agency, the account manager will probably do that. That’s their job. Let them do it and if the Creatives can’t defend the snarkiness, then make some changes.

And if you’re a creative and the only thing you want to do is wildly creative, snarky, funny creative, then maybe consider doing sitcoms.

God, do I sound like a Jaded Ad Guy? Yes, but it was a hard fought journey to get there.

And that’s why I’m working with a like-minded Jaded Ad Guy on a new idea.

The Fallow Field Agency.

As in, “Fallow is the Field in Which Thine Fucks are Grown…”

We’re working on the idea that sometimes you need some nattering nabobos of negativity to shake up the fluff. When is it right to be wildly creative and when is it right to be blunt and right to the point? How do you decide and who can muster up the courage to point out there is a naked emperor?

Jaded Ad Guys who have Attained Full Fallow Field.

Watch this space for more. Eventually we’ll get FallowFieldAgencyDotSometing going, even if only for our own entertainment. Ironically, I suspect it’ll be wildly entertaining, funny and snarky.

Now who was that Elevator commercial for? Bet you don’t know either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

22
Oct

Driving The Goddess Home. The Great American road trip in a French Citroen DS.

I’m not sure where this crazy obsession with Citroens came from. Maybe it was a vague memory from my first trip to Europe back in the early 80’s. I was a skinny 20 year old college brat hitchhiking around Europe with a backpack. I slept on trains and stayed in the worst hostels on earth. But I remember seeing these bizarre French cars zipping around Paris. I remember thinking “the French…” Who else could produce such a strangely designed car.

Years later I found myself living for good design. My job was to think of a better way to do things. Better visuals. Better creative. I made my living not being safe in my ideas…

Then somewhere in there, I took another look at this bizarre French car.

As I learned more, I could see the parallels between this strange machine and my goals in life. When they introduced the DS in 1955, it was the most radically advanced car ever built. It was 30 years ahead of everything else being made. The list of advancements goes on and on but the part that sparked my imagination was the fearless decision to do what nobody else had ever done. It was a huge gamble for the small French car company… But it paid off. They made over 1.5 million DS’s and they changed automotive design forever. My 1971 DS is nearly identical to the original model in 1955 and still today, looks amazing. The ride is sublime. The interior is fantastic… Eccentric as hell, but fantastic.

It’s a moving sculpture. Park it next to any other car you’ve ever seen and you’re eye will end up on the Citroen. A while after I got home from this trip, I took it to a car show at The Broken Spoke in Austin. There were exotic custom hot rods costing ten times my lowly Citroen, but it was the favorite of the show. People were drawn to it like flies, for reasons I may never fully understand.

The Citroen design and management teams could have been called crazy to take such a huge risk, except that they were right. The DS was voted the Product of the Century. The Macintosh computer came in second. The 747 came in third. Vive La France. Vive La Crazy.

The best automotive designers alive convened a few years back and voted the DS the most beautiful car ever built. Jaguar and Ferrari came in second and third. Google it. It’s true.

So I realized at some point that I wanted to posses one of these strange machines before I die.

Bucket List if you will.

Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if you have something on your bucket list, why wait. You could die tomorrow. Or next week. And all those Bucket List goals would be little nothings left on a scrap of paper that die with you.

I took two years to learn everything I could. I searched the usual places. Craigslist. Ebay. Every Citroen Web site I could find. I learned the best years, what to look for, what to avoid. I now know more about these crazy cars than anyone really should.

Craigslist came through. I was looking in the listings in Sacramento and I found her. The picture wasn’t good, but all the things I wanted were there. Later year, green fluid (it’s important), Euro spec with the swiveling headlights, five speed… It was perfect. Low miles and excellent body and interior. It needed nothing.

So it was the perfect choice… AND it was in Northern California. The only thing better than getting the car you want is to fly across the country to drive it home.

Dozens of emails. Dozens of photos. Lot’s of calls. The deal was struck and the timing chosen.

But the most important part. Could my 19 year old son Maxx go with me. We talked about it and he loved the idea.  We booked the flight.

The owner was a Dentist in a small town a couple hours west of Reno and he agreed to trailer her there so we could avoid being eaten going over the Donner Pass. Good idea.

We landed in Reno and had no problem seeing the car drive by. We hopped in and drove to a lot nearby. We spent an hour learning about all the strange French ways of doing things. This was important. Everything is backwards and upside down. We exchanged lots of cash, signed papers, threw our bags in the trunk and hit the road.

Our first stop was the nearest Walmart. Ice chest, drinks and fly fishing rods for the thousands of hungry trout along our route that we knew were waiting for us. As we pulled up to Walmart, a beautiful French girl skittered up quickly on her pointy little heels to get emotional over our newly acquired symbol of her homeland. She loved the DS and couldn’t believe one was in a Reno Walmart parking lot.

She gushed for twenty minutes and when she left Maxx said “I want one of these…”

Citroen put a lot of amazing technology in the DS. It was the first car with removable body panels (steel, aluminum and fiberglass). It was the first with inboard disk brakes, crumple zones, rollover protection, swiveling headlights, turn indicators at eye level and true aerodynamics… All in 1955 when most cars looked like chrome refrigerator boxes. And it gets 30mpg.

And then there was the suspension… Instead of steel springs, they created a pressurized hydraulic system using fluid and compressed nitrogen. The car floats like it’s on a waterbed, because it is.

So this 41 year old car rides better than any modern car I’ve ever driven. At 80 mph you can hardly feel the road. The seats are big, plush grandma couches. And even with no AC, driving through the summer desert heat was pleasant. The big open, bright cabin let a great breeze blow over you. We never really missed the AC. We didn’t even miss a radio.

I rediscovered something from my first summer-long road trip in a 1966 VW Bus.

