branding | creativity | life
I was watching a piece a couple of weeks ago on Elaine Stritch on CBS Sunday Morning – she passed away recently at a respectable age, and having lived what by all accounts was a full and successful life. She had a great, interesting, and varied career, but what I always appreciated about her was that she always seemed to be fearless – especially as she got older, she’d put herself out there, warts and all. The funny thing is, as she admitted quite openly as she got older, she actually wasn’t. In fact, she said that she was always scared, especially before a performance, and that in her case it led to some self-destructive habits for awhile. Which, in my mind, made her all the more fearless.
I admire that. It’s courageous, and human and, maybe, living that way helps us all by reminding us that, in this age of perfect positioning and photoshopped perfection, just underneath the silly veneer are flawed, struggling, striving, unsure and inevitably imperfect human beings.
I think we need more of that sort of thing. A Lot More.
So here’s the thing – seeing the piece on Ms. Stritch poked at me a little bit. To be perfectly honest, I’ve been struggling with a difficult decision for far too long now. And, now that I have a book coming out, it’s something that needs to be addressed.
Professionally, I’m a senior copywriter/creative director and brand strategist, and it’s been a pretty good gig. I run my own little ‘agency’ (a word which, even now, sounds a little inflated, even though we certainly do agency-level work). Like most creative shops, we’re a small group of full and part-timers and by-project specialists. We create ads and messaging and figure out brands and find new opportunities for small and medium sized businesses. In other words, full-service, just not full of ourselves.
Then a few years ago, to be completely honest, I started pulling away a little bit. We’d gotten a bit bigger – simply in response to client needs, not because we had some well-considered growth strategy – and we were making a bit more money which, in an up and down business like advertising, is always welcome.
But I also noticed clients starting referring to us as marketers.
The first time it happened, I shrugged it off. Clients don’t always get the nuances of our industry, I told myself. There are differences between creatives and marketers – copywriters, designers and creatives are idea people – we figure things out and create the new, the interesting. Marketers, to my mind, anyway, are the spreadsheet people. The numbers people; shiny, near-corporate types who serve as a conduit for our ideas, and are experts at bringing them to the marketplace.
Not that they’re bad people, mind you – far from it, actually. Most are quite nice. They’re just not the way I’d defined myself and my profession.
The problem is, it happened more and more. “This is Larry. He’s our marketing guy.” Sure I’d smile when they introduced me this way; it was a good way to mask the cringe.
You see, the real reason it bothered me was that it was becoming True on some level: the more we allowed ourselves to be defined by our clients because it was a profit opportunity, rather than a creative opportunity based on what we love and do best, the more we became became marketers.
In my own mind, we – let’s be honest, I – was selling out.
Tough stuff, especially when it’s true.
But I didn’t make a change, I just shouldered the burden. The economy stinks – it did then, and it still does, regardless of what they’re selling you on CNBC.
And I have two daughters and a wife that I would die for in an instant, and that I need to support. So I sucked it up and stayed with the bucks.
But here’s the thing: from when I was a kid I always hated this sort of thing. I’ve always felt that materialism and corporate greed and self-justification are the things that wreck us, and are wrecking this world of inequality and simmering anger.
Creatively, That’s the theme that underlies much of my fiction – it drives me.
And yet, Professionally, I’d come to accept this.
Which, as you can imagine, created quite a bit of tension inside. It’s a tension that I explore, I’ve come to realize, in Cogh and The Machine: a children’s book for adults – my book that’s coming out in the next week or so – at least on Amazon while I decide whether not not I should look for an agent.
And its also where I run into some trouble. I guess that things are reaching a bit of a head.
You see, I’ve long wrestled with how to put myself out there: How does a copywriter and brand strategist who secretly hates the worst of the corporate mindset, the banality of marketing and the soullessness of a materialistic, consumerist culture present himself?
When I look back now, I realize that this inner rift wasn’t just a minor thing to brush aside. In fact, I think it pretty much explains why I keep pulling down our business web site, and haven’t had a personal portfolio up in years. And trust me, we’ve done some really great work.
