An exercise

Luke Sullivan was a wild and crazy copywriter at The Martin Agency in the ‘80s: a perfect caricature of the modern creative as seen by your typical banker.  He played a big role in putting TMA on the map.  In those days, he was obsessed with winning awards.  The clients got a huge bonus when Luke was assigned to their account.  He wouldn’t quit until he got something special.  (Note to anyone who grimaced when I mentioned his awards obsession:  aren’t those awards freaks the ones who do the much discussed “creative for the sake of creative”?  Nonsense, the self-respecting ones like Luke know that the path to the awards podium is built with fresh strong strategy elegantly or joyfully brought to live.  Sure, there are judges who are too eager to give prizes to wild, irreverent, obscene work. So some of that work gets through the system. The industry usually just ignores that work.  Which sounds like the right thing to do.

 Luke and I have pretty similar taste.  If I get straight 10s for my taste in movies, TV shows, music, people and ads (and I do think I get a 10–just as you think you get a 10), he gets 7s or 8s.  Not bad.  (Well, actually he gets 4s in movies.  Lord knows I’ve tried to help him there.)

 Luke gave an interview a couple of years back to the Big Orange Slide.  I thought I’d compare my opinions (in orange) with his.


How to get ahead in advertising: Part 3

October 19, 2010 by Ian Mackenzie

What separates advertising’s rock stars from its chair warmers? And what does it take to get to the next level? Over the past few months, we’ve been asking marketers who’ve made their mark their thoughts on getting ahead.

Today, Luke Sullivan weighs in. He’s Group Creative Director of GSD&M Advertising in Austin, Texas and author of Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: A guide to creating great ads.

1) True or False: Results trump all reasonable shortcomings?

False. But a good question.  Years ago Luke created an over-the-top, deliberately schlocky TV commercial for a promotion for Bank of Virginia.  We thought everyone would be amused by its extreme tackiness.  Here’s the problem:  the audience, especially the bankers in the audience, didn’t see the humor.  The promotion was incredibly, incredibly effective, soaring past all the stated goals. The chairman of the bank defended the spot in front of his staff because it so clearly worked.  But as he left the stage, he told one of my partners” we’re never doing anything like that again.”  It’s this very question I put in chapter 1 of my book. In fact, it’s why I gave it the title I did. Because the Whipple campaign with the stupid grocer worked really well. It knocked Scott tissue out of #1. But as an idea, it sucked. Results do not trump sucking. While they’re nowhere near as irritating as the Whipple campaign I’ve got to admit that Whipple and the GEICO gecko aren’t far off from each other conceptually.  But the best gecko work is far better than any of the Whipple stuff, so I won’t beat myself up too badly here.  In Hey Whipple, I wrote it this way (note in particular the smart quotation at the end from British Creative Director, Norman Berry):

With 504 different Charmin toilet tissue commercials airing from 1964 through 1990, Procter & Gamble certainly “irritated customers with repetitious commercials.” And it indeed “worked like magic.” P&G knew what they were doing.

Yet I lie awake some nights staring at the ceiling, troubled by Whipple. What vexes me so about this old grocer? This is the question that led me to write this book.

What troubles me about Whipple is that he isn’t good. As an idea, Whipple isn’t good.

He may have been an effective salesman. (Billions of rolls.) He may have been a strong brand image. (He knocked Scott tissues out of the #1 spot.) But it all comes down to this: if I had created Mr. Whipple, I don’t think I could tell my son with a straight face what I did at the office. “Well, son, you see, Whipple tells the lady shoppers not to squeeze the Charmin but then, then he squeezes it himself . . . Hey, wait, come back.”

As an idea, Whipple isn’t good.

To those who defend the campaign based on sales I ask, would you also spit on the table to get my attention? It would work, but would you? An eloquent gentleman named Norman Berry, a British creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, put it this way:

I’m appalled by those who [judge] advertising exclusively on the basis of sales. That isn’t enough. Of course, advertising must sell. By any definition it is lousy advertising if it doesn’t. But if sales are achieved with work which is in bad taste or is intellectual garbage, it shouldn’t be applauded no matter how much it sells. Offensive, dull, abrasive, stupid advertising is bad for the entire industry and bad for business as a whole. It is why the public perception of advertising is going down in this country.

2) Do you have any overarching theories that help you navigate agency politics?
Yes. Keep your eye on the ball, not on the players.  Good advice.  I’d add, be a positive force within the agency.  Do something anti-political every day.

3) What’s your leadership style?
My answer to your question will be this as-yet-unposted entry for my
Hey Whipple blog. Title is tentatively, “Almost All Great CDs Are Also Great People.”

Recently I posted an article about brutal creative directors. And why you should get your book out as fast as you can. Now, if I may, a few words on what I think makes a good creative director.

I once read that a coach’s main job is to love his players. I think the same holds true for creative directors. Advertising is so hard. There is so much rejection, so much brutality, so many late nights. I do think that in our efforts to convince ourselves we’re in some macho profession we highly exaggerate the pains associated with it.  The fact is most of us in this business work long hours, but they’re long hours interrupted by sushi lunches and trips to Shutters.  It’s frustrating when great work is killed (KILLED!!), but the fact is the bigger industry problem is that too much bad work gets approved.  To be able to motivate people in such a business, you have to love them and they have to know it. Other motivations will occasionally work, but nothing beats love.  Nothing comes close.  Not everyone feels this way. A famous CD once confided to me, “You need to have people fear you.” Whoever he is, that CD is an a——.  I disagree. Life is short and this is just advertising, people. If this means I’ll always produce less stellar work than a much-feared-CD, I’m okay with that. We all have our priorities. Those are mine.

