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After many years in the advertising industry, I decided that enough was enough. So I thought that I would take some time off and perhaps write the next great novel. After about three months of sitting in front of the computer screen, I realized that I was bored. So I made the decision that every creative fights with: to work, or not to work.

My quest for employment found me on Craig’s List and I guess I should have known, you don’t find a new career on Craig’s List, or as my daughter would say: “Duh”.

But that’s just how it began, my introduction to the bright and glamorous life of a Hollywood Casting Agent. The cars, the luxuries, the bling…it was about to be all mine.

But when I showed up the first day at Hollywood Entertainment, there were no studios, no limos not even a sign on the front door above the Tamil grocery store in Scarborough. My office became a four by four desk containing a telephone and a computer that looked like it was bought some time ago from Goodwill.

For the first few days I just listened while the sales manager “pitched the list”.

“Hi this is David calling from Hollywood about the information you filled in on our website. I’m a senior casting agent here in Hollywood and one of my assistants just handed me your file and we think you are perfect. You do know that just for being a contestant you receive thirty to fifty thousand dollars?”

From under his headset, David winked and then hooked his finger inserting it in his mouth as if to indicate he had just caught a fish.

“Now I’m just looking at your pictures, and they’re great. The next thing I want to do with you is put you under contract. The only way I make any money is if you make money and we get a standard industry commission of fifteen percent. That’s cool right?”

Suddenly David looked at me and put his call on hold.

“Sometimes” he said with a grin “ it’s good to just put them on hold and let them think about it”

Clicking on the headset, David continued “So as I said, we are casting over three hundred reality tv shows, we’re the largest reality tv agents in the world so you can just pick the shows you want. All we need to do now is get your contract signed and get you some talent cards. You know what talent cards are, don’t you. They’re the currency we use in Hollywood to get you front and centre in front of the producers ..the directors… the decision makers. So how do you want to take care of getting your cards? They’re just $275 for five hundred cards. I can have them done and shipped out to my desk in California in just twenty four hours and I can start sending you to castings next week. Was that Visa or Mastercard?”

Ah, I thought the life of a Hollywood Agent. Then he handed me my script containing my phone pitch and a long empty numbered list that I was to fill in to keep track of my calls.

“This is a contact sport” said David “ the more you contact, the more dough you make, it’s simple. A blind monkey can close at least two deals a day and we pay you fifty bucks for every deal you close. Once the credit card clears of course.”

Although my background was never really centred on mathematics, I soon realized that my take out of the two hundred and seventy-five dollars was a measly fifty bucks. Isn’t that about what a real Hollywood agent spends for a latte?

By the third day I was given my own list. A computer generated roll call of the needy, the starstruck and the desperate. Each list contained fifty names, information and sometimes pictures of the registrants from the Hollywood Entertainment Website. Most of the people were from the US, so all of the computers were hooked up to a Magic Jack that plugged into the phone and the computer allowing your out going calls to show up as a California phone exchange. As far as my clients were concerned they were getting their chance in a lifetime telephone call directly from Hollywood.

I must say I had mixed emotions as I dialed my first call. I read her profile several times. She was twenty-two years old and lived in Alabama. In her bio she told a story of woe. He husband had left her and she found herself raising three kids on her own before her twenty-first birthday. Her hobbies included playstation three and watching movies on TV. She was five foot four and weighed 321 pounds. Her desired shows were: Deal or No Deal, The Biggest Looser and Friends. Friends, I thought..that’s not a reality tv show. Her profession was sadly listed as: unemployed.

Before I dialed I had a look at her pictures. She was obese and sent in a picture that showed her at Wend’s eating with her kids, each of whom had inherited their mother’s genes. Obviously perfect fodder for the Hollywood grist mill. I wondered if the local paparazzi had snapped the photo.

I still hadn’t dialed. I looked at the clock, I looked at my empty call sheet and Dave looked at me. Then I picked up the headset and started to dial.

After about five rings a man answered. “Hi is Marrie there?” I forced out in my very best Southern California drawl. “Thiis is Steve calling from Hollywood, does she still want to be on tv?” it even sounded lame to me, but I pressed on. “Is Marrie there?”.  I could hear babies crying in the background and the television was blaring and my headset made a weird purring sound in my ear. “Marrie…this is Steve calling from Hollywood Entertainment, my assistants…” I read the script, stumbling a couple of times by she just listened.

“Does this mean I can get on Deal or no Deal ?” she asked.

“Well we are the biggest agents in Hollywood, with your demographics I think you might be perfect”. The words stuck in my throat.

