Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What have you done with my logo?


Every once in a while someone comes up with the bright idea that a presentation to a company will be just a little more appealing if the proposal cover has a their logo on it. This seems like a pretty good idea. How could they not love seeing their logo? You might be surprised. We all know that technology is making designers out of some unlikely people. We also know that computer images, scanners, color copiers and neighborhood copy stores make it possible to do slick graphics with interesting binding options and paper stock selection. But do you really think the reader of your document is impressed with his own logo as interpreted by you? Even if you are an agency or design firm this is a risky move. (Check that...especially if you are an agency or design firm.)

The graphic standards manual for Mercedes-Benz is 18” think and in German. So it isn’t hard to imagine violating their logo use guidelines. The familiar tri-star image is nearly universal. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Hellmuth in Purchasing appreciates you taking liberties with it. Sure you want to get his North American office supply account. But forget about trying to lull him into believing your company and his are in symbolic graphic harmony. If you look carefully, you will notice that logos change more frequently now than they use to. Federal Express is now FedEx. Pepsi changes the design graphics on their soft drink cans every season. Shell Oil service stations stopped using any type on their signs. Campbell Soup isn’t afraid to show a sprig of broccoli on their cream of broccoli cans. (Putting a food shot on the trademark can was unthinkable not so long ago.) None of this gives you permission to screw around with someone else’s logo.

Even lesser known companies think long and hard about how they want their corporate identity to be represented. So why risk the rudeness of undoing something the company has been trying to do with their company marks and logo? Let’s face it the odds are that you are more likely to offend the prospective client than impress them. I say: Don’t do it.There are at least a hundred ways to get it wrong: the wrong color, the wrong alignment, the inappropriate use of the logo next to another logo, the wrong type style, the close but outdated mark, the wrong division, the wrong size proportions. The list goes on and on of ways to commit a faux pas.

What should you do instead? Present yourself and your company in the best possible light with a tasteful and well designed document. Spend your energy on presenting your company and your proposal in clear, concise terms with smart clean design. It’s okay to be visual when communicating a point or prospect benefit. If you need to get cute to make a point - do it with your own logo. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Don’t blow it by trying to be too familiar. It doesn’t work.

Award Winning Advertising.

Each Year, The American Advertising Federation (AAF) recognizes the best advertising produced in the country. Winners from 200 local events, if selected, go on to district competitions. Some will go on to national judging. An ADDY is a coveted award by creative people everywhere. This is perhaps the biggest advertising competition. But there are other national and international awards and printed annuals comprised of advertising judged to be exemplary too. So, why is it important? Is it relevant to you as a marketing professional? Award Shows are designed to showcase advertising and the people who create it. Creative people submit their work annually to be examined under pier scrutiny. Some agonize over it. Is it all worthwhile? Advertising is an anonymous art. Its creators are usually unknown to the public. Awards, like the ADDYs, provide recognition for the efforts of these generally unsung heroes.

You might have mixed feelings about advertising awards. The cynical will suggest that winning awards (for advertising) is self-serving. Is the advertising agency ignoring important marketing goals like increasing market share in favor of trying to achieve accolades instead? Let’s face it, there is no shortage of award winning advertising professionals whose marketing patrons have taken their business elsewhere. Advertising excellence and smart marketing don’t have to be mutually-exclusive, however. Think of the companies you admire the most. Take a look at examples of their advertising communications.

Where’s the best place to view such exhibits of excellence? Awards shows, of course. Awards shows and published show annuals help set a standard of excellence. They provide a frame of reference for creative teams who have to face the blank page. You should want your agency to be proud of the work they produce for you. If they spend the time and money to enter their work you should be happy knowing they feel it represents their best efforts. Cut your agency some slack. Do yourself and your company a favor and let your creative people find creative solutions. Trust their judgment. Let them know you expect creative and smart work. Challenge them to produce results and win awards. Tell them what you want the advertising to say, not how to say it. Measure the solutions against an approved creative platform strategy statement. If you are lucky, you’ll get advertising of which everyone can be proud. Maybe your advertising will win some awards along the way.

