Closers: The Buddhas of our time

Mariano Rivera

How much do I envy the calm and presence of a great baseball closer. Think Mariano Rivera. Think Papa Grande.

These are the guys who step up to the most nerve-wracking situation and deliver with the skills and confidence of a freaking Yoda.

I think about this sometimes when I’m facing crunch time. When it’s time to come up with the big ideas that strategic, executable, and awesome.

Yoda. ERA 0.00001

There’s nothing like facing the big void when the clock is ticking down to client presentation and proceeding as if nothing big is at stake. When something big is, in fact, at stake.

Juniors, do not dismay if you cannot summon your buddha-nature at this moment. This is the stuff that only comes with experience, when you know in your gut that you’ve done it before, so you’ll do it again. Take heart, oh young ones, because you too will eventually channel that Mr. Rogers calm. Someday you’ll know that no matter how tight the sphincter muscles of your account team are getting, it will all work out. You and your partner, or many partners will come through.

Austin Howe

I so clearly remember  starting out in this business and feeling so awed that Austin Howe, my mentor, could fire idea after idea after idea, like one of those long strings of Chinese firecrackers, while I sat there with my mouth open. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s about having  fat pipes. Pipes that always deliver enough concepts that one or two or three of them are bound to be winners.

There is no shortcut to fat pipes. Just like there is no shortcut to throwing each pitch, time and again, as if it’s the first pitch you’ve thrown, and as if the last pitch, no matter how good or bad, never happened. One of the beauties of our business is that, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll get there.

But it’s also about knowing how to face the ninth inning without clamping up tight.

So I guess I want to encourage those of you who are struggling like a cheese-eating constipated bus driver to produce ideas when you can’t imagine you’ll ever produce again, that you will.

Jose Valverde

I just watched, with great humility, as Valverde got the side out in the ninth by throwing one pitch after another, and realized that this is what I want to be able to do, in my own advertising way. I think it’s good to be humbled on a regular basis. It reminds me of how much I still have to learn, and of what’s possible.

Alec Soth Renews His Love

Alec Soth

Anytime we do something for very long, we hit the point where we just plain get tired. Our working life becomes too familiar, too routine, too grooved. Stale. A stained urinal.

Alec Soth, the photographer, talks about that in this short interview. It’s this unwillingness to give it up that leads one to find that renewal switch, that way to re-approach what we do so that it’s fresh and exhilarating again.

It happens to everyone eventually, no matter what we do. Part of Picasso’s genius was the way he kept reinventing himself and his art so that he never lost his dedication and persistence.

Thanks for talking about it, Alec.

From Soth's latest book, Broken Manual.

From Soth's first book, Sleeping By The Mississippi

Your speed: brutal

Wade Sturdivant just wrote a post for the blog AdPulp about the art of taking criticism. Yup. That’s a tough one.

No one likes criticism, no matter what they might say. Some learn to survive it, others learn to feed on it, even if it is like swallowing a cactus and passing it whole. No one thrives on it. But for creatives in the creative industries, it is a meal we must learn to eat.

About the only way to handle criticism is to recognize that you are not the work. Yes, you have put chunks of yourself into the work. Yes, you have fully invested yourself in creating the best work possible. But you and your work are not identical. And if you can’t get to that mental place, this isn’t your calling. (Note: I have to continually remind myself of this, so I’m not saying it’s natural or easy.)

Andrew Keller

One thing Andrew Keller of Cripsin talks about is that there are always more great ideas to be generated. His approach is to outlast the critics by coming up with yet another round of great ideas. I think every creative needs to think that way. The trick is to never give in and deliver a bad idea just because it would sell.

I always say, we solve our clients problems, but we do it to our own standards.

Now, that doesn’t always work, because it presumes a client who is rational. Or a creative director who is rational. We all know about making such presumptions. However, there is another aspect to this question.