In a modern car you are coddled and kept away from the world outside. In a DS with the windows open, you become part of that world. You smell smells. You feel the breeze. You hear crickets. And since you’re not in a rush, you pull over anytime something looks interesting.

We passed through Northern Nevada.

It was flat mostly. But it didn’t matter.

This was wonderful. Floating over The Great American Desert in a crazy French spaceship with Maxx. A warm breeze. Friendly waves and smiles from everyone that passed.

I could think of no better way to do it.

We stopped at the last casino before leaving Nevada for a big lunch and crossed the border into Utah. The line was easy to spot. Big shiny casino hotels drop off to cheesy, miserable motels.

The map showed that the Bonneville Salt Flats were right ahead. No way to pass THAT up. It was otherworldly. The DS was right at home.

Salt Lake City was bland. We found a bland motel and ate bland food while foreign Mormons jabbered about finally seeing The Temple.  We slept, ate and left.

Heading out of Salt Lake we shot at an angle southeast. It was a long climb in 95 degree heat. She was running hot so I pulled over to let her cool off. Got back on the road and after a few more miles, all hell broke loose. Steam coming out of the hood. Pull over fast… open the hood… coolant spewing all over the road… whip out the iPhone and find a tow truck with a flat bed… call the previous owner to find out how to get the thing on the truck without destroying it… Sunday afternoon… nothing happens till tomorrow… find a motel… Dushesne, Utah… Our new home. Maybe for a day. Maybe for a week.

The goal of every journey should be to remember where you’ve been and to be open to every sidetrack that falls in your lap. Let the road take you and enjoy every scent along the way.

And so we took on Dushesne, Utah.

Fly Fishing Kinda Sucks.

I mean, maybe eventually I’d love it. But give me a good Shumano Curado and some braided line and an Amazon full of peacock bass or some Texas flats full of hungry reds instead.  Whipping around that big plastic line meant pulling hooks out of my head several times. Maxx, on the other hand made it look like art. He just felt it. The river running behind our lousy motel in the little one-restaurant town was beautiful and swift and we tried our luck as the afternoon flowed into evening. All I caught was my own head but Maxx was in his element. Whatever was living in those burbling waters, as it turns out, was safe.

The mechanical problem turned out to be pretty simple. What I realized is that old Citroens need to be tightened up every 30 or 40 years. The hose clamps on the radiator were just loose and the fluid squeezed out in the heat. The mechanic figured it out, tested the system and we were good.

The owner’s wife secretly told me she had a boyfriend many years back that drove a DS.

“He used to take me to the drive-in… Did you know the front seats fold flat and make a bed?”

She winked.

Later, I tried it and she was right. Roll the seats down and you can sleep comfortably.

Only The French.

Take a picture.

I love traveling with Maxx. We’ve had some times I will carry with me the rest of my life. Family trips are great but once in a while you need to grab your son or daughter and go away. Just one on one. It’s not about teaching big life lessons. It’s not about making anything happen. It’s about just being who you are and appreciating someone who will always be a part of you.

I think the first trip we did together was skiing in New Mexico. I guess Maxx was maybe 9 or 10 and I really learned something about him. I learned his rhythm. I could tell when he was raring to go up the mountain and when he was running on empty. I let his rhythms rule the day and it was fantastic. We were going up an early morning lift. The first of the day. It’d snowed all night and as we rode up the lift, I looked below us and saw only perfect snow. No tracks. No people. We were the first up the mountain. I told Maxx to take a careful look around him. See every detail. Every tree and curve of the snow… And take a picture in your head.

I can still see that picture.

I bet he can too.

Maxx and I have fished a lot. Even when he was young, he loved fishing. He had the patience and was fascinated with what could be under the water’s surface. We’d fished the Texas coast for redfish and twice in the Amazon for all manner of horrible and wonderful jungle creatures. He was 14 when we first went and Loree had special ordered all this protective, anti-mosquito clothing. Thick socks, long pants and shirts.

After the first day it all sat in the tent and he spent the rest of the week barefoot in the Amazon rivers, as comfortable as any native born jungle kid.

The peace of the place takes you over and the rest world stops existing. It’s my favorite place on earth, and I suspect it’s Maxx’s too.

So anytime we saw a stream on this trip, in the mountains or deserts, we’d stop. We’d get out the fly rods and wade out into the water and whip that line over our heads. Its a beautiful thing to just pull over when you see something that needs to be pulled over for. We figured that if we actually DID catch some fish, we’d find some roadside bodega and bribe some short order cook to fry them up.

We never needed to do any bribing. Maxx did catch a fish on a lake somewhere in New Mexico in our first fifteen minutes and we put it back in the water, figuring we’d be hitting them hard the next few hours and have plenty for dinner.

That was our one and only fish and it turned out to be lousy cheese enchiladas for dinner instead.

There are no strangers on this road.

Every stop in a Citroen DS is interesting. Someone will come over to talk to you.

It’s a little like taking a purple llama for walk.

You stop for gas in any lost little burg and the old guy at the next pump will come and ask what is that thing.  Kids point and wave from passing cars. People took pictures and videos. Conversations long and short kept you from accomplishing anything in a hurry.

Which is fine. We weren’t in a hurry. And even if we were, the Citroen wasn’t in a hurry. With a four cylinder engine, it gains momentum at a rather leisurely pace. It’d do just fine at 80mph. We even hit 90mph a couple times I think (our miles to kilometer math was suspect).

We met a lot of people. Maxx even got pretty good at The Story Of The Weird French Car. I’d be in a gas station buying more Monster Energy Tea and he’d be out giving the whole story to some mystified traveler who’d either never seen one and thought it was a vintage Porsche or Saab or, on rare occasions, knew exactly what it was and was thrilled to see one for the first time in dozens of years.

It’s a nice way to see the country. Stop often. Keep the windows down. Talk to people every time you stop.  A vintage DS makes people smile. It made them happy. It’s like coming into town with free cookies or a basket of kittens. Everyone wants a reason to smile. After a while I realized we were doing a public service, spreading happiness and joy everywhere we passed. Strange French Car Joy.