Miscellaneous Advertising Wit and Wisdom

I’m not sure you ever gain wisdom in advertising business. That comes from living more than working I think. Still I’ve collected a few nuggets along the road. Here’s a list. I’ll just throw them out for your pondering pleasure.

How many copywriters does it take to change a light bulb?
Copywriter: I’m not changing anything.

How many art directors does it take to change a light bulb?
Art Director: Does it have to be a light bulb?

How many account executives does it take to change a light bulb?
Account Executive: I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you.

How many clients does it take to change a light bulb?
Client: I don’t know, let me call my agency.

The Genie’s Lamp
An art director, a copywriter and an account executive are walking down Madison Avenue in New York. They find a genie’s lamp. They rub it. A genie appears and says, “All right, I’ll grant you three wishes. But only three wishes between you” The three advertising people agree to each take one wish. The art director says, “Genie, I have no problem with a single wish. I know what I want. I want to be on in a villa overlooking the water in the South of France where I can pursue my lifelong dream to paint in the tradition of the French Impressionists of the late 19th century” Poof. The genie clicks his fingers, a puff of smoke and the Art Director’s wish is granted The account executive and writer look at each other in awe. The writer quickly takes his turn with his wish, “Genie, I also have a lifelong dream. I would like to go to Europe and Write the great American novel and live like Ernest Hemmingway as an expatriate in Paris.” Poof. The genie again clicks his fingers and again a puff of smoke and again the wish is granted leaving the account executive alone in front of the genie. The account executive in disgust, puts her hands on her hips and says, “I want those two assholes back here right now.” Poof. (Account Executives have the job of being the party poopers because it’s their job to keep the work moving. The humorless among this breed have zero tolerance for the creative process. And many secretly envy what looks like a laid-back work ethic. If you think that way, try writing a 30 second commercial for a bank that’s informative, relevant, engaging and the client will buy.)

Degree of Difficulty
It occurs to me on a visit to a ski resort one time that advertising projects could be marked like ski slopes. A circle for a beginner, square for intermediate skill level and a black diamond for experts. That way the creative director can assign creative teams to projects that match the markings. It seemed very logical to me. A small space trade ad could go to a junior copy/art team and a bigger budget TV spot could be assigned to double-diamond experts. (The practicality of this system broke down when a creative director pointed out to me that more people break their legs on the bunny slope than anywhere else.)

Nuggets
         Nothing erodes client confidence faster than bad listening.
         Most problems have more than one solution.
         Advertising will not force people to buy something they don’t want. (Occasionally consumers are disappointed when they buy a product that doesn’t deliver. They don’t buy the product again, no matter how funny or artful the advertising.) Advertising does not lead to sales if the product isn’t available. (It’s a fair question to ask sometimes. You’d be surprised how often clients forget this. If you’ve got distribution problems, advertising probably isn’t the way to solve them.)
         Integrated marketing efforts are more efficient. (A consistent message. A consistent tone. Reach and frequency. True to the brand.)
         Advertising is most powerful when it demonstrates benefits that are relevant and compelling to the audience.
         Knowledge is power. (Ask if you don’t know something.)
         ASAP means nothing
         The greatest challenge in advertising is to communicate a “point of difference” in a parity product.
         Little things are big things.

Classic Client comments

         “Make the logo bigger.”
         “Great, I like it but...”
         “Are we gonna make our closing dates?”
         “If your creatives want to do it so badly, let them pay for it.”
         “Will this ad sell product?”
         “I know we asked for a lot of changes but this ad looks like Hell. And why so expensive?”
         “What else do you have?"

Advertising Acid Test: Does it communicate a product benefit? Is it relevant? Is it respectful?  Can we be proud we produced it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

We take you there.

Chapter Two – Plan. Design. Execute.