Good creative directors need to get to know their people. I’ve heard of CDs who dig a moat around their office and meet only with the senior creatives; never with anyone lower down the food chain. This, too, I think is probably the wrong way to go about it. You need to know and love the people who are manning your trenches. You need to know their names, you need to know what they’re working on, you need to know when they do something great so you can lean into their offices and say, “Dude, that was great.” Soldiers do not charge machine-gun nests for generals they do not love.  True.  A little too macho, but true.

Good CDs not only improve your work, they improve you. Someone once told me that a great creative director is a “career accelerator.” These are bosses who leave your career in better shape than they found it. That requires someone who is not completely wrapped up in either themselves or the pressures of doing good work. They manage to keep any eye on the lives and the souls of the people who are working for them.

This takes me to a concept I’ve heard described as the “servant leader.” Writer James Kouzes wrote that such leaders “do not place themselves at the center; they place others there. They do not seek the attention of people; they give it to others. They do not focus on satisfying their own aims and desires [but on] the needs and interests of their people. They know that serving others is the most rewarding of all leadership tasks.”

Wow. Sounds a little altruistic put like that, but then I think of a guy like Mike Hughes at The Martin Agency and I realize, hey, he’s right. Here’s a guy who has been quietly building one of the best agencies anywhere and doing by serving his people, serving his agency, doing it without an ego, and without beating on or intimidating the folks who work there.  Who am I to disagree? (I swear to God I began this exercise not realizing Luke gave me such a wonderful shout-out. Of course, the shout-out was almost certainly the reason I kept this piece on my desktop, so I’m not completely innocent.)

Perhaps another day we can talk about all the other things it takes to be a good creative director, one of which of course is being a good creative. But for my money the most important thing is being a good person – Honest. Level-headed. Friendly. Approachable. And humble.

Footnote: There’s a great article on what it takes to be a good creative director posted by the Denver Egoist which you’ll find here.

4) How much emphasis should an emerging creative put on post-selling their work through case studies and award shows?
Your question about award shows is an old one, oft answered by smarter people than I. Me, Luke, not I, me.  (I love you.)  But that bit about case histories, that is interesting.

When I was an ad brat, all that I was able to collect for my portfolio were ads and TV spots, usually one-offs, additions to someone else’s campaign. Nowadays it seems even young people are getting a chance to create entire campaigns. Often the best way to present a campaign (if it’s really a great one with proven results) is in the form of a case history. It’s simply more impressive. I’ve seen them used in online portfolios to great effect. But make sure you assemble the case history as creatively as you did the work. Done poorly it’ll just be a dry-ass PowerPoint presentation of strategy – creative – results.  This isn’t on the same point, but one thing to keep in mind is the fact that ideas, ads, portfolios, etc., almost never sell themselves.  We wish they would.  They should.  But they don’t.

5) Aside from yours, what’s your favourite book on advertising?
Let’s start off with some old classics:
When Advertising Tried Harder, by Larry Dubrow; Remember Those Great Volkswagen Ads? by David Abbott; and From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor, by Jerry Della Femina.

Then there’s Well-Written and Red, a hard-to-find and expensive book on the wonderful long-running campaign for The Economist.

e is a hilarious novel about an agency going down the tubes, written entirely in emails.

Then We Came To The End, by Joshua Ferris, is another book about an agency going down the tubes but this one’s an excellent piece of literature.

And no list about books for writers is complete without a tip of the hat to the Stunk & White’s classic The Elements of Style; required reading for anyone who holds a pencil anywhere near paper. True.  I do wish someone would create a beefed up version of Strunk & White.  The help I need is rarely included—and it’s getting a little dated.  (Not as dated as I am, but dated.)

6) How do you know when it’s time to leave your current agency?
When you are always angry. That’s usually a good sign. Or if you are writing to Agency Spy about your agency. (Lordy, why on earth do people do that? If you hate it so bad there, leave already. It’s kinda like being at a bad restaurant and sneaking into the bathroom to make an angry post of the menu. Leave already.)  Wonderful advice.  I’m an awfully forgiving person, but working against the best interests of your company or your clients is inexcusable. 

7) From a career perspective, what’s the importance of making intangible cultural contributions to an agency?
Pretty interesting question. To get ahead in this business, you need to contribute to the agency by doing great work. But you can also contribute by being a helpful and involved company person. That means caring about more than just the ads you’re workin’ on, but caring about the company itself. You can contribute by raising your hand to help with new business. Or by picking up the empty pop bottle by the front door. Or helping with the agency web site or agency blog. All things being equal creatively, management at your agency is gonna notice someone who’s involved over a cube dweller.  My partner John Adams says culture isn’t just a big thing, it’s everything.  If one job applicant is a 10, but isn’t the person I want to sit next to on a cross-country flight, I’m hiring the 9 instead.  The 9 is the guy who picks the trash off the floor, helps the receptionist when she/he needs help, and grows to be a 10. 

8) True or false: every brief contains an opportunity for greatness?
If you’re an optimist, the answer is “Yes.” If you’re a very busy optimist, it’s “Um, maybe. Can you come back in an hour?” If you’re a pessimist, it’s “No.” If you’re a busy pessimist, obviously it’s “Shut the fuck up.” I happen to be a busy optimist.  If the brief doesn’t have the opportunity for greatness, rewrite the brief. 