It’s been years since I’ve driven a car I had to think about. Hop in, turn the key and go. But with this newfound DS, I quickly reverted to my youth… Driving strange cars that could simply decide to stop working for any random reason.

You’d carefully start it. Listen for strange sounds. Gently change gears. Don’t push her too hard. Drive her like she deserves your respect. No whipping her around corners in controlled drifts. Check the oil. Check the fluids. Watch the gauges and lights and appreciate every new mile you cover. It’s refreshing. You get in touch with the fact you’re in a unique hand-built machine who’s nearly as old as you are.

Of course, in the middle of the night in an empty desert, you pay extra attention.

We drove through Lubbock.

Lubbock has 200 million cattle waiting to be turned into McMeals. During a hot summer day it’s dismal. During a hot summer night, it’s dismal and dark.

Somewhere around The Stink we started seeing hundreds of red blinking lights on the horizon. Soon they were all around us. Finally, that alien invasion they’d been promising for years. I figured we were safe since they’d figure we were there to greet them in our spaceship.

But it was not to be. Wind generators.

So we braved the Stink of Lubbock and as we saw Amarillo ahead and she started missing. It was maybe 2AM in the middle of nowhere and she’s missing. Running rough, running like hell. And the last place you want to be broken down is exactly where we were. Quick, get out the iPhone and find a mechanic next to a motel. My logic was to get to the mechanic shop, turn her off and see if she’d start again. if not, we’d walk to the motel and try in the morning. It was a great plan that actually worked perfectly. We checked into a dumpy motel and the next morning the mechanic tightened the coil wire and she started right up.

Of course, it was complete lunacy to assume you can drive a 41 year old French car halfway across the country at the height of summer. There are hundreds of thousands of things that can go wrong but if you take too long to think like that, you’ll never leave the house.

It turned out to be a truly grand adventure.

Think about it. See some of the most beautiful countryside on earth, with your son, in one of the most amazing automobiles ever created. Pretty hard to beat that. Even with a couple breakdowns, I wouldn’t change a single minute.

How do you spot an opportunity like this? Or do these things only exist when we dream them up. It’s up to us to come up with the concept, however unlikely it may be, and then work backwards against a million odds to make it happen.

I’ve been on a lot of great walkabouts all over the world. Each trip has added something to my life and opened my view of the world. We are the sum of our adventures so we owe it to ourselves to take as many as possible.

I wonder how my father’s life would have been if he had the luxury to taking walkabouts like this. He gave me the opportunity to see the world, even if it was on my own. I guess that’s the duty of a father to his children. Give them the opportunity to see the world on their own terms with whatever gifts you can give them. My father let me believe I could make it on my own and I did because of his faith in me.

I hope to give Maxx and Marlo those same gifts… Know you can take on the world and win. I know you can. I’ve seen it in you. Do great things because I believe in you.

And never shy away from an adventure.

02
Oct

Trainwrecks and rainbows. Confessions of an Ad Guy.

I’ve been in the ad business a long time and I’ve always loved it. Where else can you work in three different industries in a single day. Plumbing fixtures in the morning, enterprise software for lunch and beer in the afternoon.

I’ve spent most of my career in Austin, Texas. I got here from LA in 1994 just in time for the internet. I clearly remember the first day I used email in my agency. What a miracle. And I remember my first spam email. I responded to them letting them know they got the wrong person, thank you.

I learned.

Austin started exploding with technology companies around that time and I watched internet startups crop up daily and it always seemed to be a mad rush to be first to market with the next big idea.

It was a great time to be in Austin. The traffic didn’t suck yet and there were spark flying everywhere. Someone will write a book about this time and I’ve got boxes of branded promotional goodies my agency designed for many of these startups.

Because it was such a mad race to get to market, a lot of crazy stuff happened and I was lucky enough to be right in the middle of much of it.

I had a big enterprise software client that was notorious for hiring the smartest grads from the top schools. They’d throw a lot of money at these kids, amp them up on a full 7-11’s worth of junk food in a massive break room and give away Porsche’s at trade shows.

I was in their office meeting with the Marcom Director on a project when someone came in petrified in fear. They’d spent $50K designing a beautiful invitation inviting thousands to an upcoming high dollar event. The whole thing was very impressive save for one tiny detail.

The invitation didn’t have the date. No date at all. You’re invited to this amazing event and boy we sure wish you’d come but we’re not going to tell you when it’s happening.

The quick thinking Marcom Director leapt into action… “That’s OK, we’ll just reprint tomorrow and Fedex overnight…”A fine solution…

I asked her if she’d knew the cost of an overnight Fedex (which at that time was around $15 each, times thousands). She had no idea. I told her. It wasn’t pretty.

I was in their office another day when I spied a kid going through a huge pile of response cards from last week’s trade show. They were giving away a Porsche at the show. He was clearly frustrated at the quality of these “leads.””These are, like students and assistants and stuff.” Clearly not decision makers who would spend a million dollars on an enterprise solution.

I couldn’t help but interject, “You’re right. Those aren’t CIO’s. Those are people who want a free Porsche.”

I pitched a startup on a complete branding process for their new company. The guys were obviously pretty smart and the company had all the markings of a startup. Nothing on the walls and Dell boxes everywhere. They may not have had a clear understanding of American culture judging from their thick accents. I’d been hired many times to name companies and products but they already had a name and they were going with it.

Expeditrix.

I told them it sounded like someone in black leather with a whip. They were not amused. I didn’t get the job. But it does reinforce the concept that before you put up something on your church sign, run it by a 14 year old boy.

I did some free stuff for a startup that was put together by a couple of my musician friends. It went public. They gave me stock. I bought a house.

