Richmond 1985: Life at a Small Agency and a Really Small Agency.

In 1983 – for you English Lit majors, 30 years ago – I joined the creative department of a small agency in Richmond as hire #10 or so. I went on to work at medium-sized and large agencies, but my time at the Martin Agency I remember with particular fondness. For students waffling between big versus small – both have their charms – today is about small.

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This is the original building at Lee Circle where I first met Mike Hughes, best boss I ever had. (To our great shock, Mike died this last December 15th.) We ten creatives whom he oversaw worked on the third floor, which was an old ballroom. The biggest client at the time was Barnett Banks and while I don’t remember their billings, we did maybe two TV spots a year, buncha magazine, and too much radio. (Today their big account is some company called Wal-Mart.)

In those days, creative teams weren’t as common and everybody pretty much worked with everybody; and everybody knew everybody, and not just in the creative department but all over. If I were a new staffer at some big-ass shop in New York, I doubt their president woulda walked up to my desk – like Don Just did – to whisper, “Psst, we’re takin’ the timeshare jet to Palm Beach for the weekend and stayin’ at The Breakers.” (What followed was kinda like Spring Break, but without the youth, beauty, or sex.)

Not all small agencies were as fun as Martin was in the ‘80s. Come to think of it, it was probably the crazy decade of the ‘80s that got us nuts. Nah. It was us. We were crazy. Well, maybe five of us were crazy. Okay, I was crazy.

We’d gather almost nightly in one area bar or another, and not just Martin Agency people. The creative departments from other city agencies (Siddall, Matthus & Coughter, Lawler Ballard, Ford & Westbrook) gathered at joints like Humphrey’s, Jay’s, Strawberry Street Café, and Joe’s Inn; the last of which still has some of our brain cells on the ceiling, plus I think Mahoney left an open tab there.

Cynicism and sarcasm were the coinage of our realm, and we encouraged leaning into people’s cubicles to insult their work, looks, age, sexual orientation, whatever was handy. Insults were so common on the third floor they were the default setting of all hallway greetings. In fact, to signify you actually had something nice to say to someone, you had to lean in, speak, and then back away with two raised and open hands. (“I’m unarmed, not a threat.”)

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Sometimes blanket insults were called for, such as the time I tacked this list to the third-floor bulletin board. It was for all “my” art directors, a list of rules about proper behavior while riding my coattails to the One Show. (My favorite being rule 5, somethin’ about, “Be quiet, I’m trying to think up here.” Boom!)

Though Richmond was a small ad town back then and never made the New York Times (well, once) we all wanted to crush each others’ dreams in the local ad competition, burn their pathetic villages, and leave their old women wailing in the streets, “Why do we suck so much?”

Actually we were all great friends and we’d help any and all with concepts and share our ideas scribbled on bar napkins. In fact, it was the napkin-layouts that gave my friend Cabell Harris the idea for Drinking Buddies Advertising and the logo. I managed to save only a piece of the stationery but the business card was cooler; an actual napkin with ad scribbles on it. (Oh, and the Martin Agency toilet paper? That’s from the bathroom during a party at an agency across town, Westbrook Inc.) Also pictured below is the entire creative department of Drinking Buddies Advertising. (Cabell, me, Danny Boone at the Strawberry Street Café branch office). Like Martin, we were a small agency too; we just didn’t have a health plan. (No wait, we did. “Try to switch to filtered cigarettes and always eat the fruit in your drink.”)

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Our good boss, Mike Hughes, somehow put up with all this foolishness and freelancing, as he had only to peek out his office to see we worked pretty hard at our day jobs. Still, I’m not sure any of it woulda been possible at a big-ass agency (or under a different creative director).

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There are more stories to tell another day. For now I’ll part with these last two pictures, both of me and Cabell Harris. It clearly shows what horrible things 30 years in the business can do to a person. Forgive me for leaving out all kinds of wonderful Martin Agency people, but that core group, you guys know who you are: Andy, Cabell, Christi, Danny, Diane, Hal, HV, Jane, Jerry, Mahoney, Russ, Tyson, and Wayne-us. I love you guys.)