In hindsight, I’d gotten that first job with such relative ease. I just figured I’d waltz into another agency and I’d be back on the Madison Avenue payroll. Hell, now I actually had some experience (albeit, less than a year’s worth). It took some doing.
My in-laws helped bankroll another job-search. (God bless ‘em, they never tried to talk me out of the advertising business even though they suspected it was going to be a rocky road ahead for their son-in-law, daughter and grandchildren if I continued to pursue this death-wish of a career.) I was offered and accepted an assistant account executive position at Marsteller, Inc. I was assigned to the JVC Consumer Electronics account. I was petrified. I already failed miserably (I thought) on the Heineken account but I understood beer (I thought). I knew nothing about the technology that makes High Fidelity and Video equipment work. I learned pretty fast, though, and I realized that product innovation was ongoing and moving quickly. So, in fact, by reading all the trade magazines and consumer “buff” books I could be smart enough to get by. Just smart enough. I recruited internal agency allies early this time. I played on the agency Volleyball team and found ways to get people more interested in helping me. Gone forever was “ASAP” from my vocabulary.

Accountability

Part of any account executive’s job is this little business of accountability. After all, you are expected to be a good steward of the client’s money. I arrived at the agency in time to get fully immersed in “accountability.” It seems the agency had not been very careful about routine estimates and client approvals. This situation can happen anywhere. If the symptoms aren’t treated it can grow into an ugly problem. Nothing justifies a client launching a search for a new agency better than poor management of the money. (The client’s money.) There’s really nothing subjective about it. But the severing of agency-client relationships are rarely about only one thing. Like some marriages you just reach a point where there are “irreconcilable differences” and nothing you do or say will fix things. There was a little more to this particular bad marriage.

Oh my God, Art Directors who can’t draw?

Most advertising agencies are pretty much the same. But it’s the nuances of the people that make it interesting. Marsteller, Inc. had art directors who liked to rely heavily on swipe art and found pictures to communicate a layout idea/concept. This is an interesting way to show ideas. One reason for this approach which is not uncommon: not all art directors can draw. This is even truer now because of computer illustration and design technology. I had experience as graphic designer and part time employee of my Father’s design studio when I was in High School but it did not prepare me for artists who couldn’t at least roughly sketch an idea. It surprises me to this day. Technology is making it easier and easier to use computers and borrowed images to show concepts. The artist who is a great freehand illustrator/artist is pretty rare. If I could offer one piece of advice to the next generation of art directors it would be this: LEARN TO DRAW. You can save a lot of time, money and aggravation for everyone if you do.

 

The $40,000 print ad

I worked as a Graphic Designer while I was still in college. I managed mostly small printing projects (i.e. brochures, business cards). However, print production in the big time caught me by surprise on the JVC account. JVC was a heavy print advertiser. The creative team at the agency had convinced the client that they should have an “umbrella” theme for all their products. The idea was to build the brand name recognition with a cumulative effect of a lot of smaller product oriented campaigns. The idea was for JVC to be able to compete with SONY.


I hadn’t counted on the run-away train that some creative development can become. This campaignable idea manifested itself in the form of We take you there. The campaign thematic treatment could be applied to High Fidelity, Audio, and Video products by suggesting that the sight and sound experience with JVC products was just like being there, live. For example, an ad for a new model of VCR from JVC resulted in a proposed concept showing a scene from Sci-Fi movie. Simple enough concept, right? Wrong, our art director and writer wanted to create the ultimate print ad. The ad would show a generic space battle on a rocket ship with laser guns. The client was sold but the client also expected an ad around $7,000 in production costs. Well, the cost of building a rocket ship, photography, retouching, and color correction of a movie scene, (we actually built the equivalent of a movie set for this ad), resulted in a $40,000 ad. The client, after this debacle, insisted on written and approved estimates in advance. This is a dramatic example of the gap that needs to be bridged between concept and execution. Needless to say, this was the beginning of the end of We take you there.

Japanese Management Style (Consensus)


Ultimately, I was accountable for a lot of the runaway production costs caused by art directors who couldn’t draw or imagine a solution other than building an original movie set for a print ad. Hindsight again is 20/20 but when I think of the
meetings I attended while on that account, I kind of laugh. You see, JVC was a Japanese company and I would find myself in meetings with very agreeable Japanese gentlemen nodding what I thought was approval to proceed. What I learned later, was a fundamental difference in management style between American and Japanese business cultures. You see, Japanese culture encourages consensus while American prize decisiveness. Here these people were nodding to show understanding, while I thought they were approving $40,000 print ads. The next time these gentlemen were nodding, they were nodding at the idea of looking for a new agency. JVC fired Marsteller and the Marsteller fired me. Okay, technically I was laid-off. But in advertising agencies, you never get your job back. It’s not like the aerospace industry where you hire the mechanics to come back to work the next time you land a big defense contract.


