Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflections: Madison Avenue Cheese Factory

It was sometime around 1989 that I started writing a fictional story with the working title Madison Avenue Cheese Factory. I remember writing this story on an IBM Selectric typewriter. I still have the manuscript, such as it is. I think its 15-20 pages of single spacing. If I were to resurrect the story, I would need to do one of two things: 1) accept the retro tone and feel of that time ala Mad Men or 2) contemporize the characters and situations to include technology and digital marketing.

Frankly, the later choice would, I think, result in losing the most meaning. I realize now in rereading that document that there are timeless concepts and there are situational routines that were, perhaps, a sign of the times. It was written as a fictional work, but like most fiction it was based on observations and real experiences. It is kind of like looking at old family photos. Suddenly, you realize how much and how fast things change: cars, clothes, people, occasions and so on.

My story, at the time, was focused on an advertising agency. I was trying to illustrate the characters and situations in the business with some poetic license that I had hoped would present opportunities for a readable story arc. Here are a few highlights as I recall about that story two dozen years later.  

Dorothy Dash – The central character in a mid-sized NYC advertising firm as a young woman account executive. I remember thinking that Dot Dash was a person who had to keep up with details and manage people.

The two o’clock meeting – Dorothy is responsible but is outranked by almost everyone she needs to corral. This is illustrated in the sequence of events around a critical internal agency meeting. The meeting is important but the egos of participants preclude conventional business etiquette. Dot has to call (on a land line phone) the extensions of several of those key players. The Creative guy is absent minded, the media guy is too busy to keep track of time and Dot is charged with keeping everyone on track. Time is a recurring theme in this story. So much time is squandered in the name of waiting, concept development or political maneuvering. The long Martini lunches are generally accepted because they fill time while characters wait for such things as ideas, type, press proofs or client decisions.

Managing Clients – In the agency everyone has very specialized responsibility and expertise. The agency eventually has to come to term with a winning strategy. It generally means convincing the client to take action. The individuals inside this agency are complex and diverse. However, they somehow adapt a singular point of view when it comes to presenting to the client. In this world there are sides. The agency-side is ultimately about selling concepts that will trigger media spending. The client-side is where rational thinking ends up being portrayed as lacking open-mindedness. You see, inside the agency, the client is a moron because he avoids risk. He is more likely to see a downside to a creative direction. The client can also spoil the party by pulling back funds altogether.

The case for supporting a brand – Even in that humble mid-sized Manhattan agency, the argument for advertising had to do with adding value. The client is an importer of cheeses from around the world. The agency believes that a branding campaign will generate interest in the client’s line of products. (The agency firmly believes in mass media tactics. Not even close to a discussion about engaging people through social media platforms.)

The lines might not be as strongly drawn today.  Clients and agency people, I think, might be more collaborative in some ways. On the other hand, clients are less likely to engage an agency as a full-service partner. Indeed, sometimes it isn’t a partnership at all. It’s not about sides anymore. The client-side/agency-side paradigm becomes more like a customer/vender relationship.

Looking over those type-written pages, it is clear that the business of advertising is changing quickly in some fundamental ways – probably for the better.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Boomer and The College Professor

His reading glasses, the remote control, some unpaid bills, a stack of business cards collected from a recent networking event, and a large Kleenex tissue box dispenser teetered on the side table next to the Queen Anne chair he bought in Joplin before the EF-5 tornado in 2011. Happy to be back in St. Louis, Will was, maybe for the first time in his life, starting to doubt himself. His 58th birthday was only two weeks away and, as always, he was not especially excited about marking the passage of time. Sue was working harder than ever running a coffee shop in Clayton and baking some too. “Sunday is Mother’s Day,” he remembered. He must think of something thoughtful way to thank her. The kids were gone, grown up and making their respective ways in the world. The house seemed so empty during the day.

Will knew he should be looking for a job but was coming to grips with the very real and very scary notion that he really didn’t know just how to work the system of online job boards. He was fearful that his skill set was becoming outdated. He believed in his heart that there was still room for an organized manager with a creative vision and an ability to get things done. But he was painfully aware of the pervasive chatter of social media and the digital age. As if everything that came before in marketing was now “old school” and irrelevant.

Berry seemed to be a dramatic illustration of where the world was headed. A professor recruited to UMSL to implement coursework in digital marketing was making tremendous strides. Will met him at the Remarkable Leadership Conference put on by the American Marketing Association – St. Louis Chapter at the Missouri History Museum in February. They became quick friends because, in part, Will was connected and Berry was seeking to build his local network quickly. Ironically, the world seemed to be buying what Berry was selling so much more than the basic “blocking and tackling” of message strategy and attention to the touch-points that telegraph the quality/design/promise of a brand. Suddenly, the soft science where “Art meets Commerce” that Will loved was about technology, crowd-sourcing and engaging the multitudes in conversation.

