Monday, February 29, 2016

Best Planners in the World

Happy Leap Year Day.

It's an unusual day that I'm always hyper-aware of, simply because it comes a day after my birthday. Thank you to all the well wishers who tried to ease the pain of spending February 28th at the office. On a Sunday. Locked in heated thought battles with other advertising veterans in order to prime America's voracious engine of capitalism.

Happy 44th to me.

Being it's an unusual date on the calendar that only comes to us once every four years, the same timespan it takes for one politician in all of Washington DC to say or propose ONE good idea, I thought I'd do something equally rare. And spread a heaping helping of praise on my favorite people-- the Planners.

But don't get too far ahead of yourselves. Because the three best Planners I've ever worked with aren't really Planners.

First up, there's Tamer Kattan.

I'm using his name because I got permission to use his name. We met during my early days of freelancing at Chiat/Day. What struck me was Tamer's distinctive ability to articulate his thoughts. Not with marketingese or any of the semantic gymnastics employed by so many others in the profession. But English. Clear, concise, declarative English. Moreover he brought actual insight.

It made his briefs easy to understand.

Interestingly enough, it also made it difficult to fault his logic. Amazing how that works, huh?

Tamer has such a command of the language (and solid thinking) that he is no longer a Planner and works his linguistic magic as a stand up comedian. He's incredibly talented and I have no doubt he will soon be appearing on stage with Fallon or Kimmel before the next Leap Year.

My second favorite Planner is....oh shit I forgot to get his permission.

Let's just call him Josh. He is an Art Director by trade. But is also vocationally ambidextrous. Josh spent the last few years employed as a Producer/Consultant on MadMen, maybe you heard of it. We've done a few projects together and I've never ceased to be amazed by his ability to analyze a business challenge, break down all its components and construct an original plan of attack.

Josh is fond of saying, "we need to find a unique position that defines the client's brand and leaves the competitor's debilitated by jealousy."

That kind of singular brilliance is rarely found in a PowerPoint deck or a three page brief of convoluted run-on sentences.

And finally, the third best Planner I've ever worked with is Lee Clow. In this context, I should also include Steve Hayden. I've had the pleasure of working for both of them. Neither are Planners. But both have the reductionist instinct to cut through all the bullshit, to dispense with all the Venn diagrams, and to spit out a piercing strategy based on an assessment of the cultural landscape and the vision of where great creative advertising can go.

I could go a few more pages contrasting the credentials of these non-Planners with those who have made it their official profession. And probably lay a few stinging body punches and uppercuts regarding trapezoids, big data and the unsettling, ubiquitous business of Planners acting as proxy Creative Directors.

"I'd kill that spot because my 2 years of business experience tells me it doesn't fit the strategy."

But I'm not going to do that.

Today I'm taking the High Road -- a road I travel once every four years or so.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

What a long strange trip it's been

Spoiler Alert: If you're thinking this posting is going to be about Quinton Tarantino's latest movie you're going to be disapppointed. I haven't seen the film, but knowing his body of work I'm going to assume there is plenty of gunplay, oozing blood, and unfulfilled wishes of revenge blissfully and cinematically fulfilled.

If only that were allowed in advertising.

No, I borrowed the title type treatment because we here at RoundSeventeen corporate headquarters are about to celebrate a milestone and head into our 8th full year of meaningless, not-for-profit, self publication.

I started this blog on a whim, not knowing what or where it would lead to. This has been my modus operandi for as long as I can remember.

My daily email correspondence with Nigerian scammers began the same way.

My constant jabbing at the jowly juvenile in Pyongyang, also the same.

And my collection of "fictionalized" short stories about advertising, ditto.

The truth is, I'm constantly looking for new creative venues to express myself. Perhaps one day I'll publish my assemblage of Gaelic Love Poems written from the perspective of a heartbroken, 23-year old Glasgowegian butter churner.

You might be wondering, as I often do on Saturday morning's when I'm staring at a blank page, what more could Siegel possibly talk about?

Truth be told I ran out of fresh way back in 2013. So I just keep deconstructing and rehashing the same material over and over again.

Why? Because believe it or not, this blog keeps me semi-gainfully employed. With it, I am in front of the faces of the people who need writers every day. I'm on their radar. And as others will attest, apart from its therapeutic qualities, writing a blog also allows me to keep writing out invoices.

But here's the deal.

This highly unprofitable blog will cease to exist when I no longer have to descend into the advertising trenches to foot the bills. That will probably be the day my youngest daughter graduates from college. Or Elon Musk runs his Hyperloop train over the 10 scrubby acres of land I own in Panamint Springs, CA.