I took a lot of stock in startups. I have a lot of stock certificates in a drawer somewhere. I think.

I had a client that was a partner to a big local company. The big local company was having a users conference/tradeshow here in Austin and the minimum cost to be a sponsor was $60K and that got your name on bus seats that took the couple thousand attendees to a concert across town. They asked me what else $60K could get them.

I had some fun with this one.

We hired a booze stocked party bus to pick people up at the airport. We posted a guy at the airport with a big sign for the event and he handed out goodie bags including a lanyard that got you free shuttle transportation to the event and around town for the duration of the show.

We chose a route to the convention center and bought up every billboard for the month with our client’s message. It looked like our client owned the whole city.We covered the sidewalk around the convention center with their message with chalk. We gave out drink coupons to the local bars and every one had our banners hanging inside.

We hired a guy to buzz the VIP golf tournament in a biplane towing a 60 ft banner which prompted the CEO of the big company to complain that he hated us but he wished he’d thought of that.

And we made the event coordinator with one of the world’s biggest technology companies cry. They’d sponsored that concert and we stood outside sticking big glow-in-the-dark buttons on everyone who went in. It’s the only thing you saw as you looked into the huge, dark arena. A sea of our taglines, glowing like a million points of light.

She was furious. She’d paid around $100K for the event and we owned it for a buck a pop.

People came by the client’s booth assuming they had put on the whole event.

I did an ad for a startup called iChat. Yes, it was chat software. The image was Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt sitting in a courtyard in Yalta in what became known as The Yalta Conference, discussing the division of Europe after the end of WWII. It was a beautiful, stark black and white photo and the headline was “Never underestimate the power of a little chat.”

To this day, it’s still my favorite ad.

I had a terrible client. I had presented a great campaign to all the company executives who just didn’t get it. I told them then obviously they should hire another agency and I’d be happy to give them recommendations.The CEO begged me to stay. I was right, it’s a great campaign. We want to keep you as our agency… OK, I’ll stay (but I had major bad juju about it).

The CEO fired me a week later. It just had to be his idea.

I had a spinal hardware company who’s original logo was a silhouette of a person with the curve of a complete spine. It was terrible. And to top it off, the little register mark, the “R ball” was at the bottom of the spine.

I’m in the conference room pitching to the executive committee that they should hire my agency for their rebranding and behind me was this logo, painted on the wall around six feet tall. I was getting nowhere until I just turned around, pointed at that anatomically correctly placed R ball and just said it.

“And that R ball looks like an asshole.”

The room went a bit shocked until someone said, “Oh my god, he’s right.”

We did the redesign and it was beautiful and they got bought up by a much bigger company with internal marketing resources and we lost the client.

I had designed a lot of annual reports over the years. Once the CEO changed the colors on the cover because his wife painted the bathroom that color and he hated it. Another time, the CEO insisted that the illustration on the cover be done by his brother’s son. It sucked and that’s where the phrase “Nephew Art” came from.

We pitched what would become the first free city web site. It was going to be a production of the local newspaper, The Austin American Statesman.

This was around 1996 and nobody knew how it would make money. Could you sell ads on a web site? Would people use this new interwebs thing to find out what’s going on in town? Would anyone care?

My agency got invited to pitch against a half dozen other Austin agencies and I cooked up a plan.

Schedule our pitch at 11:00 (the agency pitching magic hour). It would take around an hour to pitch our ideas and the next agency was set to come in at 2:00 (the agency pitching hour of death).

I’d drawn up 50+ ideas. Big sketches on newsprint paper. Headlines, drawings, ideas. It painted a pretty complete picture of how we’d make a real brand for something so new that nobody knew where it’d go. They’d brought in a dozen execs from around the country for the pitches and I’d timed it so we finished right at noon. The last headline was “More links than Elgin sausage.”

That was the signal for the doors to fly open and the rest of our crew to bring in 50 lbs of great Texas BBQ. All the executives ate and ate and ate and the whole building smelled like BBQ. We cleaned up after an amazing lunch and shook hands and left.

The next agency, who was our biggest threat, came in at 2:00 and gave their pitch. We got the account.

A couple years later I asked the head of marketing how that next pitch was. “Oh hell, I can’t even remember. Everyone was so full and tired that I don’t think anyone paid attention…”

I told him that was my plan from the beginning. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

My office at the time was overlooking Lake Austin and the 360 Bridge. The client was set on calling the new venture Austin Cyber Limits but the lawyers from Austin City Limits would have none of it so it was up to me to come up with a name. I sat there looking at that damn bridge… Austin 360… Get Around Austin… Now when I go to the Austin 360 Amphitheatre I feel like I should get free tickets or something.

I’m just scratching the surface of my life in adverting. If you want to get into this business, I’d be happy to try to talk you out of it. The hours are long. Every day you have to make something out of nothing. Starting out, you’ll make lousy money because so many crazy people are dying to be Darren Stevens when they grow up.

But if I can’t talk you out of it, you’ll love it. It’s easier on your back than digging ditches.

17
Sep

The deliberate submarine life.

I grew up in Long Beach, California. It’s a quiet little DMZ between LA and OC. My whole neighborhood for miles around was strawberry fields back in the 50’s and one night got whipped up into a sea of cheap, little houses with three bedrooms and one bathroom and hardwood floors and no AC.

I figured everyone lived in a 1200 square foot house. That’s all I saw.

Then back in 1994 I moved to Austin, Texas.

Great move. Great city. Got here just in time for the Internet and realized that for the same money as my little Long Beach house, I could buy something much newer on a big lot on a green belt with a creek and 3,000 huge square feet.

Seriously?

A guest bathroom?

A view?

And big rooms with no furniture.