A final thought:  Luke is one smart fellow.  He’s also a gracious fellow:  he’s never made me feel bad for writing a not-very-good intro to his most recent edition of Whipple.  (Of course, he didn’t pay me anything either.)


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Good manners

I haven’t made it a habit to review my posts once they’re posted.  I re-read one or two the other day and realized I’ve been very sloppy.  There are typos, misspellings, grammar mistakes–the whole range of careless mistakes.  I’m not bothered by the casual, not very proper writing you find in text messages, emails, blogs these days, but I can’t help feeling writers have an obligation to make reading meaningful, fun and  easy for the readers.  Should it be challenging?  The content should sometimes be challenging, but not (usually) the writing.  I have my quirks.  I like to occasionally throw in odd new words I’ve discovered even when I know a more universal synonym:  I figure others might enjoy discovering a new word too.  (On the other hand, maybe my discovery is new to me but to nobody else, in which case the reader is already way ahead of me.) My biggest disservice to readers is that I don’t edit ruthlessly enough.  Everything’s twice as long as it should be.  When I’m writing for a client, i work hard on that.  I figure that’s what I’m paid to do.  Now I’m wondering if I should commit to being harder on myself going forward.  Should I promise less sloppiness and fewer words?    Forgive my manners, but I’m not going to make that promise.  I’m a little embarrassed by that, but I get more grief about not posting often enough than I do about my faux pas. (At least I took the time to double check the spelling of embarrassed and faux pas in that last sentence.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A story idea

This will be a change in pace for the blogs. Over the years, I’ve had a few ideas for books/movies/tv shows/songs.  I’ve never brought any of them to life—and for obvious reasons it’s too late for me to do that now.  But if you’re interested…

Here’s a long form tv series idea.  Long form tv is the television series that lends itself to binge watching.  There are variations, but typically the show has at least four or five episodes, each usually 45 to 90 minutes long. Unlike typically episodic tv series in which each broadcast has its own beginning, middle and end, the best long form series (The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, Breaking Bad, etc.) build multiple storylines over extended periods.  If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be a show-runner for Hamlet, a 36-episode tv series that’s actually better than the play.  (Bringing together music, video, writing, editing and in depth character development, long form television has clearly become our most powerful art form.)

My idea.

            Although this show has some commonality with 24 and Alias, it’s more realistic and a little more complicated than either.  It’s somewhere in tone and style between The Sopranos and a David Fincher film like Seven.

Two reporters for a large international newspaper headquartered in New York create a regular feature called “Devils Incarnate?”  It’s about controversial bigger-than-life characters around the world—the fictional equivalents of the Koch Brothers, Putin, Grover Norquest, Dick Cheney, Bernie Madoff, the young Castro, Joe Kony of LRA in Uganda, Wayne LaPierre, Whitey Bolger, Rev. Aaron Swartz of Westboro Baptist Church, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Mugabe, OJ Simpson, slave traffickers, a KKKer with a horrible history, a serial killer who is freed on a technicality, a priest who molests boys, etc.  The villains here are the worst people in the world.

            The two reporters are ruthless in getting to the truth about their subjects.  For this project, they report directly to the publisher of the paper, a rich old Brit (of course) who lives in Manhattan.  At the end of their reporting, they know the facts about the evil people they cover—and their stories are usually published.  But for some reason (legal technicalities, geography, world politics, lack of court-worthy evidence, etc.) the criminals remain free and in power.

            What the reporters don’t know is that the wealthy publisher has a small, merciless trio of “executioners” who take over from there—a Mission Impossible team without moral restraints.  They have to figure out how to bring the bad guys to justice—even if it means killing them—without anyone knowing about their involvement.  Obviously, the things they do could start wars, insurrections or revenge cycles.

            In the first episode you meet the two earnest young reporters, their editor (the publisher’s 30-yr.-old son), the publisher, the publisher’s lawyer (his daughter by his first wife) and their first subject.

In the first minutes of the first episode there’s a dramatic killing by the “executioners” that is completely unexplained.  You don’t learn about the “executioners” until the second or third episode.  When the reporters meet with the publisher in the first episode, they talk about the eerie murder of one of the people they wrote about “just last month.”

            From then on in the series, the reporters are onto the next story while the executioners finish up the previous case.  (Of course, it won’t always be as neat as that.  When the bad guys are brought down, the newspaper would naturally assign the two reporters who wrote the story for the follow-ups.  Without knowing it, they will be investigating the executioners who work for the same publisher they do.)

            Of course, after a few cases media-watchers start noticing “the curse” that happens to the people featured in “Devils Incarnate”—they keep coming to bad ends.  That gets both the national and international police suspicious.  And, of course, the reporters get very suspicious.  Naturally, not every scenario gets played out as the publisher hopes:  And some people evade the executioners, who may come back to them later in the series.

            To the viewers’ shock–early in the series, maybe the fourth or fifth episode, the old publisher gets brutally and mysteriously murdered.  Enter his son, the editor, who immediately assigns his bright young reporting team to work with the police on his dad’s murder case.  It turns out the son doesn’t know anything about the executioners—until they arrange a meeting with him through his stepmother (a trophy wife in her late 30s:  think Lady Macbeth.  To his surprise, his birth mother also knows everything.)  He has to decide if he’ll carry on his dad’s enterprise in general—and if he’ll use the executioners to “get” his dad’s murderers.

