In praise of the one-off.

Print is dead. It’s been replaced by digital content, social content, liquid content, native content, paid content, endorsed content, influencer content, search content and any other NEW medium that houses content that our industry believes will make Millennials content to give up their virtual and real dollar bills. Or likes. Or shares. Or hearts. And if our content goes viral, even better.

Don’t get me wrong — I love that we get to play with a bigger box of crayons. In fact, over the past few years I’ve done more digital than traditional advertising. And, being the tech nerd I am, I’ve loved every minute of it. Which is why, when something like a single print ad comes across my desk, I love working on that even more.

Print is personal. You don’t just download a template off the World Wide Web Super Information Highway, swap out a logo and a few photos, slug in some SEO-friendly copy and then call it a day. Creating a print ad is a much more intimate experience. At least, it is for me.

It reminds me that I don’t have a job; I have a craft. It reinforces my love for a well-written headline over a tweet. And it refuels my drive to make it back into the CA print annual.

Remember when getting in CA was a big deal?

For this Sauder’s Eggs print ad, I didn’t work with a partner. I was the writer, art director and designer. But not by choice. This ad was a freebie for a client quench was hoping to woo into a long-term relationship. It had to be done quickly and on the cheap. There wasn’t even a brief. And I loved every millisecond of the assignment.

More important, the prospective client loved the ad as presented. Not a single change was recommended or made. And I’m grateful to say, Sauder’s Eggs is no longer a prospective quench client. They’re a client. In part because of a one-off print ad that ran on the back cover of a B2B pub with less than 5,000 readers.

A print ad that also happened to take Gold in the 2016 Philadelphia Addy Awards.

So now we’re auditing Sauder’s current website, monitoring their social media channels, and developing their brand strategy that’ll soon inform their content strategy.

Not too shabby for the walking dead, huh?

I'm not your whipping boy.

“Uh, because I thought it looked cool.”

Sitting behind the kit with Julian Fist. Questionable scarf choice aside, check out my pinky action.

Nope. Nope. And nope. Clients aren’t paying for “it looked cool.” They want a point of view. They want to understand why they’re paying for what they’re paying for. And if you can’t articulate why you did what you did, you’re increasing the chances your work will get whipped into oblivion and killed.

In 2009 Julian Fist asked me to design their newest CD, A Thousand Days. The band had been working on the album for over two and a half years and believed it was a miracle the record was finally going to be released. Of course, I jumped at the chance. When you’re a design and music nerd and a band asks you to design their CD/album/record (whatever the kids are calling them these days) you don’t say no.

So I started sketching. And thinking. And sketching. And thinking.

I presented the band with rough sketches, explaining my thinking as I went, but one direction stood out from the rest — a sketch of a bush/tree on fire. As I was coming up with concepts I kept thinking about my initial conversation with the band and about the effort it took to make the CD. It made me think about Moses wandering around in the desert for ten thousand years (I have no idea why) and about the miracle of him finding the burning bush. At the time I thought Moses was only out there for a thousand days and I didn’t know the bush wasn’t really important to the story.

But, whatever. At least I got the fire part right. And the metaphor held up.

As I went from paper to computer, every aspect of the design was completely thought out. The tree has four roots; each represents a member of the band. Each of the four branches represents a band member’s family at that time. For example, the drummer’s branch has two branches coming off it representing his wife and daughter. There are thirteen flames representing the thirteen tracks on the CD. The two red sparks at the top represent the two founding members of the band coming together. And the simplistic design would easily reproduce in one color for t-shirts, stickers and flyers. For the type, In keeping with my badly botched metaphor, I chose an old style Roman typeface, Adobe Jenson. And everything rests on the same baseline grid.

If you’re interested, you can buy the album from iTunes here and follow Julian Fist on Facebook here.

So much in our business is subjective. Some clients don’t like purple. Some love it. Whatever. If you have a reason, if you have conviction, if you can show a client, creative director or account executive why you’ve chosen a certain typeface or color, often they’ll support you and your stuff won’t die. I screwed up the story of Moses in the desert. But the thinking was right, I could articulate my reasons for the design and I got it produced.

Maybe my album cover won’t ever receive praise like the work of Storm Thorgerson or the Ames Bros. It’ll probably never get a single vote in a Rolling Stone readers’ poll. And I’m positive nme.com will never call asking for the scoop behind the design — I'm no Stanley Donwood of Radiohead album cover fame. But I’m totally cool with all that — and I’m stoked I got to design an album. As a bonus I had the pleasure of designing the flyer, and playing with the band, for their holiday CD release party.

So hey, Julian Fist, when you’re ready to release your next CD, you’ve got my number.

The suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked.