So, where do I end up next? I landed a new job at J. Walter Thompson on a bona fide defense contract. I was the JWT rep for the First Marine Corps District, an area that included New York, New Jersey and all of New England.

Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heineken.


Chapter 1- Plan. Design. Execute.

In 1982, I was a newly minted MBA from the University of Miami, Florida. I was determined to have an advertising career. I felt I had to travel to New York City, the advertising capital of the world, to seek my fortunes. If I had any idea what the odds
were against entry-level job, I never would have even tried to get in an advertising agency. I wrote personnel offices. I dropped off resumes at reception areas. I called people who were quoted in Advertising Age and Adweek. I contacted friends of friends. I arranged courtesy interviews. I just kept going until finally I was offered a position as an account executive at SSC&B: Lintas, the agency that handled Heineken beer. How’s that for a cool assignment for a kid just out of college? The MBA, Luck, and good timing landed me a spot at SSC&B: Lintas. In 1982, when I joined the agency, it was in the process of increasing their stake in Lever International Advertising Services (the LINTAS in the name). Ammirati Puris, a smaller agency but with a bigger creative reputation merged with them years later to become Ammirati Puris Lintas. In 1982, SSC&B:Lintas was the 8th largest advertising agency in the world according to Advertising Age. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was working on a household brand name at one of the world’s largest advertising companies. (Well it’s a household brand in my house anyway. I still think Heineken is the very best beer in the world.) I felt pretty lucky.

The only thing constant is change.

I was completely prepared in terms of education and basic understanding of the business. But, I was wholly unprepared for the dynamics and politics of the business. My boss called my initiation a “Baptism of Fire.” I was one of two guys directly responsible for managing more than $22,000,000 worth of advertising for Heineken and Amstel Light imported beer brands. My boss was a guy named John Grogan, a slick account guy, who at 37 was a rising star at the agency. John insisted on breaking with the convention of hiring out of the internal agency training program in favor of me. In retrospect, I wish I could have lived up to his expectations but I just don’t see how I could have. I simply didn’t know what I was doing and there was no room for error.

The funny thing about a first job is the very fact that you have no frame-of reference. I didn’t know anything about working in New York. I didn’t know anything about what I was supposed to be spending my time doing. And no one had any time to show me either. It was nothing like I expected. Heineken was way ahead in the imported beer segment but facing challenges from the growing popularity of new imported brands, especially from Canada and Mexico. Amstel Light, a new brand from the makers of Heineken, was already a huge success with the tagline “95 calories never tasted so imported.” Heineken was the imported beer leader by a wide margin with the line “Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heineken.” Both brands were imported by Van Munching & Co. of New York, the client.

ASAP means nothing.

Maybe the most important thing I learned in my first job in advertising (on my own-the hard way) was this very important maxim: “ASAP Means Nothing.” I didn’t realize it but people resented my getting the job without any real experience. So, I found myself asking for help. I just didn’t have the right approach. People thought I was ordering them around. I guess I was. I remember several incidents where I’d leave a note on a guy’s desk. (It might be a media planner or a production specialist.) The note would say something like, “When you get a chance I need an estimate ASAP” or “The client wants to know how much it would cost to run in Sports Illustrated. Please get back to me ASAP.” In almost every case I got no results. I might just as well have written “Whenever you damn well please” as “ASAP” - I assumed it was my lack of status and rank. Wrong. I just hadn’t learned that ASAP has no meaning at a busy advertising agency. It certainly didn’t come off as “Oh gee, Wes needs help and I can give him a hand and he’ll really appreciate it.” Instead it backfired. I had no allies. Needless to say, without any coaching and not doing so well in this “Baptism of Fire” I was an unemployed ad guy just in time for the Holiday season in New York. My first job lasted less than one year.

I needed a new job ASAP.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How to make a difference.