We started buying stuff and raising kids and our possessions grew. Then we wanted a pool and bought another house in the neighborhood with a view and that wonderful pool and now we’re up to 4200 sq ft and had lot of parties and loved it and I was always fixing toilets and the kids grew up and moved out and…

Then there were two people in a giant, very typical Austin Sorta Tuscan McMansion with Yard Guys and Pool Guys and Cleaning People and Plumbers and Sprinkler Guys and on and on and on.

But let’ backtrack a while.

Around 1997 I left my agency job in Austin and freelanced. Pretty soon I had clients. Then I had more clients. Then I had too many clients so I started hiring people and we all worked out of my house and we said, it’s time for an office.

But generally, offices suck and the idea of leasing one sucked even more.

So we started looking for something unique to buy. We looked at houseboats, little offices, commercial spaces and eventually came across a little cabin on Lake Travis. It was 1200 square feet on two acres of land on the back of a cove.

We drove down the long gravel driveway, winding through a seriously creepy, dense forest of oaks and cedars and saw the house. We never even looked inside when we knew we were going to buy it and it was going to be The Ad Ranch.

And it was for a dozen years. The Mid-Century cabin is mostly big windows looking down on trees and water where time sorta stands still. We ran a great little agency there, had a lot of very happy clients, won awards and kept kayaks under the deck and fishing poles in the shed. If the fish were jumping, we’d go catch a couple.

Eventually I sold the agency and got a real job and leased out the lake cabin for a bunch of years.

And now we rewind back to the present, or at least a few months ago present.

The Big House was beginning to be a pain so we think…

Could we sell off everything and move into the old office?

It’s one big room. It’s all windows and trees and critters and deer and tarantulas and birds and fish.

And almost no closets.

And no garage.

And no real bedroom, just a bit of an alcove tucked away behind a giant fireplace.

Get rid of 16 rooms of furniture plus a couple attics and a three car garage with an entire nation’s worth of stuff?

In the immortal words of Steve Evans, “You gotta move to have fun…”

So we did. We started shedding a lot of earthly belongings and learning some interesting lessons.

  1. Nobody wants your stuff. That couch you spent $2500 on a few years back and yeah, the cats scratched it up a bit but it’s big and heavy and comfy and you can’t give the damn thing away on Craigslist. FREE Couch… “How long is it?” (Its in the ad), “What’s it made of?” (Couch, it’s made of pure couch).
  2. All that valuable stuff isn’t. Those chairs your grandmother left you? That buffet from the 30’s? That collection of whatever you got fascinated with? Nada. It’ not really worth anything. Nobody cares. Give it away and be done with it.
  3. Speaking of collections. Don’t. You don’t need that crap Don’t start. Either you’ll give it away or your kids will.
  4. Steve was right. “You gotta move to have fun.” Moving is a HUGE pain but once you live in a new place with a lot less clutter, you’ll be happier. I guarantee it.
  5. Years ago I was camping up in the mountains for almost a week with no cell coverage. As I was driving down into civilization, my phone lit up with messages… “Is your house OK?” “Did it burn?” Turns out there was a big wildfire in my hood and a dozen houses burned to the ground. My first realization was that my only possessions left could the backpack and tent I had in the car and I was kinda OK with that. If everything you own vanishes at once, you’re free.

So now I’ll pay off that submarine line.

One bathroom. One toilet. One closet. One tiny food pantry. Very few cabinets in the open kitchen. No garage. Tiny storage shed on the side of the house. Big windows, half the house is windows. Everything else is trees.

The closet is tiny. And on the other side of a wall is an storage space with a door outside with a tiny washing machine and hot water heater.

We measured the cubic feet we’d gain moving the hot water heater outside and tearing out the wall.

Let that sink in.

Spend a lot of money to move a hot water heater because it had 24 cubic feet of storage in it’s depths.

Then spend a lot of money at Container Store. Measurements of doors, wall space, buy little hanging container thingies, buy a long credenza and I get half and she gets half. Side tables or coffee table? Must have storage inside. Will that fit under the bed?

Kitchen, that bowl is too big, give it away. Every drawer has to be organized. Smaller fridge. The oven was built in 1958 and no giant turkeys.

Costco run for massive amounts of anything?

No more.

I’ve lived for extended time on boat, cars, vans and out of backpacks.

It tends to teach the art if being deliberate.

You take on possessions deliberately.

You do little things deliberately. Working on a boat engine? lay your tools out in a safe place that won’t let them drop into a hole. Do things slowly, thoughtfully, have a bowl to hold the nuts and bolts. Think it through and don’t rush.

And when you go from way too much space to very little, you find yourself becoming much more thoughtful about everything.

Grocery shopping? Skip the potatoes in the plastic package. It’s stupid to begin with and you have to haul the weeks trash uphill on a hundred yards of gravel road. Pick up the mail out on the road? Sift through it there and the junk goes straight into the recycle bin.

See a shirt you like and it’s on sale? You qualify… “Do I like it, or do I love it and cannot exist without it because I’ll have to get rid of a shirt to make room.”

I see any shiny new object that I must possess? Don’t really need it and if I brought it home, I’d have to put the cat out when I bring it in the house.

That Kitchen Drawer that everyone on earth has full of junk? Now it’s organized. Hang a shallow cabinet by the door with hook for keys and bins for change, pens, flashlights, sunglasses, ear plugs and more. Figure out a place for everything and when you need a tape measure to squeeze in a small cabinet, you know right where to go.

So is all this a big epiphany to many? I don’t know. We’ve all moved into tiny apartments, travelled, moved into dorms etc. So we’ve all lived deliberately and efficiently and thought things threw.

For me, it was an epiphany because I’d always moved into bigger spaces.  When you live in big spaces you don’t need to be deliberate and efficient. You can leave things around, put it in a closet or attic or garage and not think about it and probably lose it, until you move.