I continued to try to explain things to Marrie and eventually we reached the conversation about a credit card.

“Credit card?” she said “we ain’t go no credit card, we on food stamps”.

Ouch. My sale was turning in dust before my eyes.

“Well Marrie, that’s too bad. Maybe this isn’t the right time in your life to pursue reality TV, so have a good day”.

As I clicked off the headset and leaned back in my chair I scrolled down on my computer screen and saw Marrie’s picure again. Right there at the McDonald’s with the three overweight kids. I felt I’d done the right thing by letting her off the hook. But David had different ideas.

“How’d that call go?”

“She doesn’t have a credit card.”

“So tell her to go to Rite Aid or Wallgreens and get a pre-paid Mastercard. Have her load it with three hundred bucks and call you back. If that’s no good tell her to get a money order and have it shipped to us . Make sure to get the fuckin weigh bill number too”

Was he kidding? Did he really want me to get poor Marrie back on the phone. What about her kids, and her food stamps. What about the fact she was obese, with no one to help her?

Dave gave me a starry glaze. Then put his headset back on and got back on the phone.

I started to glance through the other poor sods in my list. A quick calculation showed out of fifty names a third were overweight men and women desperate to get onto the Biggest Looser.

Another third were young urban women who sent racy pictures and called themselves “bad”.

The last third were semi-normal people. Some kids had registered using their parents’ information, some were country singers and semi professional models. A true goldmine of leads I thought.

I called hour after hour always mindful that I would not lie. I’d tell the people the truth. I’d send them emails of the new shows that were casting and I did my best to honestly answer their questions.

Perhaps that was the reason I made absolutely no sales for the first week.

They kept track of the deals they made on a large whiteboard. Dave’s name was always at the top of the list and by Friday of my first week, he had 10 little sticks on the board. I had none.

The following Monday a new face arrived in the office. He wore a wool watch cap pulled down to the top of his dark wrap-around sunglasses. He introduced himself as Sean, although the name he used on the phones was Mick.

He rarely spoke to anyone in the office and he never took off the cap and glasses.

I couldn’t help but overhear his pitch.

“Hi this is Mick at Hollywood North. My assistant just gave me your file and I am about to go into a casting session for Deal or No Deal.. I’m taking your file with me, I need you to send me pictures right away, so I can take them into the Deal People. Great, send them right now. If I they choose you in the casting, I’ll call you back at three o’clock, did you hear me three o’clock.”

At around three, he would call them back.

“Hey it’s Mick at Hollywood North. Good news they chose you for the show. So I’m sending you a contract and I need to get your talent cards so I can send them over to the show. Visa or Mastercard?”

My assumption was there were a number of reasons for “Mick’s” success. Firstly, he talked fast, the entire call never lasted more than two or three minutes.
The second reason he was so successful was he downright lied. There were no meetings, no assistants, no playing golf with the producers of Wheel of Fortune. There was just Sean, his cap and sunglasses and of course the phone.

At the end of my week I sent Dave an email. I essentially warned him about what was going on. He didn’t even blink. He said that telephone sales is really not for me and that he needed more guys like Sean who can do ten deals a week. I had become the blind monkey in his eyes.

I went back to my computer to clean up any personal emails I might have left on the hard drive when I got a message from Hollywood Entertainment. One of Sean’s clients had just been selected as a contestant on Survivor.

Who wodda thunk?

Why is everyone so mad?

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

I always pick up the Fall edition of GQ magazine, just to see if I am even close to being in style. This year’s fall special felt heavy as I carried it home from the magazine store.

With some excitement, I did my quick flip through before sitting down to read a couple of the articles. It was then I noticed it. With over one hundred pages of advertising and editorial photos of fashionable men, only 3 pages featured a happy or smiling model. What’s that about? Good looking guys in expensive clothing all looking like they just jumped out of bad movie. There were skulking young men with facial hair, angry young men surrounded by beautiful women or men just mad, sad or downright threatening.

My answer is the art director.

Someone on the shoot is telling the models “look more menacing” or “look like you just hate everything”. This may be reflective of our attitude in the 2000’s. Look tough and you can be attractive, look friendly and you’ll be seen as weak.

It’s a sad commentary on our own idea of fashion and beauty. But don’t blame the clothing designers, the photographer or the models….It’s that damn art director who had a bad night (or perhaps a bad month). Come on, lighten up….this was supposed to be fun.

Over my career I’ve worked for a number of Creative Directors from wild to mild. Some I thought needed professional help others lead by example. In any case, new research suggests that people who get mad get more creative.