I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
- from The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

We all make choices in life. The decisions we make are usually based on our best judgment of probable outcomes. We can never fully know where those choices will lead. We can only hope that they will lead in the direction of goals we all share: of happiness, health and a satisfying life. Robert Frost’s poem is about one who looks back at a choice made between two paths. It is a beautiful illustration in its simplicity and reflection.

As we get older, I think, we consider choices we’ve made and the consequences of those choices over time. We can’t help wondering what might have happened had we chosen differently. How many of us can truly say, given the same circumstances all over again, we’d do things differently?
Still we know in our heart of hearts that it isn’t all about the decisions we make alone. So much of what happens is a result so many complex factors beyond our control. Ultimately we may recognize that there is a higher power and, with faith, we accept that we must do the best we can with the blessings we are given and meet the challenges as they come.

It seems that many people today are faced with incredibly difficult choices. Decisions that may have an impact on family, friends, communities and perhaps the whole world. Those of us lucky enough to reflect on the road not taken should remember how critical those crossroads can be in the life of a single person.

Wisdom is a remarkable thing. Share it and you may one day be a person upon whose influence one reflects. And you will have made all the difference. Isn’t that something? You will have made all the difference!

- Optimist Contributor Wes Morgan: orignally posted Nobember 17, 2010

The Dawg Pound

“Ya know I may be over-thinking this thing but there’s a rally downtown right after the football game and…I have a parking space but I’m thinking it might be difficult to get out. So, maybe we should take the Rapid Transit. We can pick it up at 117th and Madison,” explains Morin.
That’s fine with me. The public transportation allows us to get into the spirit of the day. Brown and orange is everywhere: sweatshirts, wool caps and face paint. “Go Brownies!” All over town, they are firing up grills and tailgating before the game between the old Browns (Art Modell’s The Baltimore Ravens) and today’s Cleveland Browns in their new 73,200 seat stadium (designed by HOK Sports and completed in 1999.)

As we made our way from the Terminal Tower downtown to the stadium with throngs of Browns fans, Pat and I compared notes on our advertising careers. We both worked in New York at J. Walter Thompson (at different times). Pat managed to leverage his Ohio State Law School Degree and charming diplomacy into a long care in the advertising business. Nearing retirement now, Pat is now founder of P.J. Morin Inc. I became a corporate communications specialist and later started my own business too. (Due in part to inspiration from P.J.Morin himself). It was a perfect day for football (sunny and in the mid-fifties). We are in section 108 near the 45 yard line. Great seats. Great day. (But not for the Browns.)
Ravens 37, Browns 27
With the score tied at 27 in the forth quarter, Cleveland WR Braylon Edwards dropped what would have been the go ahead 77-yard TD pass from Derek Anderson. The Browns never threatened again. Browns fans screamed “Bra-dy!” Bra-dy!” hoping popular backup QB Brady Quinn would replace Anderson. - paraphrasing USA TODAY Monday, November 3, 2008
At the end of the game, Browns fans dispersed, exasperated at the missed opportunities and disgusted with a 3-5 record. As they spill into the downtown area, the police and the barricades and the helicopters let you know the Obama rally will soon begin. Bruce Springsteen performed. He sang a half dozen songs including Thunder Road, an ode to Youngstown (an Ohio steel town), and folk ballad This land is your land. Bruce Springsteen let Clevelanders know he wanted change. “Today we are at the crossroads. It’s been a long, long, long time coming. I want my country back. I want my dream back. I want my America back.”

That was two years ago. Obama is President. The Browns have a new Quarterback and it’s still great to watch football on any given Sunday. Keep hope alive. Go Browns.

- Optimistic Contributor Wes Morgan: originally posted September 16, 2010

Friday, January 20, 2012

To Dream

Last week, President Barack Obama welcomed Broadway into the White house as part of a celebration of theater. The President made the following remarks on Optimism and Broadway.
“Over the years, musicals have also been at the forefront of our social consciousness, challenging stereotypes, shaping our opinions about race and religion, death and disease, power and politics. But perhaps the most American part of this truly American art form is its optimism.” - President Obama
My Mom, for years, was an accomplished director in community theater in the greater Cleveland area. A career highlight was a production of Man of La Mancha in a little theater called Clague Playhouse. I was still in High School at the time, but couldn’t help being impressed by her attention to detail and her command of the material. Rehearsals were thorough and all the players were well prepared for opening day. Her direction, notably the brilliant collaboration with her musical director, resulted in rave reviews. I remember it like it was yesterday, even though in reality it was easily more than thirty years ago.