            The son does continue the “family business”—but he’s going to be forever tormented about it.  Although he’s inherited the family publishing conglomerate—newspapers, online, etc.—he’s not immune to the horrible business conditions facing most newspapers today.  He has to do things to attract more readers/customers and to attract more advertising.  He also has to deal with his constantly unhappy, idealistic news staff that’s threatening to strike.  The news staff also wonders if the “Devil Incarnate” feature is some sort of sensationalist yellow journalism—something they’d do in England maybe, but not here in America.  They know their paper isn’t as respected as The New York Times, just a couple of blocks away.  A few episodes into the series we find out that one of our star reporters is worried about his career because he’s not as good as his partner in creating the videos the newspaper demands for its website.  We also learn that the other reporter may not be above hacking into private phone lines to get to the truth.  One of the reporters has a crush on the daughter/lawyer.  The other reporter along with one of the executioners has a crush on the trophy wife/widow.

            Possible name for the series:  STARR.  (The publisher’s name is Neville Starr, his son is Nicholas Starr, the paper is the International Starr.  It also suggests the old “Star Chamber” idea.)  Another possible name:  MALEDICTION.  (For the “curse” put on the evildoers.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

John’s mom.

Ginny and I had a delightful dinner with John and Bunny Adams last night.  He told us some stories about his amazing mother.  I repeat what I wrote last month about him:  it frustrates me that I’ve worked with John for 35+ years–and I never knew anything about his mother.  I originally posted this a few hours ago on my other blog (by mistake) along with a challenge to John to write something more about his mom.  To tell us more about this remarkable woman.  I realize it’s unfair to John to ask him to do that, so  I took that post down.  I do look forward to learning more about him and his family.  Now I wonder:  does this post make any sense at all?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Writing And Me. (Or is it Writing And I?)

My old friend and creative partner Jerry Torchia writes in response to some of my recent self-deprecations:

I have to say this: you ARE as great a writer as everyone keeps saying.   At least believe that.

I’m told that a lot.  I’m trying to figure out how to articulate my feelings about an answer.  I’ll probably post a couple of thoughts about this in the weeks ahead, but let me give some rambling background information here.  (BTW, a great writer probably doesn’t waste your time with rambling background information.)

This isn’t some false modesty at work. I believe and admit that I have some writing skills that are considerably above average.  Not always, but I can often write pretty fast.  I’ve got a good ear for what’s right and what’s wrong in writing.  (Thank you, mom and dad, for creating a grammatically correct home for Patti and me to grow up in.)  I’ve got the patience required for rewriting and then rewriting again.  I can write about almost anything.  With the right rewriting and the help of an editor or impartial reader, I can write clearly. 


My fingers can spell pretty well, even though my brain doesn’t.  When I’m at a keyboard, I rarely have to pause to check spelling.   But if you ask me to spell out loud something like “embarrassing,” I’ll stumble.  How many rs?  Are those two as right?  Proof: I had no trouble typing “embarrassing,” but as soon as I started analyzing it, I had to hit the dictionary just to be sure—and even though I’m using the AutoCorrect to check up on me both while I’m writing and when I’m finished.


Many writers freeze up when they have to be candid or sentimental.  I choke up almost as easily as a 14-year-old at her big sister’s wedding– and I’m hopelessly candid about almost everything.  (I wonder if anyone other than Ginny knows the one topic I’m not candid about.)   I’m not afraid to demonstrate those soft feelings in my writing.  I try not to be mawkish or syrupy, but I’m not held back worrying about revealing my inner schoolgirl.


Many writers believe in and follow the grammar rules they were taught in grade school.  I’m not burdened by that.  But being a natural grammarian is different from (than?) being a great writer.  A good ear for where the comma goes is much more reliable than a stack of grammar books.


Many writers follow trends.  It’s hard not to be influenced by “tricks for writers”[1] when the tricks come from Elmore Leonard.  It’s hard to ignore the dictum against using the passive voice when the dictum comes from Stephen King.  A trend-follower believes that the best writers don’t use adjectives or adverbs.  That they never have one-word paragraphs.  That they rarely use punctuation marks other than the period and, when absolutely necessary, the comma. When they have a sentence that ends with something in parentheses or quotation marks, the trendies think too much about whether the period at the end always has to be placed inside the parentheses or quotation mark.  (My good friend Dr. Lauren Tucker has rulebooks that prove those marks always go on the inside.  My good friend Danny Robinson, who admittedly is not a doctor, can show very clear examples “proving” the “inside” rule is impractical and just plain wrong!).,?”


The trend-obsessed are flummoxed about whether it’s OK to use the word “their” (normally plural) to avoid having to use “his” or “her” when the gender of the “his” or “her” isn’t clear.  They’re not sure if it’s OK to use a word like OK in good writing. They wonder if the second OK in the last sentence—or the two OKs in this one—should be in quotation marks or italics.  And by the way, should it be spelled okay?  I admit some of these questions give me pause. I admit that I’m inconsistent on almost all of these points—and many more.  That doesn’t bother me much.  My dictum[2]:  whatever gets you through the sentence.


Even non-writers know you’re not supposed to use clichés.  William Safire famously wrote that he avoids them like the plague.  I’m not too fussy about that.  If a cliché is the most direct route from A to B and it doesn’t sound hokey or dumb, I go for it.