Last month Berry and Will sat for a while in the Starbuck’s Coffee Shop in Clayton. Berry’s Digital Marketing Conference was compelling proof that marketing is changing with big data, social strategies and new rules of engagement. Will could see it but, like many of his boomer generation, he was slow to embrace it. As a chapter leader for the American Marketing Association in St. Louis for more than 15 years he is the first to admit the changes brought on first by the internet and personal computing and now the plethora of electronic devices is puzzling to him. What does it mean? What happened to thoughtful planning? How are you supposed to manage marketing in this environment? Where is it all heading? Students, agency leaders, businesses (large and small) represented in the audience of 400+ filled the JC Penney Conference Center on the campus of the University of Missouri, St. Louis (UMSL) that afternoon. It was early April and the audience was hanging on every word for clues.

Will remembered a time when such a meeting over coffee with a professor was on a different footing. It was the professor who was living in the ivory tower and out of touch with reality. Now the tables have turned. The platform of rapid change in the marketplace offers a natural confluence of events for the campus setting. It’s a place for learning and discourse. Berry is a runner and he is pacing himself well in front of the pack. He’s old enough to be a part of a time when direct marketing offered the best chance for studies of stimulus/response. (But only after test cells were carefully constructed with a “control” module as a basis for comparison.) One wonders if there will ever be time for such experiments ever again.

“Colleges are for rhetoric and the hypothetical and still somewhat less than authentic. Nevertheless, we are living in a time that is unreal and fantastic at the same time. The world is connected in ways which only a decade ago seemed impossible.” Will reminds himself. “A marathon runner like Berry can only hope to record what is happening anecdotally,” He’s thinking. This is not a criticism as much as a frustrated acceptance of how he sees it.
The rush of runners crowding a finish line is a useful metaphor. Won’t there be slower runners (indeed some casual walkers)?  Some might be entirely disinterested in even getting to the finish line (never mind crossing first). But in this race the spectators are participants. They help shape the outcome.

Characters drawn here are intended to be fictional. Any similarities to real persons, places and events are unintentional.   

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Poet, Write or Wrong

A consequence of an encounter in line.
A twist of fate, just as I thought.
All the bravado prior to penning is all just fine.
But alas, I fell short of the prize I sought.
It was not to be mine.

The rules and a prompt,
Made it a fun to pursue.
A little romp, a little pomp,
In the contest for you.
Right, wrong, stamp, stomp.

A report due tomorrow at three.
Not going to happen on time.
You won’t be getting it from me.
Not free and I cannot pay the fine,
The subscription or the fee.

I can however craft a few words,
Form another premise worth consideration.
Business for the birds,
A new configuration,
A reason to go backwards.

It’s about time.
And time will tell.
It’s all mine.
And I’m doing so well.
Spend, invest now and align.

Maybe it’s a gamble,
A roll of the dice.
A detour, a ramble,
Smell the roses, add some spice
Why not leave a little something nice?  

Chaminade, Great Speakers, Leaders and Teamwork

A little speech my friend Dan prepared to celebrate the 1973 High School class and it's Football Team as they were inducted into the school's Hall of Fame.

So I’m thinking the speaker selection process went something like this: Coach Donahue says “We need someone witty, smart and intelligent…but since we don’t have anyone like that… let’s get Dan to do it?” (I will do my best.)

To prepare I did a little research. I found a list of the greatest orators of all time. On that list are people known for speaking …They all have places in history.You know, Public speaking requires great confidence and knowledge. (Again, I will do my best)

So….On that list of great orators there are… presidents like:

Barack Obama, His National Convention address put him on the path to the White House.  

Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator. (No doubt, his training as an actor helped…as a speaker and as a president.) John F. Kennedy spoke with energy, youthfulness and vigor. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”  and of course Abraham Lincoln. Consider his Gettysburg address (which, incidentally, was only about three minutes long. Note to self: brevity is a good thing…)

and…Martin Luther King Jr. His “I Have a Dream” speech was only about 17 minutes long…

(A powerful speech nonetheless. ) Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in Jail, led movement against apartheid and became the president of South Africa. (That’s a lot of time, 27 years. A lot of time to think about what you want to say.) Gandhi inspired people to walk on the path of non-violence. (I don’t know…we were a football team…more like gladiators than pacifists…)

Winston Churchill gave inspiring speeches during World War II. (Now we’re talking.)  And on that list there were some ancient Greeks (with names I cannot pronounce) …like Demosthenes who overcame his stammering problem and Pericles…but you know…Names I did not see on that list… Ed Donahue…or Coach Olms…(Our leaders at Chaminade).