Whichever comes first.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

And the Gold goes to....

I've often said, "there's nothing more amusing than White Trash."

To that end, my buddy Greg, who hails from the Tennessee, always volunteers to indulge my fascination by sending me regular news clippings ripped from the pages of local Appalachian "newspapers."

Greg, an alumni of Cocke County High School, (Go Cockes, Go!), hand selects the very best material. However, despite reaching new heights in hillbilly ineptitude, these homegrown tales pale in comparison to the stories coming from Russia and the Caucasus Mountains, birthplace of the Caucasians -- the original White Trash.

And so, because I am short on time and long on work responsibilities this week, and because these juicy photos keep showing up in my Facebook memories, I am revisiting the photojournalistic journey we took two years ago to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Remember Olga?

Feb 21, 2014, Sochi, Russia -- Barista at local Starbucks prepares for the morning crowds.

Feb. 24, 2014, Sochi, Russia -- Construction workers put the finishing touches on the newly-built Sochi Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Feb. 25, 2104, Sochi, Russia -- With a little Soviet-style ingenuity, Russian Curling Team arrives at competition just in time. 

Feb. 26, 2104, Sochi, Russia -- Finnish Speed Skater tells upset hotel manager, "I tried jiggling the knob."

Feb. 26, 2014 Sochi, Russia -- Polish Hockey team departs from Moscow after mechanical issues are resolved.

Feb. 28, 2014 Sochi, Russia -- Homeowners next to Olympic Biathlon course plan lawsuits.

I know the Olympics Committee will soon be deciding on the location of the next venue, but for my money, I wish they'd dispense with all the back room shenanigans, the graft and the international geopolitics and make Mother Russia the permanent home of the Olympics. Winter, Summer or otherwise.

"Cut me off a heaping helping of that Vladimir Lenin birthday cake."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

No slash for me, thank you.

Several weeks ago I woke up at 5:00AM to a troubling email.

Actually, the fact that I was awake at 5 AM is troubling enough. I used to sleep like a bear who had stumbled unto a winter's worth of Maker's Mark and a bottle of Nyquil, but now I find myself rising before the sun and all the neighbor's barking dogs.

I won't share the identity of the email sender, suffice to say it was from a former Chiat/Day colleague.

She asked if I had written the Here's to the Crazy Ones anthem spot.

Perhaps because I have written so many manifestos, some good, many achingly bad, the confusion is somewhat understandable. Also because Rob Siltanen and I share the same initials. Not to mention the rugged, athletic good looks that always leaves women thinking, "Damn, all the good ones are taken."

Nevertheless, I wanted to stop this train of thought before it ever left the station. And told my former colleague, in no uncertain terms and with no room for vagary, that I did NOT write the Apple anthem.

More importantly, I wanted it to get back to Rob Siltanen that I had done all that I could to distance myself from this rumor. Not because the work isn't great, it is. But because I had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Look, I'm well aware of my reputation in this business. I can be hardheaded, opinionated, and monumentally contentious. In fact, I'm working for a creative director right now who could probably add some other colorful phrases. I can live with all that, because it's all in service of the Work.

But the ad agency world is jammed jelly-tight with people who game the system, who allow rumors to fester, who play the PR machine like it's a Stradivarius and who hound glory that is not theirs to hound.

I know who they are.

You know they are.

I am not one of them.

Monday, February 22, 2016

That Pioneering Spirit

Shit's Getting Real in the Best Buy Parking lot.

Don't know if you can see it, but that's me in the lower left hand corner of the photo. I'm sporting my Tony Soprano Adidas track suit, seated at a fold up table in a strategic position where I can address Best Buy shoppers before entering their palace of overpriced, Chinese-made home gadgetry.

Why would I take a few precious hours out of my Saturday morning to set up camp at the big box store, you might be wondering.

Well, this is from 2008 and let's just say that as a 36 year old copywriter I was full of piss and vinegar. I'm 44 now. My prostate has tripled in size. And my bladder no longer has the capacity for piss. Or vinegar.

But boy was I miffed. I had just shelled out $2200 for a brand new Pioneer 50" HD Flatscreen TV. And initially I thought I had hit the electronics jackpot. The picture was beautiful. The sound from their patented SoundBar9000™ was flawless. And the massive TV fit like a precision cut puzzle piece in the family room entertainment unit.

Life, in front of my multi-million pixel portal of football, nature documentaries and late night Skin-a-Max movies was good.