Rules of engagement can be established, whether it’s internally or with clients. The best scenario is to establish them before any creative presentations, when the heat is not on and when people are more likely to agree and commit to such rules.

This is where a cover article in Wired comes in. It’s on the phenomena of the feedback loop, and how powerful it is in changing human behavior. The poster child example of this is the “Your Speed” radar sign on the side of the road. I noticed just last weekend how powerfully I was affected by the one in Linnton, Oregon. I slowed right down when it showed me how fast I was going. Not that I didn’t know I was speeding, but the sign triggered a reaction in me that I didn’t really understand. But I did react.

Well, the article in Wired understands. The reason these speed signs have been so phenomenally successful is because when people are doing something they know they shouldn’t be, and their attention is called to it in a non-punishing way, they tend to want to correct themselves. That’s the feedback loop effect. But the key here is the word “non-punishing.” Because a traffic cop pulling people over and slapping them with a mind-bending ticket has been proven to not work. But the radar signs do.

So, if you can ask for rules of engagement with either your creative director or your clients, and if, during a presentation when they start ranting about the various hallucinogens you must have been doing when you came up with the concept you just presented, you can remind them of those rules. And if you do it in a peaceful Zen-masterly way, often, or at least sometimes, they will try to pull themselves together to honor the rules they’ve agreed to.

Now, I’m a pretty passionate person, and I’m the first to say how hard it is to be rational in the way the Sturdivant recommends. But I keep trying, I keep working on it. And it can be learned, with enough persistence and some foolish hope. The key is to keep trying.

We asked all our employees to remind others within our agency of our commitment to behaving in a certain way. I still remember the first time a young account person mustered the courage to tell me how my tone and behavior was making him feel. Wow. I slowed way down. I felt horrible. He was right, and he had reminded me in a way that worked.

Thom Walters

Thom Walters, who spent 6 years as head of global strategy at Wieden, and who is a consultant on branding and internal culture and organization, is the total guru of this approach. He teaches workshops on negotiation that give people a really smart way to do this.

It’s worth trying.

That said, Thom was part of our team when we were presenting a big brand re-launch campaign to a large mid-western client, which I still consider the worst meeting of my career. Or my life. Or my next three lives, if the Hindus are right.

We hadn’t established the rules of engagement up front. So we tried to ask for a different way of engaging right in the meeting, but the clients were absolutely resolved to continue beating our presentation with baseball bats until the last ounce of blood had been driven from its flesh. I’m talking a full-on, fear-based destructive attack. (I’ll confess, things had gotten so brutal that I was not exactly a Zen master at that point.)

So, this approach doesn’t always work. But sometimes it does. And I believe it’s worth the effort. Good luck.

200 scripts later, he’s shooting

An intriguing and insightful blog post by Mr. George Tannenbaum of R/GA on passing through the long, winding, acidic digestive tract of a client and coming out the other end with spots to shoot.

He wrote 200 scripts, showed half to the client, and finally got approval. You can read what he learned from the experience and then test it against your own learnings.

Hell, part 2

Do we have reservations waiting?

This whole thing started because of an IM conversation I had with a friend of mine who’s a CD and copywriter who asked these two questions. So, the first question I addressed in the previous post  was, “Is what we do bad?” The corollary question, next to be discussed, was: “Is there something else we could be doing that’s more meaningful?”

It strikes me that these two questions lurk in the hearts of many creatives, so I’m addressing them out loud, via this blog. OK. More meaningful…hmmm… Continue reading

My new favorite blog

Short and sweet posts. An intelligence you can feel like the legs of an insect crawling up your back. Blatent opinion shot from a gun. Deep experience to draw from. And the dude got an MA at Columbia in Incunabula and Medieval Literature.

His name is George Tannenbaum. He’s an ECD (yes, there are many) at R/GA. And he’s been in this business longer than me. (Wow.)

His blog is called Ad Aged: Will Madison Avenue become Detroit?

I’d recommend it.