And here’s something that really bugs me:  No matter how hard I try, I can’t write good dialog.  I worry too much about moving the message forward.  Everything becomes too obvious.  The dialog I write never sounds like it’s coming from real people.  It loses humanity and subtlety.


I flatter myself to think that when I was a reporter, I was on the way to being a very good writer for newspapers.  The hard deadlines helped and I was never afraid to work as long as it took to get the story as polished as I wanted to get it.[3]  I’d write, then rewrite, then rewrite again.  I also wasn’t afraid to try new things.  For example, I once interviewed Tom Wolfe for the now defunct Richmond News Leader.  I decided I’d write my article about the native Richmonder in the almost-gonzo style he was famous for.  I dove in. Punctuation marks were running wild. The onomatopoeia was sizzling.  My story wasn’t just about Tom Wolfe; it was, like all of the wondrous New Journalism, about the author-participant.  It was about me!   Less than 30 minutes after I turned my typewritten story in, I saw my editor, Jerry Finch, a wonderful man and a very supportive boss, walked over to my desk with it in his hand.   Surely he wanted to put this story on page one. I couldn’t wait for him to tell me how clever and talented I was.  Instead he stood over my desk and, without saying a word, he slowly shook his head back and forth, the universal symbol for “No way, Jose.” He dropped my electric Kool-Aid acidic copy on my desktop.  I went immediately into rewrite mode.  (I’m forever grateful to Jerry for that.  I might have embarrassed myself in front of my editor, but he spared me the indignity of embarrassing myself in front of thousands of RNL readers.)


A couple years later I thought I might be on my way to being a first class advertising writer.  One of the top writers in the history of the business—Minneapolis’s Tom McElligott—said that I was one of the few writers in the country “who really knows how to write a long-copy ad.”  Even better, my boss, hero, friend, partner and mentor Harry Jacobs liked my copy.  With that kind of encouragement, I was on my way.  I’d stay up all night to get the headline right.  Then I’d rewrite the copy over and over.  (Harry once said I was still rewriting ads that appeared in last month’s magazines.)  I was on my way to greatness.


But as the agency grew, my management responsibilities started taking more time.  It was harder to obsess about the writing.  I was distracted by client and personnel issues.  I was in a rhythm that meant that when necessary I could turn out professional writing quickly and efficiently.  But that wasn’t the same as doing it obsessively.  The work that resulted was writing like the writing you’re reading right now.[4]  It has its virtues, but it’s not great. 


Like every other person in advertising, “great” is a title I bestow too easily.  Every ad is “great.”  Every copywriter is “great.”  Every photograph is “great.”  No they aren’t.  It’s especially easy to see the hollowness of that kind of “great” when the word is applied to something I’ve done. 


No one making the case that I’m a “great” writer is suggesting I can be compared to Mark Twain or Gay Talese or Jimmy Breslin or the best writers writing today for Esquire, New York and the big Conde Nast titles—Michael Lewis, Scott Raab, Atul Gawande, etc.  They might be suggesting that I belong to the small group of “great” advertising writers—McCabe, Abbott, McElligott, Delaney, Riney, Riswold, Goodby.[5]  After all, I’m in the Creative Hall of Fame with those guys, right? 


It so happens that McCabe, Abbott et al. turned out to be extraordinary creative directors in addition to being great copywriters.  But make no mistake:  even if they’d been abject failures as CDs, they would still be on the roster based solely on their work as writers.  They are writers who stand comparison to the great writers of any persuasion. Comparisons to Shakespeare or Updike would make them cringe at least a little.  (Well, most of them.)  Let me say this:  they’re not Shakespeare, but in my opinion any of the seven ad writers named here could give Updike a run for his money—and Updike’s not chopped liver.   (You are free to count the clichés in that last sentence.)  There are probably one or two dozen more ad guys you could add to that list.


There are also copywriters-turned-creative directors who are enshrined in halls of fame not because of their writing, but because of the body of work created on their watch.  In fact, few of us could name any ads written by Bill Bernbach–and he’s generally considered the best and most important figure in the history of creative advertising.  I’m not on the tallest peak of that mountain, the one Bernbach stands on, but that’s the range I’m in.  Bernbach’s there because he was the captain and coach of a team (Koenig, Gage, Levenson, Krone, Robinson, etc.) that had the most impressive decade-long run an agency ever had.  Nowhere near as dramatically, I rode in on the coattails of our own all-star team.  I feel funny that I’m not naming the creative people here; it’s only because the list has no end—and I’d kick myself for leaving anyone out.  I’ll only say the list starts with names like Jacobs (!), Boone, Tench, Layman, Ford and Cook-Tench.


I have my quirks as a writer.  Writers shouldn’t use euphuistic language, but I’ll occasionally throw in a highfalutin word just for the heck of it.  It’s not that I have a big vocabulary—I don’t.  It’s just that I use the thesaurus as much as I use the dictionary and I like to use words that are new discoveries.  For example when I started this paragraph, I didn’t know the word euphuistic at all (“an artificial, highly elaborate way of writing or speaking.”) Now I do.  Unfortunately I’ll forget it by this afternoon.   


Other quirks.  I over-explain.  I like puns.  I like lists that leave out the “and.”  I like mixing formal and informal styles—even in the same sentence.  I’m currently going through a phase where I love footnotes—as long as they aren’t dry academic footnotes.) 


