Friday, July 23, 2021

That's Right, Kid

Grown ups love telling children, "You can be anything you want to be." 

When I was very young I thought that this meant I could become a dog ... that's what I wanted to be. 

When I got a bit older, I wanted to be my dad. 

And I sort of wanted to be Tommy Bowman. He was a neighborhood kid who was cool before any of us knew what cool was.

Then Spiderman. He was cooler than Tommy Bowman.

As we grew up, adult relatives and teachers kept drilling the mantra into our developing grey matter, "You can be anything you want to be."

And they usually added suggestions: "A doctor. A lawyer. President of the United States."

I'm not sure if adults still use "President of the United States" as an aspirational goal. That might've ended with Nixon. Or some of the more recent chuckleheads to hold the position.

Anyway, it was kinda reassuring as I hit my teens. "You can be anything you want to be." There's comfort in knowing you have control over your future. 

Granted, at the time, all I really wanted to do was find girls who would have sex with me, but it was nice to know that I could end up being anything I wanted to be.

It took me until my mid-twenties to figure out the second part of that phrase. The part the grown ups had never mentioned. The part that matters. 
The part I started telling my kids when they hit double-digits. 10-years-old. 

Damned if I was gonna let it sneak up on them, like it did on their old man. 

"You can be anything you want to be ... if you are willing to commit to the level necessary to attain that goal."

Today is the opening day of the Summer Olympics.

There are lots of people who want to compete in the Olympic games.

Not everybody is willing to pay the price.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

A Timely Reminder from the Past

Leo Burnett's reminder to his ad agency to strive for excellence by putting the client and the creative first may have been delivered in 1967, but the message is just as relevant today as it was then ... maybe more so.

On December 1, 1967, Leo Burnett officially retired from the ad agency he built, offering these remarks: 

Somewhere along the line, after I’m finally off the premises, you – or your successors – may want to take my name off the premises, too.

You may want to call yourselves "Twain, Rogers, Sawyer and Finn, Inc." … Or "Ajax Advertising" or Something.

That will certainly be okay with me – if it’s good for you.

But let me tell you when I might demand that you take my name off the door:

That will be the day when you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising – our kind of advertising.

When you forget that the sheer fun of ad-making and the lift you get out of it – the creative climate of the place – should be as important as money to the very special breed of writers and artists and business professionals who compose this company of ours – and make it tick.

When you lose that restless feeling that nothing you do is ever quite good enough.

When you lose your itch to do the job well for its own sake – regardless of the client, or the money, or the effort it takes.

When you lose your passion for thoroughness…your hatred of loose ends.

When you stop reaching for the manner, the overtones, the marriage of words and pictures that produces the fresh, the memorable, and the believable effect.

When you stop rededicating yourselves every day to the idea that better advertising is what the Leo Burnett Company is all about.

When you are no longer what Thoreau called "a corporation with a conscience" – which means to me, a corporation of conscientious men and women.

When you begin to compromise your integrity – which has always been the heart’s blood – the very guts of this agency.

When you stoop to convenient expediency and rationalize yourselves into acts of opportunism – for the sake of a fast buck.

When you show the slightest sign of crudeness, inappropriateness or smart-aleckness – and you lose that subtle sense of the fitness of things.

When your main interest becomes a matter of size just to be big – rather than good, hard, wonderful work.

When your outlook narrows down to the number of windows – from zero to five – in the walls of your office.

When you lose your humility and become big-shot weisenheimers…a little too big for your boots.

When the apples come down to being just apples for eating (or for polishing) – no longer a part of our tone – our personality.

When you disapprove of something, and start tearing the hell out of the man who did it rather than the work itself.

When you stop building on strong and vital ideas, and start a routine production line.

When you start believing that, in the interest of efficiency, a creative spirit and the urge to create can be delegated and administered, and forget that they can only be nurtured, stimulated, and inspired.

When you start giving lip service to this being a "creative agency" and stop really being one.

Finally, when you lose your respect for the lonely man – the man at his typewriter or his drawing board or behind his camera or just scribbling notes with one of our big black pencils – or working all night on a media plan. When you forget that the lonely man – and thank God for him – has made the agency we now have – possible. When you forget he’s the man who, because he is reaching harder, sometimes actually gets hold of – for a moment – one of those hot, unreachable stars.

THAT, boys and girls, is when I shall insist you take my name off the door.

And by golly, it will be taken off the door.

Even if I have to materialize long enough some night to rub it out myself – on every one of your floors.

And before I de-materialize again, I will paint out that star-reaching symbol, too. And burn all the stationery. And tear up a few ads in passing. And throw every god-damned apple down the elevator shafts. You just won’t know the place, the next morning. You’ll have to find another name.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

English is an Odd Language

English is known for being difficult to master. It’s full of contradictions and, although there are rules, there are lots of exceptions to those rules.

Here's a handful of examples. 

They're in meme format, so if you find one or two particularly interesting, amusing, or infuriating, you can easily copy and paste 'em into social media.

You might have to read that last one twice.

I warmed you up for that one with the previous one.

Snuck in another "lead" vs "lead".

Stuff like this has to be tough on court reporters.

That one might've been American English ... I'm not sure if it applies elsewhere.

The next one should be encouraging ... sort of ...

Many years ago in Miami, I was having a conversation on the difficulties of English with an elderly Cuban man. After I complimented him on his English, he smiled broadly and said, "I can speak eleven languages." 

Impressed, I was about to say, "Wow," when his proud smile turned sly and he said, "Of course, no one can understand me when I speak any of them."

His laughter at his own joke was so infectious, I can still hear it today.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Be Like Thomas & Ernest

 It's July 5th.

The day after American Independence Day.

Which brings to mind the Declaration of Independence and its principle author, Thomas Jefferson.

If you are a writer, I urge you to read this masterfully written state paper. Take in the format and the words that have been carefully selected. There's a lot to learn here.

That being said, as a writer, there is more you can learn about your craft from the Declaration of Independence than by only reading it. 

After you read it, consider this photograph of an early draft of the document and the quote from Ernest Hemingway that follows it. 

The first draft of anything is shit. - Ernest Hemingway

The lesson to be learned from Jefferson and Hemingway is to edit and improve every piece you write.
  • Many consider Jefferson to have been one of the smartest people on the planet in his time. And it took him many drafts to craft this masterpiece into the brilliant writing that is still relevant hundreds of years after he wrote it.

  • Almost 100 years after it was published, Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms" is still considered one of the great American classics. He rewrote the ending over 39 times.
You might not be a Jefferson or a Hemingway, but as a writer you can learn from them. And one of the major takeaways is about the positive impact strong editing can have on the quality of your writing.

The Parking Spot Next to the Front Door

“You could sell sawdust to a lumber mill,” said my boss as he threw his arm around Byron’s shoulders. The team applauded as Byron held up th...