In the latest Miller-McCune Tom Jacobs writes:

Writing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a research team led by University of Amsterdam psychologist Gerben Van Kleef describes an experiment involving 63 undergraduates. To begin, each filled out an 11-item “personal need for structure scale,” in which they rate the degree to which they agreed with such statements as “I become uncomfortable when the rules in a situation are not clear.”

“Individuals scoring on the low end of the scale are more inclined to search for and incorporate new information when making judgments,” the researchers write, “whereas people on the high end strive to maintain simple structures.” In psychological jargon, the first group exhibits high epistemic motivation, the second group low epistemic motivation.

Next, the participants performed two variations on a standard creativity test: They were given eight minutes to write down as many uses as they could come up with for a potato, and an unlimited time to think of as many ways as possible to use a brick. In between those two sessions, they viewed a video clip in which an actor read a list of instructions, telling them “the more ideas the better,” “the more unusual the idea the better” and “combine and improve your ideas.”

Half the participants saw a version of the video in which the actor was emotionless. The other half saw a version in which “he frowned a lot, spoke with an angry and irritable tone of voice, clenched his fists and looked stern.”

His palpable annoyance affected different people in different ways. The researchers found exposure to the angry man increased the creativity of participants with high epistemic motivation (those relatively open to new information), but decreased it for those with low epistemic motivation (those with a strong need for structure).

“Individuals with low epistemic motivation are less likely to consider the task-relevant implications of others’ anger,” the researchers note. “Rather, they develop negative reactions toward their co-worker, which leads to disengagement and lower performance.”

Further analysis found that “among individuals with high epistemic motivation, expressions of anger also increased relative originality — that is, the number of unique ideas relative to the total number of ideas generated. This indicates that expressions of anger do not just lead individuals to generate more ideas, but also to generate more original ideas.”

So, if you’re a supervisor trying to inspire creativity on the part of your staff, it would clearly help to understand each of their personalities before deciding who would benefit from your sharply expressed displeasure. And, the researchers add, it would also be wise to save your potentially inspiring irritation for the right moment.

“Given that variables such as time pressure or environmental noises have been found to decrease epistemic motivation,” they write, “these findings suggest that expressions of anger are unlikely to increase creativity under such conditions.”

If you have ever worked in advertising, this information may make you wonder about some of the creative people you worked with. Hopefully, in your case the anger was kept to a minimum perhaps except in the heart of your favorite Creative Director.

THERE are plenty of studies which show that dogs act as social catalysts, helping their owners forge intimate, long-term relationships with other people. But does that apply in the workplace? Christopher Honts and his colleagues at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant were surprised to find that there was not much research on this question, and decided to put that right. They wondered in particular if the mere presence of a canine in the office might make people collaborate more effectively. And, as they told a meeting of the International Society for Human Ethology in Madison, Wisconsin, on August 2nd, they found that it could.

To reach this conclusion, they carried out two experiments. In the first, they brought together 12 groups of four individuals and told each group to come up with a 15-second advertisement for a made-up product. Everyone was asked to contribute ideas for the ad, but ultimately the group had to decide on only one. Anyone familiar with the modern “collaborative” office environment will know that that is a challenge.

Some of the groups had a dog underfoot throughout, while the others had none. After the task, all the volunteers had to answer a questionnaire on how they felt about working with the other—human—members of the team. Mr Honts found that those who had had a dog to slobber and pounce on them ranked their team-mates more highly on measures of trust, team cohesion and intimacy than those who had not.

In the other experiment, which used 13 groups, the researchers explored how the presence of an animal altered players’ behaviour in a game known as the prisoner’s dilemma. In the version of this game played by the volunteers, all four members of each group had been “charged” with a crime. Individually, they could choose (without being able to talk to the others) either to snitch on their team-mates or to stand by them. Each individual’s decision affected the outcomes for the other three as well as for himself in a way that was explained in advance. The lightest putative sentence would be given to someone who chose to snitch while the other three did not; the heaviest penalty would be borne by a lone non-snitch. The second-best outcome came when all four decided not to snitch. And so on.

Having a dog around made volunteers 30% less likely to snitch than those who played without one.

So perhaps instead of hiring that next consultant (like me) or the next pile of entries to some obscure awards festival, spend the money on the heart and soul of your agency at the Humane Society.

I’ve been in the advertising business for a long time. Heck, long enough to remember the Mad Men era. I was just a kid in the creative department but the suits were the focus of the agency. They wore the expensive clothes, had the three hour martini lunches and provided extra special services to their clients on demand. The creative department was squeezed into tiny closets. Each had suffered from the constant turnover of people. It seemed when someone brought something into their office they never had any interest in taking it with them when they left.