A lot of our friends tell me they wish they could lose most of their possessions. Our possessions are like junk food. They’ve become so easy to acquire. Stuff is everywhere and cheap. Efficient manufacturing and cheap offshore labor makes things easy to buy. And Amazon drops it at your house the next day (and leaves you another damned box to deal with…)

I admit, it’s scary to push the eject button and live the submarine life, but it’s worth it. Get rid of your crap. There are holy men that walk around India naked, no possessions at all and people feed them. I read about a 75 year old guy who sold everything and just hikes the big trails. He was down to around 8 pounds of possessions. He had a great line about living so deliberately… “Every time I lose a possession, I give up a fear.”

Live deliberately. Choose your possessions deliberately. And when you move, just make sure you know where you packed that really expensive Japanese kitchen knife because we have no idea where it is and apparently a fair amount of the joy in my life was generated by easily slicing through very ripe tomatoes.

07
Aug

What price loyalty?

I understand loyalty.

I’ve worked on loyalty programs for years and I’m very conscious of how corporate behavior affects my own loyalty. I’m as jaded an Ad Guy as could possibly exist so I can see through all the loyalty programs you could ever dream up and they probably won’t work on me. For me to feel actual loyalty to ANY organization is a bit of a miracle.

So this is an open letter to Home Depot.

I’ve been a loyal Home Depot customer for years but that got cranked up to eleven recently.

We just moved into a little lake cabin on Lake Travis that we’d owned for years. It’s not far from our long time home outside Austin, Texas and for a dozen years it was the office for my old ad agency, The Ad Ranch. It’s a 1950’s open cabin on a cove on a couple acres of big oaks.

Great little place. Downsizing with a cushion.

But the place needed a lot of work, new appliances, floors, tile and major grooming of the woods.

And a lot of contractors.

So it’s been going back to Home Depot, sometimes every other day.

Buying a new fridge, Julie (I know many of the people there by now) suggested I get a Home Depot credit card. No interest for six months. Not a bad idea. Sign me up. Five minutes later I’m good and for the next month everything goes on The Card.

Then… Catch 22.

“That’s some catch that Catch 22.”

Come to find out that only purchases over $299.00 are interest free. Otherwise, the interest rate burns up the ozone.

I’d been feeling all warm and fuzzy about my friend Home Depot until then. Now much less warm. Much less fuzzy.

Now I don’t want to burn up pixels to bitch about this and that. I just paid off the balance and said lesson learned. But I have a point here.

Companies spend a fortune trying to get their customers to LIKE them. But when they sneak in a gotcha, whatever little bit of profit they can wring away turns off the warm, fuzzy tap.

What is the cost/benefit? How much did you make Home Depot by slipping that in and how much did you lose? Now my online purchases are going somewhere else. Now I only go into the store if it’s closer than another retailer. My feeling of being invested in a retailer is gone.

How much is that worth?

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re in some sort of business that depends on customer loyalty so my point to you is simple. Look at everything you do and question your profit centers. Are you sneaking in a few bucks here and there because you can but in doing so, you could be losing valuable loyalty?

How much is loyalty worth anyway?

I don’t really know and I’m sure there is an algorithm for that, but I do know in my own business it’s valuable. We started HeroBracelets.org a dozen years ago to help raise money for the families of fallen soldiers. We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and sold a lot of HeroBracelets and there have never been any Catch 22’s. There have never been any gotchas and if someone breaks a bracelet, even after years, we try to get them a new one at cost. We appreciate loyalty and take it very seriously and we’re a little, tiny, little project. Nothing like the Home Depot juggernaut.

The moral of the story? Customer loyalty is a game of GO. If you’re not thinking 30 moves ahead you’ll end up losing.

 

15
May

The perfect imperfect human touch. A story about imperfect shoes and a great direct marketing campaign.

My favorite pair of shoes didn’t match.

They were a pair of black oxfords that I picked up at an outlet store for a big-name expensive brand. I’m sure I’d never have spent the money on them originally, but these were a bargain. They were simple, elegant and amazingly comfortable.

And they didn’t match.

They were handmade in India and the expanse of leather across the top was slightly more patterned and softer that it’s mate. It was pretty easy to spot and most people would have never bought them in the first place, but to me I saw the beauty of their imperfections.

A shoemaker had selected the leather and sewn the shoe together and put them into the line and probably got yelled at by someone, or maybe nobody noticed till they got to the store. I’ll never know, but to me they were unique in a world of so much inhuman perfection.

We don’t value objects any more. We’re so buried in the things around us that come from nameless, faceless factories. We expect every corner to be perfect and every object, no matter how cheap, to fit perfectly.

It’s always so surprising to see a “how it’s made” video of the many steps it takes to make even the simplest thing. Often it’s a machine doing all the work, sometimes with hand labor but it’s most likely computerized to perfection.

Think about your closet. It’s jammed full of clothes, shoes, belts, accessories and think back a hundred years, two hundred years. You would have had a fraction of the clothes you own now because it was so expensive. Our prowess at cranking shit out is astounding and getting more efficient every day.

But it’s meant we don’t appreciate the objects around us any more because there are so many of them, so perfect and without a hint of the hands it may have taken to make them.

So what’s that got to do with advertising because to me everything is a marketing problem.

Maybe, must maybe, our messaging is too perfect as well. There is no personal, actual, human touch.

I worked at a direct marketing agency years ago in Manhattan Beach. We’d decided to do a self promotion campaign to hunt down some new clients so I started thinking about the imperfect power of human communication and ended up with a campaign I called The Power of The Letter.

I have no idea now how I found these things but I found three letters that moved me and I reproduced them into a dimensional mail campaign.

Kennedy/Khrushchev. Part of the reason the Cuban Missal Crisis ended in a hush instead of a bang was a series of letters. Nikita Khrushchev and John Kennedy wrote back and forth, hand-typed letters sent via teletype while the crisis was boiling. These were a personal outreach with very human language trying to avert an international disaster. The letters had corrections, words scratched out and the like. They weren’t perfect and had real human touch and drama all over them. I reproduced the letters as closely as possible and included them in the box, along with my own letter about how powerful direct communication can be. I found the series here. 