Until three months later, when it wasn't.

The Confibulated Hydroponic Transducer Module had blown out. And the repair was not covered by the good folks at Pioneer. Nor would they do anything to mitigate the cost -- $811.37.

This did not sit well with me. And so, in keeping with a Siegel tradition that dates way back to the grub-farming shtetls of western Poland and eastern Russia, when hit, I hit back.

If Pioneer was going to take $811 from my pocket, I reasoned, I would take at least that much from theirs. By convincing flatscreen TV hunters to steer away from the Pioneer brand.

Here's the sign mounted on my folding table.

Of course, I didn't stop there. Because I wasn't going to let a good grudge go to waste. I also had bumper stickers printed out and gave those away to shoppers who must have been thinking, "this man is certifiable. And he's wearing a wedding ring. That poor woman."

There was this one...

and this one...

and this one....

and finally this one...

I'm happy to say my taking-it-to-the-street guerilla warfare had its desired effect and NOT one single Pioneer TV was sold that day. Mostly, as I learned later from the Assistant Manager who booted me from the parking lot, because Best Buy had stopped stocking Pioneer TV's on their shelves. 

But I'm not going to let a technicality like that detract from my hard-fought victory.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Colon Blow

Allow me to be honest with you.

Actually, there have been very few occasions when I have not been honest with you. This inability to mask my true feelings and deceitfully manipulate the behavior of colleagues, above all else, accounts for my professional underachievement.


Each week I approach this blog with several ideas for my semi-daily posts (which by the way are all written on Saturday morning). This week, perhaps because I am knee-deep in a project, I found myself coming up short on ideas.

I'll write it later, I thought.

The good Lord, who I don't believe in, will surely provide the necessary material. Perhaps on Monday. Or Tuesday. Or maybe even Wednesday, which would have thrown me into a last minute tailspin.

But he, or she, in their Flying Spaghetti Monster goodness, delivered the goods on Sunday morning. Submitted for your amusement, a full page newspaper ad --remember those?-- for Cologuard, the latest advancement in the dubious  world of medical screening.

From what I can gather from the ad and the overly excited man who has just received his Cologuard home testing package, the premise is very simple: you get the box, you shit in the box and you send the box back to Cologuard whose employees in the mailroom must surely be cursing their wretched shit-box receiving lives.

I give the ad agency points for staying on brief (insert underwear joke here), and employing ethnically diverse characters.

However, after spending a life in the agency world and knowing that good work often gets killed by pedantic people who have no right to kill good work, I can't help thinking there were other concepts and headlines pinned to the foam core board that might have merited further consideration...

Drop the kids off at the Post Office.

Your #2 is our #1 Priority.

Take advantage of our President's Day Special. Send us your Lincoln Logs.

What did you have for dinner last night?

"Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

And in a nod to the convenience of UPS Shipping,

What can Brown do for you?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Bear of a Market

The premise of today's post could be completely negated by a market upswing, which by the way would suit me fine.

But the truth is the stock market has me worried. And has for a while.

Mind you, in comparison to the big boys, I'm only playing with bottle caps. But they're my bottle caps and I'm gonna need as many as possible to avoid ending up at the Filthy Floors & Dirty Towels Retirement Home.

So, about 8 months ago, having ridden the Bull for a good long while, I started taking some money, er...bottle caps off the table. A slow, methodical retreat against the "better" advice of my financial advisor.

I sold what little stock I had. And I instructed the advisor to move my pittance of money from Growth funds to less volatile Conservative funds.

I'll be the first to admit I don't understand the ins and outs of investing. What I do know is gleaned from movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and the more recent the Big Short. Not a ringing endorsement for those in the finance industry.

And while I'm not up to speed on price to earnings ratios or dividend distributions or upside potential, I am able to read a room. Or in this case a planet. And I don't like what I see with the Chinese economy. I don't like the expanding Russian sphere of influence. And I don't like the proxy wars in the Middle East, where logic and reason have as much value as Enron stock.

And so, like a responsible teenage boy, I'm pulling out.

Even though I have the resting heartbeat of an Olympic Athlete (51 BPM) I just can't take the wild swings of the Dow Jones lately. This is problematic, says my advisor, who wonders aloud...

"I understand you're nervous, Rich. But it's impossible to time the market. How will you know when it's right to get back in?"

Get back in? I thought.

Listen up Jordan Belfort, I'm sinking whatever shekels I have, into these...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Freelancer's Owner Manual

Today's post is for my people.

No, not grumpy 44 year old Jews with an unlimited supply of righteous indignation and a garage full of soapboxes.