You see, Inspirational leadership isn’t all about motivational speeches …Vince Lombardi is often associated with the quote, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." The truth is he did not coin that phrase. You see, Lombardi was actually more interested in planning and preparation. The will to prepare to win was more important to Lombardi. 

(CHAMINADE Story could go here)…You know our team was out on the practice field every night. We never questioned it…we were a dedicated group. Each week…
Casey Stengel, the great baseball manager once said: “Gettin' good players is easy. Gettin' 'em to play together is the hard part.”

…We had star players …guys like Steve Dolan…and Bill Kinney…But our team came from all over…like recently closed schools…McBride, Augustinian…and transfers (from places like CBC)… we were a new mix or Junior and Senior players too…but…We came together as a team in what was a sort of perfect storm.
Andrew Carnegie said: "Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishment toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results."

(Room for another CHAMINADE story here) We were a common bunch maybe …BUT we did achieve uncommon results.


For me, being a Junior and part of the dubious All Iberia Team exemplifies how we came together…and I credit the coaches, especially Coach Ed Donahue for guiding us to be the best we could be…All of us found ways to contribute…and we became winners... (It was the guidance and trust and support of those coaches, teammates and others that made all the difference).
We are proud of our wins …sure… but what is more important is what we learned…about doing our best…about being driven to succeed…doing what it takes to win, working together. The Chaminade experience taught us many things. But it was not pep talks or inspirational speeches that motivated us. No, it was really more about the daily effort and work ethic of doing the best we could with what we had...growing…together…every day – day in and day out.  (It is a special thing…) We know now, that it was about so much more than winning football games. 

As a team, we celebrated the successes of course. But, in hindsight it was more than that. (If I only had the oratory skills of Ed Donahue or of those on my list)…
I would I would offer you a concert of words

to pay proper tribute…
and due respect…with words like:  



You see, we were (and still are) a community: Stars, starters, back-up players, coaches, parents, friends, boosters, supporters…and Believers.

Ordinary people capable of extraordinary things!
That, my friends, is something to celebrate.

Go Red Devils.
Thank You Very Much.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

Multiple Views – Ten People

I found myself on an elevator in midtown Manhattan with Mother Teresa. A fond memory of a time with my Uncle David. Uncle David couldn’t help himself. He looked at the little Sister and said “Mother I love your work.”

I saw Kurt Vonnegut studying a chessboard setup on the side of a building near 48th Street. (A flag signified it was Black’s move. Kurt seemed completely focused on it.)
I saw Andy Warhol twice in NYC (The first time it was uptown and he was getting into a car or maybe a taxicab. The second time he was in the Flatiron district downtown having dinner with a group of maybe 15 people. I couldn’t resist saying to a person at the opposite end of the long table, “You know that guy has been famous more than 15 minutes,” to which he responded without a beat, “I should say so.” Sadly Andy Warhol died just a couple of weeks after that in a hospital in what should have been a fairly routine thing involving his Gall Bladder. He died on February 22, 1987 at the age of 58.

I met Gloria Steinem and Ralph Nader on the same day at the University of Miami. I think the student activities committee scheduled them on the same day by mistake. Yet, they were both gracious and together attracted a moderate mid-day luncheon crowd. I remember flirting with Gloria with a smart ass comment like, “We must do lunch again.” She smiled and agreed with a smirk.   
I saw the great Jimmy Brown at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He retired from Football in 1964 so I must have been 8 or 9 years old. I just remember watching how many people it seemed to take to tackle him. Such power. And in that old stadium, I remember watching Jim Brown running passed one of those great beams that would interrupt your line of sight. Just one of those things you got used to along with the smell of cigar smoke and bourbon from a nearby flask on a chilly Lake Erie effect day.    

I had the pleasure of pitching new business with Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter. We pitched the South Florida Mercedes Benz Dealer Group and won. We pitched Grand Bay Residences developer Martin Margulies and won. We pitched the Gulfstream Horse Race Track (and didn’t want to win unless they were willing to promote the sport instead of the side-show events the marketing guy wanted to feature). We pitched Empire Toys, the makers of a Big Wheel plastic tricycle. (We didn’t win). 
I saw Barack Obama, Bruce Springsteen and others at a rally in Cleveland (after a Cleveland Browns football game against the Baltimore Ravens). It was just a few days before Barack Obama became president of the United States.  Obama and the Boss were on a big screen downtown and the crowd was such that – I never saw them live (other than on the screen) but they were there. Obama was elected President just about a week later.