Napeoleon/Josephine. The man could conquer continents and write a pretty beautiful love letter and he wrote many.

“I hope before long to crush you in my arms and cover you with a million kisses burning as though beneath the equator.”

Seriously, who writes like that any more? When he wasn’t slaughtering peasants, his pen was dripping with love.

This package had a perfect reproduction of an imperfect handwritten letter on rag paper with blobs of ink, folded correctly and sealed with wax. Inside the box were real rose petals, a small bottle of ink and a genuine hand made quill pen.

One of his letters to her was captured by the British and published in the papers and his love was certainly full of issues, mistresses and angst, but when he was on, he was on.

The Mattress Seller of Hammurabi. Again, don’t ask me how I found this, but I came across a record of a clay tablet from a woman who owned a mattress company in Hammurabi around 1700BC. She’d written the tablet to a customer in another town who was unhappy with the purchase. She’d sent the tablet with a messenger and “gifts of fruit and nuts” to make amends for the customer service issue.

I reproduced the tablet in clay from an image of the original and had it used as a mold for a plastic reproduction and sent his out with a full translation. Customer service isn’t a new concept and a personal touch is key.

The upside of this unique campaign was some great new clients and we won a Best in Show John Caples Award and I got a job offer and moved away to Austin, Texas and now I’m sitting on the back deck writing this imperfect story about imperfect shoes and the power of our own imperfections.

And I play in a band every Friday night with a group of amazing musicians and we’ve never practiced, we’ve never had a set list and every night we play songs we’ve never played before. We create new music on the spot and nobody cares about perfection.

Each night is unique and will never happen again and it’s beautiful.

We throw ourselves off the mountain and somehow manage to dance our way down and everyone watching has a big smile on their face because of the imperfect human expression that somehow falls into place. The joy and the emotion mean much more than perfection.

Those shoes got lost somewhere in life, but they still inspire me that a little piece of human imperfection managed to escape the machinery and delight someone a world away.

 

30
Apr

Three things I wish I knew when I got into advertising.

There may actually be a hundred things I wish I knew before I got into advertising, but I’ll save the other 97 for another day.

1. Get a mentor. 

I grew up watching Bewitched and I wanted to be Darren Stevens. Seriously, not kidding. The other kids wanted to be astronauts and police officers and rock stars. I wanted to be Darren Stevens and do advertising. The married to a witch stuff was optional.

I was also on my own in high school, no parents, nobody to tell me how to BECOME Darren Stevens. Somehow I got into college and became an art major. I dabbled with the idea of being a painter but the other painters in the art department were better at it than I was and I figured they’d starve so it was back to advertising.

My talents at the time were drawing and writing. I got lousy grades in math but I could tell stories and draw. I managed to get in some graphic design classes and as many writing classes as I could and stumbled my way into my first advertising job while I was still in school.

It was terrible. It was a small “agency” run by a photographer and his wife. They fought all the time and his studio photos were bland. They’d managed to pick up a few clients for more than just the photos and I was doing illustration and paste up and layouts. It was so bad that at some point I got out and got a job as a disco bouncer. I realized early on that it wasn’t a lifetime career choice.

I didn’t have someone that could look at whatever talents I had and tell me what to do next. I worked through a series of lousy, bottom of the barrel agency and design jobs and somehow managed to collect enough of a portfolio to upgrade each time.

There was a top notch design agency called The Holmes Organization in Newport Beach. Swanky offices, beautiful work. I wanted to work there and I pestered the hell out of Richard Holmes for over a year. I hitchhiked around Europe when I was 21 and sent him hand drawn postcards every week telling him I wanted to work for him when I got home.

He eventually gave up and hired me. I spent a couple years there obsessing over bodycopy kerning and perfect headlines. I worked long hours because anything short of perfection was unacceptable. My next job was a total 180 degree shift.  At BBDO Direct, design was important but results came in first. We’d test layout after layout to deliver the best results. I found a real love of knowing my work actually DID something.

Looking back, there was a lot of simply stumbling into opportunities mixed with highly focused goals but I never had someone to offer any real guidance.

What would they have told me?

Get yourself into a top design school. You’ll work your ass off but you’ll learn how to see and how to think. No matter how much talent you have, you need real learned skills.

Minor in business. If you’re going to be in the ad biz, at some point you’ll probably run your own agency, or at least have to manage the money of freelancing. Learn some accounting and learn the value of your work.

Decide if you’re going to be a writer or an art director. I thought I’d be a designer and art director and I spent many years doing just those things but I found words came to me first. I ended up doing a lot more headlines than my writer partners and eventually ended up writing and art directing.

Learn how to sell your ideas. This came pretty naturally for me, but I’ve worked with a lot of creative types that can certainly produce great work but they couldn’t sell hot toddies in the Antarctic.

So if you’re starting out in the ad biz, find a successful mentor, buy them lunch and ask if they’d be a guide for your career. They’ll probably say yes and you’ll save years of struggle. Had someone taken me on at the beginning of my career, I certainly would have saved a lot of wasted time.

2. Find the hole in the universe that fits you best. 

There are a thousand different kinds of jobs in the creative business. Find yours.

How do you think? Do you visualize? Can you close your eyes and see that perfect curve of a windshield, do you make unique connections between word concepts, do you see a thousand shades of green? Are you funny? Can you bring out emotions in strangers?

Visualize what a perfect work day would be and go back and talk to that mentor you found in the first part of this piece and seek guidance. For me, I liked people, I’m social, I can see things other people miss and I like to sell, so I ended up doing exactly what I should be doing, but it took a lot of years to get there. You can make some decisions early on and get where you need to be much faster.