I'm talking about art directors and copywriters, of the freelance variety. So, if you're looking for something pithy about politics, parenting, neighborhood relations, the skyrocketing cost of college, or even a dismal recap of this year's Super Bowl extravaganza, you'll have to look elsewhere.

Today, February 16th, 2016, there are more advertising freelancers than I have ever seen in my entire career. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't receive a phone call, a text or an email to the effect of, "Hey, Rich if you know of any gigs out there send me your overflow."

Ok, that's not entirely true -- those requests never come via a phone call.

The point is, there are a lot of us creative mercenaries. And I don't think that's bad for ad agencies. In fact, as I have pointed out many times before, I believe it can be good. Very, very good.

As a public service to ad agencies all across this great land as well as those on the other side of the Greenwich Line (because I occasionally go international), I'd like to offer up some helpful hints in what I'm calling:

The Care and Feeding of Your Freelancer

1. Be Prepared -- Years ago, I was hired for a long term project at a rather obscene day rate. I won't say the name of the company but it rhymes with Zapple. I arrived on a Monday morning, ready to dazzle the Zapple people with my creative wares. But the Brief was not ready until Thursday. That's three full wasted day rates. Look, I'm happy to take your money, cruise Internet memes and pore through photos of Kim Jung Un all day long, but after a while Jewish guilt sets in. We want to work. Just tell us what the ideas are supposed to be about.

2. Give Us Time -- Over the last dozen years, I've been brought in countless times to reposition a brand. This is a monumental task. And it doesn't happen in the span of one rotation of the earth. "Here's the brief, let's see where you're at tomorrow morning."  Look, I wasn't in the room at Chiat/Day when they came up with Think Different and Here's to the Crazy Ones, and by the way it's shameful how many people are claiming credit for that work, but I was down the hall when it came into being. And I can tell you it didn't happen overnight. Or overweek. Or even Overmonth. To that end, I urge you to watch this video.

3. Less Meetings, More Work -- It goes without saying that if you've hired a freelancer you're paying a premium for what you hope to receive are solid sellable solutions. What you don't want to be doing is paying top dollar to a bunch of fidgety creatives who are inordinately averse to PowerPoint decks, marketing-speak, and incomprehensible intersecting Rhomboids and Trapezoids. Wink, wink, we hate trapezoids. There's a reason they have sold 473 million of these coffee mugs.

4.  Lay off the Layers -- If there's one thing we've learned from Washington DC and our inept members of Congress, it's that bureaucracy and politics produce more bureaucracy and more politics. Nothing good ever came out of GroupThink, with the possible exception of Windows 95™. Freelancers want nothing more than to do the work. We have no hidden agendas. No ambition. And no desire to move up the company org. chart. Hell, we don't even want to look at a company org. chart. It's why we became freelancers in the first place.

5.  The Long Leash -- My dog is 13 years old, pushing on 14. When I take her out a night for walk I put her on the leash. But the truth is I don't have to. She doesn't pull ahead, as she did when she was a pup. She doesn't bolt across the street to chase squirrels. She simply walks by my side and obeys all my commands. It's the benefit of experience. Similarly, most freelancers tend to be on the older side. Not 44 like me, but they've been around the block. You can depend on them. They're going to get the work done. Whether it's offsite or onsite. Or a flexible combination of both. Of course, if you want them onsite, it's always a good idea to have free food around. We are by nature, cheap dates.

6. 1099 Us -- I'm no accountant, though I come from a long line of CPA's, but I can't tell you the exuberant joy that courses through my body when, prior to booking a gig, an HR person will ask, "Is it OK if we 1099 you?" OK? I'll slash my day rate to get a full 1099 paycheck.  I'll gladly let my crafty accountant sort through the tax code and get me deductions for everything from my oven roasted turkey sandwiches (eaten while working) to my new Shimano FSX Mountain Bike (ridden while ideating.) Note: we also hate the word ideating.

With the possible exception of the last tip, all these tips are guaranteed to increase the bottom line of ad agencies hiring freelancers. And really, isn't that what's it's all about? Making more money for the holding companies.

I'm going to stop here at 6 points. I know that's an odd number and doesn't fit into the common listicle format of 5 or even 10. But that's exactly the kind of reckless and irresponsible freedom that makes life worth living as an advertising freelancer.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Death of SlothBoy

From the "I-Had-That-Idea-But-Someone-Else-Did-It" File.

Talk to anyone involved in the creative business and it won't be long before you start sharing stories about how one of their ideas never made it to fruition. That is until somebody else made millions of dollars off the same exact thought.

