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Things That Suck #794: Non-essential people at meetings. Or “Blinkers.”

You know all those people who sit in meetings but contribute nothing? My friend John Trahar has a great term to describe them. He calls ’em “Blinkers.”

Because that’s all these people do — blink.

The junior account executive? She’s busy taking notes. The creatives, they’re busy showin’ work. The planner, busy offering insights. And then there’s that … that guy. Just sitting there.


Damn, I want that job. I wonder how the interview for his job went? How did he pitch himself?

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AGENCY RECRUITER: Well, Jim, what do you think you can contribute to our agency?

BLINKER: Good question, Bill, and the answer is “Nothing.” Not a single thing actually. See, what I do is … I blink. That’s ALL I do. I go to meetings, I sit off to the side, and I blink. Well, that and take up space in the meeting room. I think you could describe my contribution to any meeting as providing “one less place to sit.” I am simply there … existing. And while at first glance this “existing” I do may seem very Zen, I assure you I am not on a higher plane of any kind whatsoever. I’m just there in the meeting, filling out a suit, and providing a neck for a tie to go around. You may think what I’m trying to say is “I’m a good listener,” but to be honest, most of the time my mind is just drifting –  I’m thinkin’ about baseball, or lunch, those M&Ms over there, it all depends really. See, I’ve been coasting on my invisibility for years. I sat in the back of every college class and even today, in a world full of important issues, I manage to be neither for nor against anything. I’m one of those people who turns up on every survey with a “DON’T KNOW” – even to questions like, “Isn’t war bad?” Have you heard the phrase “fly on the wall”? Well, think of me as a fly on one of your chairs. A big fat fly, just sitting in one of your meetings, taking it all in but adding nothing. From the look on your face, I see that perhaps the fly imagery is a bit distasteful so instead think of me as an inert substance like, say, ashes from a crematorium. No, no, another bad example.  Think of me as a purely inert substance, like the glycerin they use as a base in shampoo formulas. I’m a “bulking agent.” I add bulk to your agency overhead. I take up space in meeting rooms. But in return, I provide no opinion, no flavor, no extra ingredients, no added value of any kind whatsoever.

So, when can I start?

Things That Suck #249: Misuse of the words “Media” and “Mediums”

What if we started taking agency people seriously when they misused the word “mediums” and just started giving them what they asked for?

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AGENCY GUY: Okay, we’ve talked a lot about having our client’s message show up in as many mediums as possible and today I’d like to take you through some of our early thoughts.

Okay, first off, congrats on the whole idea of buying mediums. Round of applause for our Jerry here. Thanks to the Jer-Man’s memo – “Investing In The Best Mediums” ¬– we are first movers in this category.

First off, nobody else has thought of advertising on mediums, or clairvoyants, or fortune tellers. And people? We intend to own this space. We’ll road-block every goddamn medium in the tri-state area and John Q. Public won’t be able to get his stinkin’ palm read without hearing about Subway’s foot-longs.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit: Your basic medium, the fortune teller.

Okay, you see a crystal ball, right? Yeah? Well, I see a cash register, people, and it’s ringin’. Can anyone say “give-away”? Oh, yeah. We slap our logo on some cheap clear plastic balls, say something like, “In your future, we see a 10% discount on a Subway.” It’s a win-win, okay? Page me at the pool when the stock splits.

And look at all this forehead space here. So, we get our art guys in here – boom – and now you got paying customers looking square at our Italian BMT while the mediums are goin’ on about, “You gonna drop dead. Heart attack. Oh wait, unless you eat Subway.”

It’s got legs, these mediums. Maybe have the old gypsy start moaning, “S-s-s-someone named Jarel? Jared? He is reaching out to you. He say, ‘Don’t be such a fat fuck. Eat at Subways’.”

Alrighty? Now in addition to mediums, we can stake out territory in witches, gypsies, even bottom-feeders like the guy who guesses your weight at the carnival. And movie tie-in’s? A cake walk. Take the old bitch in Drag Me To Hell? Talk about a call to action. “Eat at Subway’s or roast in Hell until the skin bubbles off your maggot-infested soul.”

I have chills, people. Chills.

Hiring (and Shaping) the Ideal Creative Candidate.

Okay, so a job position in the creative department opens up.

On one hand, I wanna hire only the most techno-geeked-out, mobile-ready, code-slinging web brat I can find.

On the other hand, I want to hire a writer or an art director who knows how to take a blank sheet of paper and make something interesting and beautiful happen.

The place where these two skills overlap is the sweet spot. The ones who can do both of these things are the creatives of the future.

As for us creatives here in the present? What can we do to align ourselves with reality right now?

For now, I find myself pushing either group towards the middle. Pushing traditional creatives to use, study, and learn the emerging technologies. And pushing digital creatives to learn how to create things that are delightful and conceptual on paper; things that are still cool even before any coding happens.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Having come up in this business during the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think I’m probably pretty good at looking at a brand brief, figuring out the single most important thing to say, and then making something interesting happen: in print, on TV, outdoor or radio. I kinda know what I’m doing there.