Had I done this, I’d probably be doing a lot of TV commercials. I ended up doing B2B because I was good at it and those were the opportunities that came to me but I do love film and any time I’ve had the opportunity to work with it, the results were very good.

3. Dream big.

The only people who end up in the creative business got there because they could dream. It’s a very tough way to make a living and you won’t make it unless you’re willing to throw yourself on a lot of hand grenades. I talk to young people who think they want to get into advertising and they’re not sure if they want to do creative or something else.

To me, that’s like saying you’re not sure if you want kimchee or banana pudding. It’s not a coin flip. If you want to be in the creative business, it’s a lifetime commitment. It’s a dream and a goal and a great ambition. You can’t take it lightly because you’re going to have to wake up every day, go into work and make something from nothing.

On deadline.

With pressure.

And difficult clients.

And a thousand things can go wrong.

I look at the lives of others that have regular 9 to 5 desk jobs and sometimes I think to myself how simple life would be. Go in, manage some things, push some paper and go to a few meetings and go home.

Every day of my life I’ve had a blank canvas and a unique problem to solve and no time. I thrive on that but for a lot of people it would be a little slice of hell.

So if you dream of being in the creative business then that’s where you should be but don’t take it lightly. It’s a lifetime commitment to always be ready to start over again, learn something new, stay ahead, don’t let yourself rust and fight for your ideas. It’s tough. It’s brutal. But if it’s your dream, you won’t be happy doing anything else.

 

 

26
Apr

HeroBracelets.org. The story about how I almost lost my agency and did a tiny little thing to make the world better.

We’ve all had jobs. Jobs that we loved or hated but jobs that paid our bills and let us live a reasonable life.

But deep inside, haven’t we all thought that maybe our jobs are only fulfilling half of who we are and who we wish we could be.

Maybe deep, down inside… We want to save the world. Or at least a little part of it. But how can we do that AND pay bills.

It’s possible. With some caveats.

In 2004 the war in Iraq was raging and Americans were being killed. The war had become a political punching bag during the election and I somehow learned that when a soldier was killed in action, the family got a $12,000.00 death benefit and a flag.

Many of these young military families were already struggling and I found a non-profit foundation that doubled what the government gave, no questions asked. I wanted to help support the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund so I got to thinking on how I could do that.

I went back to my days growing up in LA and the ever present POW Bracelets my friends in middle school were wearing.

Why not bring that idea back and use funds from sales to give to the Intrepid Fund.

I came up with a name, HeroBracelets.org and found a company that could anodize and laser etch aluminum. I got a list of the military personnel that had been killed and I made a batch of  black memorial bracelets with each name engraved, their city and the date they were killed in action.

I put up a simple website and hen I started emailing reporters and groups to tell them about this project. We’d give $2.00 from every bracelet bearing the names of a fallen service member to the fund.

The first day the site was up, we sold five bracelets. For the first week, we’d sell a half dozen, then I came into the office and there were 75 emails, each containing an order for one or more bracelets.

I was shocked.

I searched around and found we’d picked up a one-sentence mention in an AP story. One sentence and the next day was over 150 orders. The next day, 200. It kept going with dozens of news organizations doing stories and thousands and thousands of orders. It seemed that every few days a van with a camera crew was coming out to our little office and doing a story on the project.

It was a perfect storm of “be careful what you ask for, you might get it…”

The massive crush of orders caught us totally unprepared and it nearly destroyed my ad agency. The site kept crashing and we had to quickly switch to just taking checks and started getting fifteen pounds of mail a day, all wanting orders. We lost clients and struggled to fulfill orders with friends and neighbors stuffing envelopes. I can’t blame my clients for getting miffed. I was getting letters and calls from parents who’d just lost their son in battle and could they have his name on a bunch of bracelets for his family. When you’re having those conversations every day, the color on a logo starts to pale in importance.

Today we’re still fulfilling orders, but in a much more efficient way. We’ve given over $300,000.00 to a dozen non-profit organizations and helped thousands of people honor someone they love.

We’re still giving $2.00 from each order and the buyer gets to choose the organization they wish to fund.

The concept of building a business that does good and does well is a solid one. For many of us, it’s a dream that will always seem just a little out of reach but it IS possible.

My advice?

1. Who do you want to help? Talk to the organization and make sure they want help.

2. What will you sell? Find a product that exists and is underutilized or find a product that, with a few alterations, you can make your own.

3. BUILD THE BRAND. This is the part that is the most difficult if you’ve never done it. If you need advice, ask and I’m happy to help free of charge.

4. Do your marketing. Again, not for the feint of heart, but building the site and starting the marketing/PR/Social process can be a lot of work if you’ve never done it. I’ve met a lot of people with a great passion and idea but they don’t have the experience to bring the project to life. Find someone who can help or call me, I’ll do what I can.

5. Partner. If you can’t do any part of this process, find a partner that can and split it.

It sounds simple because when you really break it down, it’s these five steps. There is a lot to know and learn within each step, but you can do it. If you don’t have the experience, find a mentor to help. I reached out to some great people here in Austin that had a profound effect on the project and made it possible.

HeroBracelets.org has evolved many times over and will continue to evolve. We’ve got over 30 different products and we continue to give money away and so very happy to do so. We’ve seen presidents, generals, civic leaders, actors and musicians all wearing HeroBracelets. We’ve received thousands of email and letters from around the world to thank us for making such a simple and personal way to remember our heroes. We’ve met so many people and been touched by so many stories and it was all because of a quick idea that turned out to take on it’s own universe.

The lesson here is simple. If you see a problem, you actually CAN do something about it. Get some help if you need it, but you CAN make a change. Don’t give up.

 

 

 

20
Apr

Applying to a creative agency? Here’s a quick class.

I shot this with my good friends over at Sparksight here in Austin. If you’re looking to work in a creative agency, there are some things to think about before you sit for your interview.

Watch it here.