Happens everyday.
To everybody.

But, I happen to have a blog, a platform, "a showcase for my thin-skinned assholery" as one recent observer noted on Twitter, so I'm going to blather on about it.

Two weeks ago, short on ideas of what to do with ourselves and short on energy to take a hike, my wife and I sauntered over to the Culver theaters to watch the overhyped Stars Wars movie. It was awful. A tired, poorly-acted rehash of the original.

The scene comparing the original Death Star to the newly-improved, suspiciously similar Death Star was a laughable summation of the entire money-printing enterprise.

Prior to the movie, there was a trailer for an upcoming Pixar movie.
Perhaps you've seen it.

It may not be familiar to you, but it is achingly familiar to me.

You see, years ago when I was still being hired to come up with Super Bowl ideas -- now I'm brought in to do banners, tweets and the occasional FSI -- my partner and I came up with what we thought was a brilliant premise. I'll be the first to admit it was a premise that could've, with a little copywriting gymnastics at the end, been applied to anything from a car to a beer to a burger.

In a nutshell, a family goes on vacation to the Brazilian rainforest. Their four year old son wonders off into jungle and cannot be found. He survives however and is raised by a pack of Amazonian three-toed sloths. He eats, sleeps and lives with the sloths through his entire childhood. Until, through a miracle, he is found and reunited with his loving parents who must now cope with their long lost SlothBoy.

And it is from that painful slowness, a wealth of wacky vignettes are born. Set against the noisy bombast and stupidity of today's Super Bowl fare, I am convinced we could have produced a memorably funny spot.

To wit, the trailer for Zootopia produced ear-drum bursting howls of laughter. And listening to a crowded theater hang on every word made it impossible not to recall all the failed opportunities in my deeply-flawed career. It was nothing short of Chinese Water Torture.

And did I mention slow?

As the trailer faded to darkness, I could hear through half-eaten popcorn kernels, the couple behind me, "that was the funniest thing I ever saw."

Yeah, I thought, it would've been a lot funnier in 2009.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ouch, that hurts.

What you're looking at is my rock hard, Popeye-like, bulging forearm.

This eye-stopping level of turgidity is not the result of many hours in the gym doing preacher curls. Nor, for you prurient-minded, is it the result of any other strenuous right-handed physical exertion.

So what is it that has me writing about my abnormally swollen arm but not having it treated at the local Urgent Care Center as my wife has so wisely advised?

I got stung by a bee.

Those of you who read RoundSeventeen on a regular basis, and I think that number is somewhere near 8, may recall that I was also stung by a bee while swimming way back in April 2015. I'll save you the visual, but the result was equally tumescent and equally revolting.

On that occasion, I did see a "doctor", a fresh-off-the-boat Persian fellow who barely spoke English and apparently skipped classes at Tehran University the day they were learning about how to treat a bee sting.

Having taken a cursory look at the bee sting, he decided the best option was to administer some novocaine and "dig around with a scalpel" ( his words, not mine) hoping to find the stinger which he believed was lodged beneath the skin.

I wasn't about to go that route again.

For now, I'm just watching, with no small amount of morbid fascination, as the forearm ballooning increases and creeps its way up towards my shoulder. To be honest, it's not unlike a teenage experiment when you leave a rotting tub of cottage cheese in the fridge to see what kind of colors and growth will emerge.

I'll just keep icing it down. And enjoy this legitimate excuse to self-medicate with multiple tumblers of high octane whiskey and easy-to-swallow Vicodin.

I've also made my wife kiss the boo-boo, but she wouldn't let me take a picture of that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Christ, are you kidding me?

Last week, I heard a Presidential candidate say something I never thought I'd hear from a politician. Which in itself is quite amazing in light of Donald Trump's unprecedented...

"I will bomb the shit out of them."

"I could shoot somebody on 5th avenue and still win the nomination."

"If she wasn't my daughter I'd be hitting that."

In response to a question from Anderson Cooper, Bernie Sanders, a smarter, thinner, better-dressed version of my zaida, said he was an Atheist. Oh Lordy, I thought, you can't tell the American people you don't believe in God and then expect to get elected.

A sad state of affairs considering we are a nation built upon the separation of church and state. As well as the foundation of religious liberty. Although apparently that liberty does not include the right NOT to believe in God.

Of course Constitutional arguments rarely have any sway to those who purport to cling to it with all their heart and soul.