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World Stops as Area Blogger Unveils New Look, Greatest Hits List.

The world today is full of pain and bad news. In the streets of Aleppo, of Gaza, and Ferguson, Missouri, bad shit is happening. Which is why the world needs a really stupid blog like this one.

It’s stupid mostly because I wrote it. But it’s also stupid because the main focus is advertising, a profession (affliction) thought by most to be immoral at worst, irritating at best.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us ad geeks? Caring as much as we do about something as nerdy as advertising?

Well, I don’t get it either, but here we are ¬– stayin’ late at the office or stayin’ up all night at school, trying to come up with a new way to make people give a flying f••k about Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks. And so I figured, we need something to read in order not to get too depressed about Aleppo, Gaza, and Ferguson.

I hope you like the new design. (Done by a SCAD ad student; a paid gig, btw.) HeyWhipple’s been up and running since 2010 and over the years I’ve managed to post a few things that didn’t suck too bad. And so, by way of reintroduction, I include below a list of links to some of my favorite posts over the years.

I hope to start posting again with some regularity, now that school’s about to start. Feel free to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or to subscribe. (Buttons below to the right.)

ESSAYS ON ADVERTISING:

Is Your Ad Complete Bullshit? Try This Simple Test.

“I See Dead Ad Jobs.” Thoughts on an ad business facing the digital tsunami.

How To Advertise to a Nation of Eye-Rollers.

Content Is King. (Excerpt from new edition of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.)

Big Ideas vs. Long Ideas.

On Making Things Better Than They Have To Be Made.

ADVICE TO STUDENTS AND JUNIORS:

How I Learned Not To Suck. As Much.

Advice on Putting Together Your Book.

Do Not Tolerate Brutal Creative Directors.

How To Last in a Tough Business That’s Filled with Rejection.

An Open Letter to a Creative on the Ropes.

Please Give This Essay Your Full Attention. (The power of focus.)

The New Creative is T-Shaped.

Interns Should Be Paid. (With Money.)

On Picking Your Favorite Flavor of Suck.

Get Great at Writing Radio and You’ll Probably Always Have a Job.

Problem Solving vs. Problem Finding

Why Creativity is Exactly Like Washing A Pig.

Good Creative People are NEVER Bored.

On Presentation Skills.

What I Learned About Presenting From Doing Stand-Up.

ESSAYS I WISH CLIENTS WOULD READ:

On Being a Devil’s Advocate vs. an Angel’s Advocate.

An E-Mail I Came THIS Close to Sending to a Client About Her Micro-Managing.

Why You Shouldn’t Put Too Much Stuff in Your TV Spots.

The Home For Tired Old Ideas.

The Two States of Consumer Awareness: Shopping for Vegetables vs. Being a Vegetable.

What Having a Bad Client Feels Like, as told by a Plumber.

The Best Client I Ever Had: Wendy Ludlow Clark, now of Coca-Cola.

HEROES

R.I.P. Mike Hughes, The Most Loved Man in all of Advertising.

On Having Heroes.

My Favorite Writing Teacher: Poet Billy Collins

One of the Best Pieces of Creative Advice I Ever Received. From Anne Lamott.

The Day My Favorite Writer Ray Bradbury, Died.

REALLY STUPID STUFF

My Pitch to Chiquita Bananas.

Social Media vs. Those Whacky Waving Arm-Flailing Inflatable Tube Men.

Advertising after the Zombie Apocalypse.

Who Else Hates those Pop-Up Ads That Show Up in the Middle of Your Movie?

The Ad Industry’s Most Common Error: Media vs. Mediums.

A Stupid Film I Made to Make Fun of Pat Fallon’s new Big-Ass Office.

The Prestigious “Pardon Airport Construction Signs Creativity Gala.”

SELF-PROMO STUFF (Me, Wonderful Me.)

An After-Effects Self-Promo Piece Done by a SCAD Student.

The Most Interesting Night I Had in all of 2012.

My Single Fave Thing I Ever Did While Working for Norwegian Cruise Lines.

33 Years in the Ad Biz, and This Was My Favorite Campaign. And it’s Radio.

The Day My Picture Showed Up In The Onion.