Whether you’re the one commissioning them or the one designing them, logos are hard. I know — I’ve done both. When we decided to update the Sauder logo, I hired a designer for the job. I gave him some direction and after several rounds of thumbnails we decided to present nine refined sketches to the client. Yes, that’s a lot. From there, based on feedback, we whittled the nine to three and presented to the owner.

And then the designer fell ill and was hospitalized.

With an approaching deadline, a shrinking budget and a toiling group of designers, I decided to finish the logos myself. The three logos became two and I began further refinement — picking and setting the type, picking the color palettes, fretting over alignments, etc. One logo finally emerged and after a little more refinement the new Sauder logo was born.

Now, I’ve never had one of my logos reviewed on site like Brand New. Not sure what that says about my logos or me. But when a new logo is unleashed upon the internet, I am constantly amazed at the number of negative, hateful comments left by “guest” reviewers. Creative people are an insecure lot — that, I get. We’re constantly being told our ideas suck. By our partners. Our CDs. Our AEs. Clients. Wives. In-laws. Etc.

So I wonder why we bash one another? That, I don’t get.

Some say it’s the cloak of anonymity that propels people to say things they otherwise wouldn’t in person. I’m not sure I buy it. I’ve never posted anonymously. If I’ve had something to say, I’ve said it as myself. I don’t have an online or offline persona — I have me.

Others argue that the reason people troll is because they can throw a comment out, leave, and not be held accountable for their words. Okay. But aren’t people accountable to themselves? I’ve said and done plenty of stupid things in my life. In public, no less. But I’ve always been accountable and have always taken responsibility for my words and actions — not that ownership gives me a pass to be a jerk.

I can’t sleep with a jerk.

Did the person who designed the new Olive Garden logo deserve all the hate? I feel bad for them — even Fast Company got in a few jabs. And why, when somebody leaves an agency, do the people who comment on AgencySpy happily, anonymously, tell the rest of the world how much that person sucks?

It’s a poor reflection on our industry. An industry that I love. And, according to "experts" on the internet, an industry that’s filled with a bunch of people who suck.

AEs can concept, too.

In 2012, I was tapped as the Creative Director on Sentricon at Bader Rutter. At that time, we began brand planning on the account for 2013. My colleagues and I led several months of workshops, held numerous focus groups and conducted countless brand exercises with our clients. Once everyone agreed on the new direction for the brand, it was time to write the creative brief and pick and brief the creative teams.

But I had a problem.

So many people from different disciplines contributed to the planning process and I didn’t want their contributions or ideas to get lost. Besides, the assignment wasn’t necessarily a “creative” assignment — along with some PR efforts, we were mainly going to produce materials for Sentricon to use in-house. So rather than have each member of the team focus solely on their discipline, their part of the assignment, I thought we should take a more collaborative approach.

I thought everyone should concept together.

Sure, it’s not unusual for planners, media buyers, etc., to brainstorm with a creative team. But at the time, the Sentricon team wasn’t accustomed to working that way. Once everyone bought into my recommendation, I set up a war room and held the first concept session. The PR rep, the account supervisor, the AEs, the planner, the developer, the media buyer and the art director and copywriter filled the room. And after a few awkward starts and stops, they filled the walls with concepts.

When I say awkward starts and stops, I mean very awkward starts and stops.

Coming up with concepts is hard, even for the most seasoned art director or copywriter. But they get the process. They’re not afraid to throw out “stupid” ideas, they’re not afraid of looking silly, they’re not afraid of being judged. And once everyone else got it, the concepts started to flow. Even our client got in on the action — we shared our directions with her prior to our presentation to her team.

Whether their concepts made it to the client or not, every member of the team took ownership of the work. Everyone had a voice. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone mattered. Collaboration isn’t always easy or comfortable. But in a “I need it tomorrow and it has to work across all channels and I only have $4.99 and can you make it go viral” kind of world, I believe it’s more important than ever.

About the work: We created photography and established the brand voice for use across different digital properties, many were not managed by BR, and for sales materials to be produced in-house. For a few select markets, we created a radio spot that could be tagged by sales reps. We also ran a banner ad in those markets that expanded showing consumers local Sentricon rep locations and a video we made (see it here) explaining how Sentricon works. In addition, I led the update to the logo so it better reflected the new brand position.

It's alive! Wait. No. No it isn't.

In August of 2012, Burpee Home Gardens asked my team and I at Bader Rutter to do an ad for early 2013 introducing new flowers to consumers. Our target: women aged 35-55 who enjoyed flowers but didn’t consider themselves adept gardeners. Burpee Home Gardens’ flowers are bred to be easy to grow and tough to kill. Perfect for the target.

But I didn’t want to just do a print ad. Because our target was online, researching plants and gardening tips, I wanted to reach them through Burpee Home Gardens’ social channels — channels managed by another agency.