Contrast Sander's atheism with the resurgence of Ted Cruz, who has publicly stated he answers to Jesus and is a Christian first and an American second.

I'm no expert on Scripture. I have a vague recollection of the Torah portion from my Bar Mitzvah. Something about slaying a goat, burying one of its legs in the ground and offering up the remainders to Adonai, the Host of Hosts, Master and Commander of the vast universe. Oh and don't quote me on that.

But I'm not sure which Jesus Christ, Mr. Cruz is referring to.

When asked how he would deal win ISIS in Raqaa (where thousands of innocent civilians also live), he said, "We will carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we're going to find out."

Is that from Mathew 3:14?

Revelation 2:28?

Or is it something more obscure from Thessalonians?

And here's the real irony. For all his humanism, his ancestral Jewishness and his proclamation of disbelief, Sanders, it can be argued, is by far the most Christian or Christ-like of all the candidates.

He has an open disdain for the obscenely wealthy who work for their own interests and no one else's.

He wants to feed the poor and heal the sick.

He is decidedly Pacifist.

And he can walk on water. (OK, that came from one of his young supporters who was admittedly stoned at the time, but Bernie also wants to legalize marijuana.)

Lastly, Bernie Sanders wants to make college free to any student seeking higher education. Free? Where were you 4 years ago? You'll probably get the law enacted the same day my youngest gets her $250,000 sheepskin.

I damn you to the hell you don't believe in, Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

El Ninot

Last week, the Internet was on fire with memes about Martin Shkreli, the pharmaceutical douchebag who tried to gouge sick seniors by raising the price of one particular drug. Many claimed he had one of the Top Ten Punchable Faces.

I don't make it a habit of punching people, but if I did, local Weather Boy/tanning booth abuser Dallas Raines would be at the top of my list.

For months now he has been pimping the fictional arrival of the big El Nino, a Pacific ocean phenomena that produces huge amounts of rain.

To date, it has not.

In fact, in what was promised to be one of the wettest winters ever recorded in Southern California, our levels are still below normal.

Rich, I can hear you saying through the Internet, isn't it a little futile to be complaining about the lack of rain and the pinstriped buffoon with his ridiculous signature hand gestures? Yes it is. But I didn't get to 1400 blog posts by ignoring the little futilities of life.

Besides, Dallas Raines, Fritz Coleman and the KCBS "meteorologist" who wears the tight dresses, are not completely without blame. Because while they haven't produced much in the way of moisture, that hasn't stopped them from frothing at the mouth with endless teasers and precipatory promises.

"A big storm is headed our way, how much rain we will get?"

"Could this be the big one we've been expecting?"

"Are we in for a wet week? Find out at 11."

You'll notice all these teases are phrased as questions. And for good reason. Dallas has seen the reports from the National Weather Service. I should say someone who knows how to read those maps and reports has seen them and told Dallas what to say on screen. They know there's no rain coming. But that doesn't stop Dallas from making the inference and get all worked up like a monkey raised on sugar and cocaine.


The "news" networks have research that shows the mere mention about the possibility of water falling from the sky in Southern California sends the ratings up. Way up.

And good ratings means good revenue from advertisers. And good revenue means Dallas can afford his twice a day micro-laser teeth whitening treatments.

There is no El Nino.
There is no Ebola or Zika epidemic.
There is no homosexual agenda.
There is no War on Christianity.
There is no political revolution.
And there is no Breaking News.

It's all just one 24-hour a day, media-fueled bukake of fist-pumping hype.

And this nonsense about rain is just a drop in the bucket.

Monday, February 8, 2016

We Need More Writers

Coming from someone who is keenly aware of the competition and how a glut of writers threaten to take food off my table, send me to a premature retirement and will one day land me behind the wheel of my Lexus, Ubering Angelenos to LAX, you might find it strange that I wish more people would write, but I do.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying we need more copywriters. Hell no, we need fewer of those.

But we do need more people familiar with the notion of structure, composition and disciplined thinking.

You see, with the advent of the computer, the internet and the god-awful open office plan, we have lost something vital to the future -- the ability to express a thought with any degree of clarity. Speaking from experience, I know this to be true in the corporate world, but I suspect it applies elsewhere.

Today, we live in an age of abbreviated thinking. Texts, with no vowels. Decks, with bullet points but no insight. And last, but hardly least meaningful, Mood boards.

Let's not forget about the rise of the Emoji. If it's any indication of where American business is going, it won't be long before we're grunting at each other and drawing on cave walls like our ancestors.

I know you think I'm exaggerating but I'm not.