My fave winners in the latest CA Interactive Annual.

Full disclosure: I pretty much copied and pasted all this content from various sites around the web, some from adweek, some from Cannes. Please do not sue me as I’m basically a very nice person.

SURRENDER YOUR SAY

Overview: Tourette Syndrome is widely misunderstood. The Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada wanted people to comprehend the frustration, randomness and isolation of the condition by actually feeling the lack of control experienced by those living with the disorder. The Foundation worked with Saatchi & Saatchi Canada to launch Surrender Your Say, a campaign in which Twitter users relinquished control of their feed and allowed Tourette tics to be tweeted randomly under their name. It was controversial. It hadn’t been done before. And for a day, thousands felt what it was like to have Tourette Syndrome in front of millions of followers.

BMW A WINDOW INTO THE NEAR FUTURE

Overview: It’s been more than 30 years since American auto and oil industries preempted the original promise of electric cars, and BMW was eager to show New Yorkers that the future of mobility has finally arrived. To build awareness and create anticipation for the new, all-electric BMW i series, BMW transformed a street-level window’s reflection of live traffic on 6th Avenue into an idealistic vision of a world populated by (mostly) electric cars. Four creative agencies collaborated over seven months to design and build the installation, which used digital projection and motion-detection technology to swap BMW i3 and i8 vehicles for the actual cars in the window’s reflection, giving passersby an exhilarating glimpse into the near future.”

CARLY’S CAFE

Overview: Carly is a young woman living with autism, and is the co-author of the book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism. To help promote her book, john st. wanted to bring people as close as possible to the feeling of living in Carly’s world. Since autism inhibits “normal” social interaction, the project took the form of an interactive video over the course of which the user gradually loses control, an experience that mimics the loss of control and focus Carly describes in her book. The level of interactivity we are accustomed to in websites is also consciously inhibited, and the site gives us a first-person point of view into Carly’s experience.

THE MOBILE ORCHESTRA

Overview: In this innovative app-based holiday card, AKQA sent a clear message to friends, family, clients and beyond: the holidays are best spent with others. Teaming up with the Pacific Chamber Symphony, the agency created an interactive orchestra that joins up to twelve phones and tablets to perform a single song, “Carol of the Bells,” a sort of digital carol to bring people together. Groups of friends can sync their mobile devices and each person is assigned one of twelve musical roles—maybe conductor or cellist. As the carol begins, they play together in harmony. Executive creative director Stephen Clements described the in-house project as “a great process of invention and problem solving. When you have very limited time and resources you make quick decisions and don’t overthink things. It’s more fun that way.”

A NEW KIND OF CATALOG FROM IKEA

Overview: With customers increasingly using their smartphones to get the same product information and decor inspiration provided by IKEA’s print catalogs, the global furniture retailer knew a revamp of its iconic mailer, then in its 61st year, was in order. But with over 200 million print copies still effectively serving readers of all ages in every corner of the world, an all-digital approach was premature. McCann New York devised a balanced solution. Working with interactive studio All of Us, the agency created a mobile app companion to the catalog that let readers scan printed images to unlock a whole world of additional online content—expanded product details, photo galleries, how-to videos from designers and more. McCann’s three-pronged UX/design, technological and storytelling overhaul turned the catalog experience into an evolving innovation platform worthy of a brand that “dares to be different.”

VIRGIN MOBILE BLINKWASHING

Overview: When you’ve already got a cell phone plan, you’re not likely to pay much attention to other offers, no matter how good they might be. Virgin Mobile’s Blinkwashing, an interactive YouTube experience that reacts to the blink of an eye, solves that problem by surprising the viewer into watching. It works by enabling a person’s webcam to scan for eye location and movement to accurately detect when a viewer blinks. Then, with every blink, the video on screen switches, while the dialogue continues uninterrupted. The ad is made up of 25 different films, all perfectly synced for a seamless transition between clips. Mother New York, working with Greencard Pictures and rehabstudio, created completely new technology to let viewers blink their way through an endlessly changing stream of videos detailing the benefits of switching to Virgin Mobile.