I recommended we create and shoot easy, do-it-yourself, inspirational garden projects and, from the print ad, point our target to the Burpee Home Gardens Pinterest page where they’d see the videos and get more tips. Then I recommended we use social media to drive even more people to the content. The idea was blessed and off we went to execute — my role was creative director and art director. We shot, we cut, we wrote, we made the comp and shared everything with our client. Smiles all around. A few days later, we got the call.

The un-retouched comp and videos. You can see more of the videos here.

“I just got out of a meeting with my boss and he doesn’t want to run this ad. He wants a more retail-focused ad. And guys, he made it clear, there is no push-back on this.”

When you’ve been in the business a while you learn to get a thick skin. I’ve had more stuff killed than approved but I’d never had approved creative killed. With three weeks before a publication deadline, no less. Our client fought the good fight to keep the campaign alive but her boss didn’t buy into the social strategy. So we rallied and I quickly came up with the headline, layout and design of the ad that did run — barely making the publication date.

The print ad that ran.

There was a time in my career when, in a situation like that, I’d have thrown a hissy fit and taken my ball and gone home. But I’ve mellowed and have learned to keep my ego in check. For me, it’s never fun having work killed. But it’s always fun, no matter the assignment, creating the work.

Got a graveyard yourself? I'd love to hear about it. 

Identity crisis?

I’m an art director. I’m a copywriter. A traditional creative. A digital creative. I’m in production, account service, account planning, public relations and traditional and social media.

I’m also in the minority.

Every time I see a classified ad for a digital art director, traditional copywriter, digital account planner, etc. I’m reminded that as much as our industry likes to talk about progressing beyond the conventional model, it is still largely built upon silos.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe our business needs specialists. But while specializing in one thing, they should know and be open to all things.

As an art director, I’d much rather spend my time kerning than programming. But I know enough about different platforms and technologies so I can have intelligent conversations with developers and programmers about bringing an idea to life. However, I wanted this site to look and function very simply, to not over-shadow the work, but to make it happen I had to write code. That’s not the important part; the important part is that I’m up enough on HTML to know what code needed to be written.

Can someone please explain to me why a “traditional” art director can’t design and layout a website or why a “digital” art director can’t design and layout a print ad? Anyone? While you’re at it, I’d also like to know what, exactly, is a digital copywriter. And digital creative director. Why can’t a social media or interactive campaign come from the mind of a “traditional” creative? It can. And it should.

The best time to be in this business is right now. Though, I felt the same way 5 years ago and the 5 years before that. I’m a geek for advertising and thus a geek for technology. I’m excited by all of the tools and toys we get to play with every single day — and the promise of more to come. Today it might be smartphone app or smartly executed board on Pinterest. But tomorrow? All I know is that I’ll keep my eyes and ears wide open. And my pencil finely sharpened.  

Yes, I still use a pencil. And that probably puts me in the minority as well.

What's in a name?

I recently had a conversation with someone in the business I very much respect. My wife. She is the head of Account Service and PR at Laughlin Constable. She’s an impressive woman with an impressive title — Senior Vice President, Integrated Services. And she deserves it.

Myself, I’ve never cared about my title. My current one, Senior Copywriter, was bestowed upon me in protest. I didn’t want “Senior” or “Copywriter” but apparently our accountants and clients like titles. I prefer the more generic “Creative” but there isn’t a billing code for that.

What’s more, I’ve never wanted to be anything more than a creative. I’ve never wanted to be a creative director. Or ACD. (Okay, not entirely true. There was a brief period where my ego was out of check with my principles.) So what’s my problem with taking on a bigger title? I enjoy doing the work. Being a grunt. But, I'm a grunt that thinks strategically and keeps the focus of the work on strategy. I'm a grunt that helps with planning and developing briefs. One that builds and maintains client relationships. Pitches new business. Presents campaigns. And, yep, even provides creative direction.

And for me, money has never been a factor. In this business, you increase your salary by either getting promoted or by jumping from agency to agency. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always worked for agencies that have compensated me based upon my abilities. Not my title.

So Megan was counseling me to abandon my position on the matter and ask for the title. By counseling, I mean she was telling me abandon my position on the matter and ask for the title. Her argument was that I mostly do what CDs do and that if I wanted people who don't know me to take me seriously, I should have a title that matches my abilities. My counter was that I’m a “creative” and that nobody takes me seriously anyway. A poor, poor attempt at humor that fell like a lead balloon. Yet I left the conversation believing in my belief that I don’t need a title.

Then today, I read this:

@copyrider Do you red flag people who've been at the same level for 4+ years? Cuz I do. There's gotta be a reason they're not getting promoted, right?

So what do you think? If you’re an employer, are you afraid to call upon a prospect because they haven’t ascended the corporate ladder? If you’re a client, are you asking why you’ve got the "B team" on your business? If you’re a creative, is it a goal to get the big title?

I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Sincerely,

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