If you know the play, you know it is a great inspiration and inspires Optimism. Don Quixote spends so much of his time chasing windmills (he says are dragons) and accepting the Knighthood (Knight of the Woeful Countenance) with a shaving basin (he believes to be a golden helmet) and befriending Sancho Panza (as his loyal servant) in a series of fantastic adventures. Though delusional, our hero helps the entire cast of characters (and indeed the audience) realize that pursuit of a dream can have an incredible and profound impact on all of those around you. The director (my mother) knew, all too well, of the power of this message.
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
Today, I realize how important and exponentially large that selfless contribution to community theater really was. Theater really does encourage people to believe in themselves and stay positive.
“Broadway music calls us to see the best in ourselves and in the world around us — to believe that no matter how hopeless things may seem, the nice guy can still get the girl, the hero can still triumph over evil, and a brighter day can be waiting just around the bend.” – President Obama
- Optimistic Contributor Wes Morgan - originally posted on July 30, 2010

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I’m my own best friend.

My wife is an awesome baker. (She is an awesome person too, but that is another topic.) What she does with baked goods is magic. She is an artist. Scones, Muffins, Lemon Squares, Biscotti, Cookies for any occasion – you name it. The skill, as near as I can tell, requires a delicate balance of following recipes and knowing when to add a pinch of this or a touch of that. It is part art and part science. Every detail gets tender loving care. I often hear her quietly having what sounds like a conversation in the kitchen. She might be on the phone, but frequently she’s just talking her way through another culinary creation.

“Bing, who are you talking to?” I might ask.

“Oh, I’m just talking to myself. I’m my own best friend, you know.”

It’s kind of a routine banter we have but it never gets old. We are both amused in that moment and generally move on with whatever we are doing in separate rooms. Pretty soon the smell of fresh baked product is filling the air. How great is that?

My wife is on to something I think. Whatever you do and whatever you set your mind to, it pays to be your own best friend. If you follow that simple rule, soon you might just fill the room with something fresh that will make those around you smile.
 
I love you Bing.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Marketing Pep Talk

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

This is the definition of marketing approved by the American Marketing Association. I am proud of my membership in this organization and my ongoing commitment to the profession, however that being said, we are a confused bunch. This definition confirms it. Can you imagine someone using that jumble of words in an elevator speech? Would a lawyer, accountant or plumber have that much trouble articulating his/her line of business?

Ironic as it seems, marketing people struggle more than most when it comes positioning themselves. We want a seat at the table when the company is hammering out its strategic plan. Indeed, a few enlightened companies do have a Chief Marketing Officer on the team with the CEO, CFO and others. But that CMO is the exception - rather than the rule - most of the time.

Ask any successful marketer about their career path and I would wager you would discover one of two things:

1)    They came by marketing from a different professional discipline – like sales or operations or even engineering.

2)    They have had to reinvent themselves many times over because their career growth in their chosen profession has required them to change.

Because of those two common career journey scenarios, it is often difficult to coach or teach people what it takes to be a great marketer. Marketers need to be smart, intuitive, analytical, inquisitive, curious and fearless. Maybe most of all, Marketers need to be resilient.

Not everyone will get it. Sometimes the bean-counters will prevail in a battle over short and longer term thinking. Sometimes marketing is marginalized, downsized and downright dismantled. But every now and then, when the stars line up just right, Marketing wins! That’s when breakthroughs happen. That’s where I want to be. Are you with me? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Follow your passion.

So, it’s a new year and I’m going to start things off right with a breakfast meeting with two trusted advisors and friends. Dan is a business development specialist at one of this town’s most respected advertising agencies. Scott is a veteran agency manager with operations and account management background and I am revisiting my undercapitalized marketing communications start-up. We are all feeling the pinch in a challenging economic environment. In spite of setbacks in the past year, each of us is cautiously optimistic.