Recently overheard at the cubicle farm:

"Hey Bill, I was thinking about that project, what about flanges?"

"What? What about them?"

"I don't know, I was just thinking about flanges."

End scene.

That's not the way it used to be.

From my days in the mailroom I remember a little something called the Interoffice Memo.

If a junior executive wanted to spring an idea on his or her cohorts, that junior executive took the time and the effort to spell it all out, from beginning to end, with a premise, logical proof points and a rock-solid conclusion that left no doubt this junior executive is upper management material.

Granted this was borne out of a Cover Your Ass mentality, but at least it forced people to think and properly write out their ideas. Moreover, it produced a sense of accountability. The world moves a lot faster since the days I pushed that damn mailroom cart up and down the hallways at Needham, Harper & Steers for $800 a month. But maybe we'd all be doing ourselves a favor if we just slowed down.

When I was staff Creative Director, a young team was presenting their ideas for a new campaign. As they papered the wall in my office with colored Post It Notes, the art director qualified the pitch...

"I just want to say these ideas aren't fully baked yet but I think we're onto something."

"Good," I told them, "bring it back when they're fully baked."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Young Men and the Sea

No one on this earth would ever describe me as fashion forward.

I am at my most comfortable throwing on some dungarees, a tee shirt and a North Face fleece which has just the right amount of thickness to hide my excessive hipline yet not too thick to cause excessive sweating.

My only concession to style would be my $180 Panama Jack ankle-high leather boots.

I wear them because they are comfortable, provide ample support against my plantar fascitis and because the Vibram heel adds 3/4 inch to my stature, barely lifting me out of being labeled a short guy.

That is not to say I am completely unaware of the latest sartorial trends.

Working in advertising, I bear ample witness to ear gauges, frothy beards, stingy brim fedoras and the oh-so-popular man bun. I am not interested in any of these affectations, I am only interested in making uninformed old man prejudgments of those who choose to partake in them.

As a grumpy old timer who enjoys the artificiality of those who have not advanced to 44 years of age, I make it my duty to spot new and upcoming trends.

And as you might have guessed, we have one -- the Jacques Cousteau look.

For many of you that reference will seem dated. Not to worry, Cousteau's life was spoofed by the highly overrated Wes Anderson (with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox) and the unwatchable Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

In the past two weeks I've now spotted no fewer than 10 hipsters sporting this exact look. Mostly at the nearby Whole Foods Store, where it gets "unreal in the parking lot."

What I find most amazing about those bedecked with this latest manifestation of faux masculinity is the thinness of it all.

Because I'd put my testicles up on the chopping block to bet that if you were to shake the hands of these landlubbing "sailors", you'd find the soft, uncalloused skin of a man who has never skippered a boat, never fished at sea and never even tied a Sheepshead Knot.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Uber hung over

I curse you Uber. Which I am convinced is an amalgamation of, "I used to be sober."

Allow me to explain.

Every so often I will get together with some old ad buddies from Team One. Though saddled with one of the worst clients in advertising history, a man who spoke no more 300 words of English, we had a unique camaraderie at the offices on Grand Blvd. in the heart of smelly El Segundo, where the the refinery meets the sea.

These infrequent occasions are marked by laughing, drinking, more laughing, and more drinking.

To wit, the plan was to grab a long table at Alejo's Italian Restaurant near LAX, guzzle beer and down enough garlic bread to stave off all the vampires in Transylvania. For those arriving early, there was the pre-dinner promise of ample whiskey at the Hacienda --a Mexican dive next door with a full liquor license.

We never made it to Alejo's.

Knowing what would transpire I did the mature thing and Ubered (the newest verb to enter Webster's dictionary) from my house in Culver City.

Unencumbered by the thought of having to drive home, fingers crossed, with a mouthful of breath mints, one rotgut Manhattan led to another and another.

One wouldn't normally pair up a whiskey drink with tacos carne asada, but we weren't there for the food.

Unlike our NY advertising brethren and their foodie tendencies (I'm very well acquainted with the steak and pom frite at Rauols), we weren't there to drop C-notes and regal each other with stories about starfucking parties on the Upper West Side. Or Studio 54. Or wherever NY elitists gather these days, with their Tony Jacklin golf clubs and bleeding masonic handshakes!

To make a long drinking story mercifully short, we ended up closing the place.

Sadly, we dispersed before Stan Toyama could amuse us with his stinging and deadly-accurate impression of Mr. Chikuma, the aforementioned Team One client who made our lives a miserable hell but also bonded us and gave us a lasting brotherhood not unlike the one shared by survivors of the Bataan Death March.