But I won’t kid myself. I’m still a digital immigrant, probably with a heavy old-world accent even the guys at the corner deli couldn’t understand. Yet I am not content to sit on Ellis Island wondering what delights await discovery on the new digital shores. I’m swimmin’ across. Meaning, I stay very busy learning everything I can.

I am busy actually using the new media. I am busy reading about it. I am busy blogging about it, tweeting about it, and watching “webinars” (I still can’t say that word with a straight face) – online seminars broadcast from cool places like Boulder Digital Works. I read Edward Boches’ blog (the guy’s brill). And Boches’s’s site is just one of the websites I visit regularly to find inspiration and education. (The list is over there to the right). When I can talk my company into paying for it (they came through big-time on SxSW) I attend seminars and conferences in person. All of this so I can learn the new media, experience the new technologies, and help take my agency’s brands out into the world to meet its customers.

I do all this hoping my self-guided education will push me towards that sweet spot in the middle.

Now, if I were a digital native, someone who knows HTML5, CSS, and Javascript? I’d get me a big ol’ One Show annual (insist on the kind made out of paper). Or I’d find any December issue of Communication Arts. Then I’d unplug the cellphone and settle in to read ‘em cover to cover.

I’d probably start by studying the print of the ‘80s Fallon McElligott, I’d watch the TV of the ‘90s Goodby, and understand how they tell an integrated story at today’s Crispin. I’d learn how to write a headlines as good as the work Abbott Meade Vickers did for The Economist. I’d learn how to say something really provocative in a 10-word headline. I’d learn how to tell an interesting story in 30 seconds.

I’d push myself towards the middle.

Ultimately, for an open job position in the creative department, I’ll hire someone who is – drum roll – creative. But the tie’s gonna go to the person who can express creativity over the widest variety of media.

That’s just my two cents. (Or to borrow from that stupid Second Life thing) that’s just my two Linden dollars.

(Seriously, it’s okay to roll your eyes. Not everything digital is great.)


The Day My Picture Ended Up In The Onion.

About 4 years ago, I managed to talk my way into the offices of The Onion. Met with a nice woman, editor Carol Kolb. Told her the house ads for the newspaper should be as funny as the editorial. Showed her some stuff we’d done and she agreed, yeah, this is Onion funny. (Made my day, I can tell you.) In any case, a couple of weeks later when I was in their offices delivering all the files, one of their photographers came out and said, “Hey, wanna be one of those people with the little pictures next to their editorials?” Wood Eye? Wood Eye? So, that’s how I ended up in this editorial. If I coulda picked, I would have chosen their famous “Why Can’t I Sell More of These Fucking Bibles?!?”

Oh, and here is just one of the ads we did for The Onion. I did this one. Guys like Keith Greenstein and Mike Lear helped, along with art direction from Lou Flores. Later on, Lear kept it goin’ at The Martin Agency (and won two One Show Silvers with it….the bastid).

A Speech I Gave To Miami Ad School. (Takes about 1 minute to load. Sorry.)

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People tell me I cuss too much. And this video is proof. It’s an hour-long speech to ad students at Miami Ad School. Where I got such a potty mouth is a mystery to me, because my Mom, she’s just as nice a lady as you could care to meet. Go figure.

Luke Sullivan from on Vimeo.

Things That Suck #284: Misuse of the “Reply All” button

According the Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff, the Air Force had some harsh rules about what they called “radio chatter.” The thing was, even if your plane was going down, you were not allowed to jam up the airwaves with a bunch of whiny-ass complaining about “Oh, my plane’s on fire. I’m gonna die!” The rule was, hey, just crash already and don’t whine about it over the radio.

Man, I wish we had that rule here in corporate America.

Here the rule seems to be: “Please publish every single thought that enters your tiny corporate noggin, no matter how incidental or irrelevant to the rest of the universe.”

And the worst of these offenders? The people who hit the “Reply All” button.

Okay, picture this scene. A project leader sends out a reminder that the meeting has moved from Conference Room A to Room B. Okay, fine. It’s an acceptable use of mass email containing useful information. What’s not acceptable? The microcephalic response of “Thanks!” and sent to Reply-All.


I remember reading once that agency-wide emails are frowned upon at Ogilvy. It makes sense, given the sheer size of the organization. When you multiply the amount of time it takes one employee to read a stupid “Thanks!” email by the 80-some-thousand employees in the company, dude, it adds up to some serious revenue-gobbling time.

Even more deflating is when my email server is slow. Now it’s adding-insult-to-injury time because first I have to hit OPEN (not knowing it’s one of these stupid emails) and then …. wait …. wait for it ….. and all the waiting is foooorrrrr? …. a cheerful stupid “Thanks.”

Okay, here’s the deal. No more thanking me. Well, okay, if I give you CPR and save your life, yeah, a “Thanks!” would be fine. Or even just a quiet thumbs-up sign as they wheel your gurney into the waiting ambulance. But I really and truly don’t need to be thanked for telling you the meeting is now in Conference Room B.

It was nuthin’. Really.