I just didn’t feel like I was ‘all in’ on some level I guess, so maybe having them down or in development or whatever also meant, for me anyway, that I hadn’t committed myself to being some kind of a marketer. That I wasn’t on some level agreeing with rampant consumerism. That I was holding out – or at least not wholly in agreement. That part of my soul was still intact maybe.
And I’ve found that it’s not just me; this little rift is actually pretty pervasive in the advertising community. Maybe it’s because most of us are at heart creatives who somehow managed to find a good paying gig and work with like-minded people, and not Wall Street wannabees – I don’t know. But what I do know is that, having spoken with enough of them, and read their posts and comments, they’re not all in with the push push push sell sell sell mentality that’s coming from clients who are celebrating Christmas in July because there might be a way to make a buck there.
But most of us keep it quiet. At least on the outside, though if you want to see what a lot of us are really thinking, I’d recommend checking out The Creative Confessional. I’ve been in the top ten more than once….
But here’s the thing – I still LOVE copywriting, brainstorming and figuring out how to help businesses get their message out there. The creative process, while often painful, is awesome. And as I’ve said many times, I fully support Capitalist Economies, but absolutely abhor Capitalist Societies.
It’s a tricky business.
So I’ve been struggling a bit, now that I’ve got a book coming out and another in the Fall, with which persona to present to the world, and how. Cogh explores the corporate mindset, the roots of inequality and the problem with a profit over people approach – it’s angry Dr. Seuss in a way – especially as it’s written in verse. Checkin’ for Deads (coming out in the Fall) is a first-in-a-series urban fantasy mystery. Sure, it’s got demons and ghosts and missing children, but on another level it’s all about the unfortunate effects of a hollow consumerist culture that’s embraced materialism for a little too long.
So what do I do?
Do I have one blog for thoughts like these – where I’m coming from as an artist and socially aware and opinionated writer – and ANOTHER for the other side – the business savvy award winning copywriter and brand strategist guy, with the portfolio and the insightful articles about advertising and branding and such?
Is that the safe way financially and careerwise? Is that the smart way?
Or do I go All In? Warts and All, as Ms. Stritch would have done? As James Altucher did – and still does – so truthfully and successfully.
A while back, some of you may remember my quest for The Should. I haven’t abandoned it by any means (despite my lack of updates), but I think instead of the smaller day-to-days, which I’ve been marginally successful at being aware of, trying to keep that in mind has opened up some larger issues – like this one.
What do I do?
Here’s the thing: I’ve learned the hard way that the only unassailable position in life to to Tell The Truth. No, it’s not the easiest, but it is the strongest. And you get to sleep better at night. As Cogh tells the Great Hardstrom, King of the Corporation, and his lackeys at their first chance encounter:
“The truth I do tell, every time,
I am True,
Mostly because lies
Are a burden on you.
But don’t think me a saint,
It’s because I am lazy!
To remember all lies,
Well, such effort is crazy.
The Truth is much easier
For it’s always at hand
A comforting constancy
That You may think bland.”
At this all did shrink back,
These brash words, they unnerved
For they echoed far back,
And ‘gainst what each now served.
All but One, that is, and
He leaned forward for more
Thinking, ‘Something ’bout this one,
Confident, strong and sure.’
I sense value inside him
A great raw vein of gold
Which I’ll mine and I’ll use
Well before he gets old…
“What is your name, son?
You seem ‘bove all of this.”
“Well Sir, it’s Cogh…”
A great gasp! And a hiss!
“A Cog!” he exclaimed,
“We need one like you badly!
He Bit sounds off quite Madly!
“Yes you’re just what we need,
You’ll be our perfect fit.”
But Cogh, he did notice
Asked ’bout him, not a bit.
You have made my day!”
That he spelled his name wrong,
Cogh did not want to say –
And Swept up in that moment
He allowed himself to
Do a tiny wrong thing
He knew he shouldn’t do
“Yes, that is my Name,
I hope I can help you!”
Like I said, it’s a struggle, but not just for me, I think. The beta read touched a lot of people deeply; their responses were passionate. Maybe reading Cogh will help some more people – I hope so, anyway.
And for me? I’m good at giving advice. Maybe – no definitely – it’s time to take my own.