Flash forward. Today the creative department is the engine of the agency. Creatives can be treated like gods. The paradigm has shifted. The other thing that has shifted is the fun side of the business. Suits now spend time on their computers reviewing stats instead of drinking manhattans. Creatives seem to have more interest in facebook and twitter than drawing and thinking.

It all makes me wonder how Ted Bates would feel about this transition.

Long a focus for many agencies and clients alike the dreaded Brainstorming has quite the folklore attached. Firstly, many feel the brainstorming is a way to harness the creative horsepower of an organization and focus it on a problem or challenge. The accepted paradigm is that this is a great way of involving people and getting the best idea on the table.

Professor Richad Wiseman writes in BBC Focus Magazine: “As you read this, people in offices around the globe will be having meetings trying to come up with good ideas. Researchers have gone to great trouble to test this technique….The results suggest that groups actually hinder creativity. Group brainstorming may fail because of a phenomenon known as ‘social loafing’ first noticed in the late 1880’s by French agricultural engineer Max Ringlemann. In one of the studies, people were asked to pull on a rope and life increasingly heavy weights. Wen working along, individuals lifted around 85 kilograms, but managed only 65 kilos when placed in a group, they are not as motivated to put in the time and energy. After all, they won’t receive personal praise if the group does well and can blame others if it performs badly. Group brainstorming seems to stifle, not stimulate, the creative juices”.

So next time the client or the account people start to make rumblings about a group creative session, have your ideas ready and make a dental appointment.

There has been no question that the WK guys are a bunch of very smart cookies. Their offices echo creativity from the totem to the floors. To me, the only thing really surprising about their Old Spice campaign is that the industry seemed so surprised at the internet version of their thinking.
Once again they did the unimaginable for many agencies and went out on a limb. In my career, this seems to be the location of many great ideas. They took their Old Spice Guy viral in a WK kind of way. They got him tweeting and networking and best of all they got him a team of great creative writers. Not just headline guys..these fellows turned out to be the standup comics of internet highway. Their quick responses to selected targets engaged and entertained and that my friends, is one of the reasons people love their work.

Over the years I’ve done a good deal of work with the folks at Americanadagencies.com.

Run by former ad agency executives, these guys figured out long ago that clients like to “shop” advertising agencies. Their simple site allows the viewer to see the top agencies in each market simply by clicking through. American Ad Agencies keeps their site simple so that the agency links they provide are the real stars. It’s fast, easy and deep. The three qualities most clients are looking for when they search for ad agencies.

As a new business consultant for ad agencies across North America I am constantly surprised how powerful this new business lead generator can be. In fact, it is now the largest generator of new business for ad agencies in the US.

Recently, they have decided to test the waters in Canada so if you have an agency, what are you waiting for?

It’s like hiring a new business department without the hassle or the cost. Let these guys bring your leads right to your door.

Ad agencies can use a simple method to make sure that everyone in the enterprise understands how they can contribute to the agency’s growth. I know, you’ll think it is just too good to be true, but once I introduced my “everyone can do it” attitude at an agency in Houston I had the president send the following memo:

“It’s great to have everyone here at XXX agency a part of our new business effort. It starts with a simple question: do you know or have any friends or relatives who might need an ad agency? If you do, let’s have lunch on me and we can talk about it”

The first response he had was from the receptionist who over lunch told him she wasn’t sure but her uncle worked for the local CocaCola bottler.

He suggested she call her uncle and see if he was interested. Three days later, the agency had picked up over $100,000 in annual billings as the Houston Area CocaCola Bottlers agency of record.

One memo. Amazing how you can look at advertising agency growth from so many directions. What’s your perspective?

As I move from city to city doing my new business seminars I always contact the agencies before I arrive and ask them to send my their new business materials. A sample of what they might send to a prospective clients. Over time, I have seen just about everything from running shoes with a tiny key drive attached (they were pitching a sporting goods chain) to dingy looking cerlox presentations that look like they have been through a fire their pages so brittle.

Point is, your new business materials are essential to pitching success. It sets the tone with the prospect. The speed in your response and delivery of these docs shows the client that you are responsive (one of the most highly rated categories in an agency search).

Don’t wait for the moment you need a new business presentation to start working on it. Having a standing presentation and be prepared to customize it for each prospective client. Best of all, have some fun with everyone in the agency and ask them to treat the agency as a client and come up with their own new business ideas.