Fortunately we had the wherewithal to ask the waitress, or for all I can recall it could have been a waiter, to snap a photo of this legendary night.

And whether it was through serendipity or the guiding hand of a posthumous former CMO, we have this unimaginably fortuitous, perfectly timed snapshot for our scrapbooks.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Are you available?

Not long ago, a Creative Services Manager told me something in confidence.

She said how much more pleasant her job would be if other freelancers replied as quickly to her emails as I did.

Naturally, this came as quite a shock. Because food doesn't get on my table, beer doesn't get in my fridge and bursars from the University of Colorado and Washington don't get their pound of my flesh, unless I respond as quickly as possible to ANY inquiry for freelance work.

I like to think that my particular brand of copywriting was what separated me from my colleagues, but now I'm discovering the reason I stay busy all the time has more to do with my obsessive punctuality and responsible email etiquette.

Who cares?
This movie isn't ending with me in a dirty nursing home.
I'll take work anyway and anywhere I can get it.

On that note I recently enjoyed an experience that may be familiar to many freelancers. Or, maybe not.

I had just finished an assignment for an out of town ad agency -- the best kind of assignment, a solo writing gig that entailed a generous day rate, my Herman Miller chair, the freedom of a midday swim followed by a sandwich from the increasingly-popular Jackson Market which is an easy dog walk away from my house.

I wasn't booked for my next gig, but that was about to change. Quickly. Because on the same day, on the same morning, I fielded two questions regarding my availability.


It was as if I were the prettiest girl in high school fending off woo from both the football team quarterback AND the basketball team high scoring power forward.

I responded "yes" to both requests and transmitted my replies as fast as the confabulated flik-flaks of the Internet could deliver them. And then, from the comfort of my Adidas nylon sweatpants, I sat back and imagined the frenzied chatter of both resource management teams.

"We gotta get Siegel in here."

" I don't care about his 'get-home-before-Jeopardy' work policy."

"Tell him we'll double what the other agency is willing to pay."

Of course, that's not exactly how it all played out. As in all cases I simply said 'yes' to the first caller who went beyond the availability question and put a solid booking on the table.

But, a man can dream can't he?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Read this post or I will kill a dog

You probably noticed, but in addition to David Bowie and Glen Frey, there have been a lot of deaths in the musical world lately. And with it, the attendant gushy obituaries and sappy Facebook tomes.

I have not been a participant in that type of public weeping. Don't get me wrong, I love music as much as the next fellow, I'm listening to Mark Knopfler tear up the frets even as I am writing this piece.

But, because I never aspired to be a guitar player, singer, drummer or piano player, I don't see their passing as a monumental life milestone. I'm pretty sure when John Lennon was shot I was eating a beef burrito at Burrito King on Lincoln Blvd., then again, maybe I wasn't.

That is not to say I did not have childhood heroes. I did.

They all worked at the National Lampoon. In fact, I knew from reading the Adventures of Politeness Man, Pinto's First Lay and the intricate, dark and perverted tales told in National Lampoon's parody Kefauver High School Yearbook, my life course had been set.

I was blessed in a way few 14 year old kids are.

I knew exactly what I was going to be when I grew up -- a writer.

I ended up being a copywriter, but it's close.

Last week, I caught a documentary now playing on Showtime -- Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead, the story of the National Lampoon. It was like being a teenager all over again. And I will admit to pangs of nostalgia.

Maybe you're not the aficionado that I was and continue to be (in my garage you'll find crates of old Natlamp magazines, some from my childhood and some purchased on e-bay.) But in the movie you will see the faces of comedy legends who altered our cultural landscape in a way Jimmy Page or Roger Daltry never could.

There's John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase, all NL alumni.

Not to mention the killer writers who worked behind the scenes: Doug Kenney, Michael O'donahue, Tony Hendra and PJ O'rourke. These are the genii who took humor to a different level. Who, with their love of language and their razor sharp wit, went beyond the juvenile, broad slapstick and layered in sly satire, shifted social mores and shook up the world of politics.

And unlike brethren publications, they included tits. Lots of tits.

If I may co-opt a sentiment recently expressed by one of my colleagues, these guys "towered over my imagination."

Of course that was then and this is now. Today, I'm a 44 year old copywriter with a mortgage, two pressing college tuitions and a Public Storage locker full of life's crushed dreams, so if one of my National Lampoon idols has a brain aneurysm or overdoses on Oxycontin don't expect any heartfelt paeans from me.

I've got banner ads to write.