Making sure we can secure a table and have access to intranet I arrived early. The agenda for the meeting is loose but we’re all interested in comparing notes on businesses, colleagues and career paths ranging from entrepreneurial to job opportunities. We’re not kids anymore. We all have contacts, networks and plenty of sources of information. We share a few stories about hits. misses and prospects.

“We pitched that business and we were sure we had the inside track. We didn’t get past the phone screening.”

“That job description seemed to have me in mind. They wanted a senior marketing person with the ability to think strategically and lead a team. I didn’t even get an interview.

“ Human resources must have been looking for a reason to eliminate me. There is no other explanation.”

“They aren’t even really looking for marketing at that company. They are just looking for a 25 year old, probably a good looking female to handle social media and a little bit of graphic design work.”

Not complaining, but we each show some insecurities and vulnerability. We are professionals with accomplishments in advertising and marketing communications. We’ve won awards, new accounts and promotions. By any measure, each a success. Yet, the world is changing. Life experience is valuable, sure. But so is youthful vigor- maybe companies are looking for people with skills more easily found in a generation that grew up on video games, the internet and smart phones.

The breakfast club had us lingering longer than a truly efficient business meeting should last. But we were enjoying the fellowship. As we started wrapping up the session, Scott shared a story about some work he had been doing. He talked about painting, power-washing, sealing, clearing, laying ceramic tile and woodworking. He showed us a couple of before/after shots he saved on his iPhone. “This is the kind of work my father did,” he said with a grin. “I’ve been doing this kind of thing since I was 15,” adding “…and it is so gratifying in two important ways: 1) The joy of seeing a satisfied customer and 2) the good feeling you get from a job well done.”

Dan and I looked at each other. “Oh my goodness. Scott, you are really passionate about this kind of work. Aren’t you?”

“You bet.”

With that closing line we left the restaurant and went our separate ways. Dan and I knew what maybe Scott knew all along. You have to follow your passion.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Story of my Stork Club Ash Tray

The Stork Club was a nightclub in New York City from 1929 to 1965. After 1934, it was located at 3 East 53rd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue. The building was demolished in 1966 and the site is now the location of Paley Park. It would have been a perfect place for an advertising executive in the heyday of the ad profession. I was working in New York in the 1980's. My office was just a short walk from this location. I always knew, even before the popular Mad Men series, that I missed that time in America when night clubs and martini lunches were pretty routine, smoking was commonplace indoors and entertainment included a meal out with cocktails.

“You know Dave, I really would like to own an ash tray from the Stork Club.” I remember remarking while visiting with my college chum one weekend afternoon day. He lived with his wife and dog (a boxer) on Avenue A in lower Manhattan. It was around 1988 I think.

Dave looked at me with amusement and gestured for me to follow him. It was a warm Spring or Summer day. Dave always knew the city better than me. He grew up in NYC. He was adventurous when it came to living in up-and-coming neighborhoods. I followed him to a shop that sold restaurant d├ęcor items, the bric-a-brac that often hang from walls and ceilings to enhance a theme, add charm or visual interest. To my surprise, in the window amidst a variety of serving trays, dishes, coffee pots and vintage posters and signage was a Stork Club Ash Tray.

It cost me $30, but I simply had to have it. Today, it is still a prize possession. It’s a nod to a simpler time, post WWII when my father started his business (1951) and raised a family with children born in 1944, 1952, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1959. I love that ash tray. (I don’t smoke cigarettes but am fond of a good cigar from time to time.) The Stork Club ash tray is also a reminder of a time in my own life when I could casually identify something I wanted and a good friend could lead me right to it. Almost like magic.  

Isn’t that remarkable? That ash tray in the store window was already at least 20+ years old. And another 25+ years have passed since. It is still a symbol for me and one of my very favorite things. Thanks Dave! (You cheap bastard. You could have bought it for me. Ha. Ha. Ha. Still, that purchase, when we were young men, making our way in the world, is one of the best investments I’ve ever made.) It brings a smile, fond memories and a kind of respect for an entire generation that came before us. Happy New Year 2012.