I sometimes type “it’s” when I mean “its.”  Everyone who takes pride in their (his or her?) writing—and that usually includes me—takes pride in their ability to spot it’s/its errors.  They’re everywhere and they’re easy to spot.  I know the difference.  But sometimes my fingers betray me.  On the other hand, I believe the difference between its and it’s doesn’t matter.  Why do we care?


But we do care.  I care.  Great writing matters because it gives form to ideas and histories and truth.  Great writing matters because it elevates person-to-person communication. Great writing matters because it clarifies the questions that should be asked.  Great writing matters because it simplifies the complex and moves unfinished thinking to something closer to finished thinking.


In the preface of Telling True Stories, Mark Kramer and Wendy Call wildly overstate the often-lamented tyranny of the blank page: “Writing well is difficult, even excruciating, and demands courage, patience, humility, erudition, savvy, stubbornness, wisdom, and aesthetic sense—all summoned at your lonely desk.”  Good, even great writing is not that hard.  But it’s hard enough to demand respect. 


I confess that I’ve probably worked harder on this posting than on any that have come before.  (Since I’ve deliberately seeded this piece with inconsistencies and bumps, it probably doesn’t feel that way to you, patient reader.  I’m sorry about that.)  But I haven’t worked that hard even on this one.  I know it’s arrogant for a guy who’s arguing that he’s not a “great” writer to go on at this length about writing.  I do respect good writing, though.  I respect the effort that goes into it.  I respect it too much to accept compliments for it when I haven’t done the work it requires.

[1] From the Gotham Writers Workshop: 

Unlike most genre writers… Elmore Leonard is taken seriously by the literary crowd.  What’s Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps you’ll find some clues in his 10 tricks for good writing:

  •  Never open a book with weather.
  •  Avoid prologues.
  •  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  •  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  •  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  •  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  •  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  •  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  •  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  •  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Leonard goes on to say:  “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10:  if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

[2] It occurs to me that my dictum (“whatever gets you through the sentence”) is something I share with Bernie Madoff, OJ Simpson and Lindsay Lohan.

[3] Of course, I usually don’t want to get overly polished.  Some rough edges give readers something to hold onto.  Too much polishing can drain the life out of the writing.  In the next footnote I mention Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech.  I bet the phrase that’s most remembered is the one that see-saws back and forth from clunky to powerful to childish:  when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded…  You can hear an editor, “Well, Bill, the alliteration is nice and all, but are you sure you want to stand up in front of the Nobel audience and the millions of people who’ll be reading this for decades to come, talking about the last dingdong of doom?”

[4] I am not embarrassed to do the kind of straightforward writing copywriters and newspaper journalists are expected to do.  I’ve always been a little suspicious of “literary” writing, where the emphasis seems to be more on the writing than on the reading, on the writer more than the reader.  Faulkner was an astonishing writer who could do just about anything with words.  I’ll never tire of his Nobel acceptance speech, which is among the best pieces of advertising copy I’ve ever read.  But I’ll never again dive into Absalom, Absalom.  I’m just not smart enough to tackle the writing.  (“Awwww, you mean I’ve got to go back three pages and start this sentence over again–again?  If I didn’t understand it the first three times I read it, why will I understand it this time?  And, by the way, has this mentally challenged character been in the book from the beginning?  How’d I miss that?”)

[5] The copywriters named here all made their bones in the last third of the 20th century. Until 1960 advertising orthodoxy didn’t give writers much of an opportunity to reach beyond formula thinking.  Since the late ‘90s, copywriting has been in a different kind of box.  The industry seems to have given up fighting the notion that nobody reads copy.  The genius of the best advertising today is expected to show itself in design and style of voice, in its comfort with new technologies and in its pop cultural savvy.  Copywriters have always spent more time developing concepts than on writing copy, but now the difference is extreme.  And today’s copywriters undoubtedly feel less pressure to do something great when they suspect that no one is going to read the copy anyway—not the creative director, not the client, not the consumer.  (One thing hasn’t changed:  it has always been true that every copywriter over 45 years old—and most over 35–believes that “the kids today” don’t have respect for the craft of writing.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Cheating, Pt. 2.

So on 10/8 I post something about cheating.  Then I discover that my beloved NYTimes had a story on the unexpected “thrill of cheating” on Oct. 8.  Check it out at

You might also want to check out this:

I suppose this is why this column is called “unfinished thinking.”  The thinking’s always a work in progress.  As unforgiving as I am about cheating, the argument about the psychic rewards of cheating make some sense to me.  (Malcolm Gladwell’s argument is silly.  His argument is that maybe some of the rules about doping and other things shouldn’t exist.  Maybe the rules should be changed, but in the meantime, dems da rules.)

I thought of another time when I cheated.  I was once again getting to the airport at the last minute–and every parking space in the long-term lot was full.  I had a long-term ticket, but nowhere to put my car.  I was driving a big old Jeep Wagoneer.  It was easy for me to drive right over the 6-inch concrete barriers between the long-term lot and the short-term lot. That’s what I did.  And I probably did it a half dozen more times until my wife, who was amazed that I would do this at all, shamed me into getting back on the right side of the law.  I’m such a wimpy do-gooder that this was “breaking bad” for me.  And it felt good.  Nobody was hurt.  The short-term lot was never crowded.  Getting away with this felt satisfying.  I felt the same way the dozen times in my life when I couldn’t see any cars around and I’d get my car up to 110, maybe 120…before I’d chickened out and slow down to something closer to the speed limit.  (Obviously, I never got the Wagoneer up that high.  And I do want to say in defense of my manliness that I chickened out not because I was afraid of the speed; I was afraid of getting caught.  Is that more manly or less manly?  Or just stupid?)

Driving a car that fast is clearly a bigger sin than doping before an athletic competition or cheating on an exam at Harvard.  It could be argued that driving 66 in a 65 zone  is worse than any of Bernie Madoff’s financial cheats.  But it doesn’t feel that way, does it?  In fact, it feels like Anthony Weiner’s indiscretions–none of which were illegal–reveal a greater lack of integrity than we showed the last time we let a friend drive himself home after one too many white wines.

This is hurting my head.  For the time being, thinking about lying and cheating is going to have to remain unfinished.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I was thinking about cheating on my wife today.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

We play our own revved up version of Bananagrams.  When I’m not feeling great, it helps if I do something I have to concentrate on.  The way we play BG is a lot like work.  You have to concentrate on it.  The truth is, we’re both getting pretty sick of the game, but we haven’t found a good alternative.   And whether I love the game or not, it’s addictive.

We’re usually pretty evenly matched, but she’s been on a tear lately, winning 12 of our last 21 games.  She’s a lot busier than I am these days, of course, so she gets pulled away a lot—phone calls, medicines and foods for me, etc.  When she takes a break, I’m not supposed to continue to play, but it’s hard not to at least consider possibilities when the board’s right in front of me.  So I get a little sloppy sometimes and do kinda think about some possibilities.  (And still she wins…)

So I’m kinda cheating a little.  (Cheating Lite.)  But I hate myself for doing it, and I can’t wait to confess.  She’s barely back in her seat and I’m apologizing for my Lance Armstrong ways.  I am getting better; now I always keep some reading materials close at hand so when there’s an interruption I can put a book or magazine or iPad between the game and me.

I’m pretty competitive in some areas, and this turns out to be one of those areas.  It would be easy to really dial up my attention to the game when she’s not there.  I bet I could figure out some damn good ways to pile up some points.  I understand the temptation.  I feel it.

But cheating is corruption and corruption is the world’s biggest problem.  My college has always taken a lot of pride in its honor code.  We do not lie, cheat or steal.  That’s always seemed kind of obvious to me.  We also don’t kill or drown people’s puppies or eat yellow snow.

The time I spend with my granddaughter and her friends remind me that kids will lie, cheat and steal.  But by the time they’re nine or ten, they’re supposed to know better.

But there clearly aren’t many role models for them.  Athletes?  Marion Jones?  A-Rod?  Bill Belichick was fined the first time he was caught with an elaborate set up to steal the other team’s plays.  Shouldn’t he have been fired the second time?

We’ve created a system in which politicians can’t win elections unless they lie.  They’ll tell us just about anything to win.  The only defense for the “good” politicians is that they don’t lie as much as Lyndon Johnson or Dick Nixon did.  That’s not a very high bar.  Politifacts, the journalists who nail down the facts in what politicians say, routinely charge them with lying, but that doesn’t seem to make any difference to anyone.  The liars still win.

We allow advertisers way too much room for “puffery,” but as least we demand some literal version of the truth in their messages.  Shouldn’t we be as demanding of our leaders as we are of our detergent manufacturers?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A self-interview

OK, you’ve lost some readers with your thoughts on religion.  What else have you got for us?

How about politics?


My son Jason, who’s very solidly on the left, considers me a moderate.  I agree with him.  But we’re the only ones who see it that way.   So many people have moved dramatically to the right that the middle has shifted.  Now to my evenly moderately right-winged friends, I’m considered some kind of radical socialist bomb-thrower.

That’s not even close.

Of course not.  I’m pro-capitalism, I just want it done right.  I’m pro-democracy, I just want it done right.  I’m for giving people a chance to get rich.  More than anything I believe Jefferson got it mostly right–virtually every human being has a powerful right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

There’s a little bit of a weasel in your wording there:  not an “inalienable” right?

“Inalienable” would mean we couldn’t be separated from the right:  we can’t give it up and we can’t have it taken from us.  That would mean the government could never kill or arrest anyone.  Nobody really believes that.  That said, America has become much too trigger-happy.  Thousands of innocent civilians have had what should have been their powerful right to life taken from them in the wars we’ve started.  We had a legitimate reason to track down the Al-Qaeda thugs.  But that should have been a targeted police action, not an attack by armies.  Policemen don’t blow up neighborhoods to capture one or two bad guys.

Yeah, yeah, everyone knows we shouldn’t be in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo . . 

I couldn’t stand to be president, but I think I’d be a pretty good king.


I couldn’t stand to work with congress.  Eric Cantor, the NRA, the birthers, the science deniers and the Tea Party tribe give me the willies.  Unfortunately, the president of the United States has to suffer fools, if not gladly at least patiently.  I don’t know how he does it.  For almost 200 years, America was the most progressive and successful country on the planet.  Now we’ve got an ignorant minority that’s brought progress and success to a standstill.  They are grossly un-American.

…. But, a king?

Well, if we’re going to be ruled by a king, wouldn’t it be good to know we’ve got one who isn’t going to live too long?  Just to keep things from getting out of hand.

What could we expect from your reign?

So much to do, so little time.  Off the top of my head:  we desperately need a new constitutional convention.  The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were the most brilliant founding papers any country ever had.  Period.  The only ones that come close are the ones modeled on the American originals.  But the American documents are a product of a different era and they were the result of ingenious compromises that were necessary for the times.The first thing I’d do is appoint the best thinkers in the country to update our national manifesto and charter—built around the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for every person in the world. I’d stay close to this personally.

I’d immediately start a second group to completely revamp and simplify the tax code.   There would be far fewer entitlements and loopholes.  The rich would pay more.  Organizations (companies, not-for-profts, etc.) would pay more and would have a harder time hiding their profits.

We’d seriously revamp our budgeting.  If we believe all our citizens have a powerful right to life, liberty, etc., then we believe they all have a right to food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, protection from evildoers, rehabilitation after disasters, a job, etc.  (Yes, without question, we can afford to do all this.  Read Krugman.)

Is that all?

Nope.   We’d set some ambitious five-year goals for societal changes:  in five years, we’d move to a 32-hour workweek, creating millions of new jobs.

In five years, we’d no longer schedule education primarily for children and young adults.  Starting in 2008, five-days-a-week school would be for 5- to 20-year-olds and for collegians.  Taking advantage of the 32-hour workweek, one-day-a-week education would be mandatory for all adults to age 65.  In five years, we’d have single-payer universal health coverage.

You’ll expand on all these ideas in the weeks ahead?

I’ll try to answer questions to the best of my ability.  But remember, I’m new at this king thing.  We all think we’re smarter than the average citizen, but obviously half of us aren’t.  I’m pretty sure anyone actually in the upper half could do better as king than the politicians in place in Washington right now.  And anyone actually in that top half would know that long term, a republic will be better than a monarchy.  Even a monarchy with me as king.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why two blogs?

I started to keep family, friends and coworkers up to date on my health issues and how I’m dealing with them. I got a few requests to post my thoughts on other topics.  I could put everything on one blog, of course, but then people might feel there’s too much to wade through.  (Heck, you probably already feel that, don’t you?) So I started–the one you’re reading now.  It’s my miscellanea outlet.  Of course, being on a deathwatch is bound to influence my thinking on all kinds of topics, so I sometimes decide which posting goes on which site by the flip of a coin.  I do appreciate the responses and comments on both blogs.  There’s a little link beneath the title on both home pages that can connect you to the other site.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

John by Mike.

My life is an open blog. 

I’m better at keeping secrets than my reputation would have you believe, but I don’t keep secrets about myself.  I can’t believe the wonderful life I get to lead—and I want to share it.  I’m inspired by the places I get to go and the people I get to meet.  I’m an unashamed namedropper who likes other namedroppers.  If you know Bono or Nelson Mandela, I want to know it: that sounds like the start of an interesting conversation to me.  

 If you’ve got a cause, I want to know about it. If you’re involved with a charity, tell me about it.  If you’re angry about the way things are in Washington or Syria, let’s talk.  I think conversations like that make our time together more interesting.  It gets us beyond the idle chitchat.

Of course, maybe that’s just me.  

John Adams isn’t like that. He’s modest to a fault. If President Obama called John Adams to solve the problems in the Middle East and John solved them, he wouldn’t tell you about it.  He wouldn’t even tell me about it and I’ve been his business partner for 35 years.

It drives me crazy. 

I recently took it upon myself to nominate John, the longtime chairman of The Martin Agency, for an industry honor he richly deserves.  All these years together, and I had to do research.


He’s chairman of a company of more than 500 people.  He’s a community leader.  He’s an incredibly accomplished guy.  But, I repeat, he’s modest to a fault.  He probably doesn’t know Bono or Mandela, but he certainly goes to interesting gatherings and meets interesting people. I bet there are at least a few thousand people out there in the world who’d like to know more about him.

So I’m not going to get his permission to do this.  I’m just going to share with you some of what I learned, some of the things I wrote in my nomination, some of the things Dean Jarrett has written about John.   This will ramble some, but our lives are rambles.  There’s just so much I want to tell you about the man who just celebrated his 40th anniversary at the company.  Here goes:

When The Martin Agency is at its best, it’s funny, smart, competitive, human, creative, resourceful, gentlemanly, lightly polished, hospitable, considerate, joyful, determined and civic-minded.

No one loves The Martin Agency more than I do, but even I have to admit we’re not always at our best.  Some days we’re just a little…off.  And every once in a while, we’re more than a little off.  Like a rocket ship aimed at the moon, we make constant course corrections to get back on track.

What amazes me most about John Adams after our 35 years (!) together is that he’s personally never off track. He’s always funny*, smart, competitive, human, creative, resourceful, gentlemanly, lightly polished, hospitable, considerate, joyful, determined and civic-minded.  He’s always The Martin Agency at its best.

John has worked at The Martin Agency for 40 years.  For the last 30 of those years—the 30 years in which John has had a leadership role—the agency has been on virtually everyone’s top ten lists of the best agencies in the world.

One big reason for that is John’s insistence that the agency blaze new trails in advertising.  Beneath his conservative business exterior beats the heart of a revolutionist.  Under John’s leadership, The Martin Agency has thumbed its nose at long-held industry “truths.”

Remember when every commercial and every ad for a client had to pound in one unique selling proposition?  Today, the most successful and groundbreaking marketer in the history of financial advertising—GEICO—runs five or six different campaigns at one time.  John’s agency has lead the way in showing the industry how multi-faceted brands are built.

Remember when other agencies were shedding their media departments as fast as possible?  John insisted on keeping ours.  At first, we were considered dinosaurs.  Now we’re visionaries.

When the “cool agencies” were shunning jingles, The Martin Agency was reinventing them.  (Think of the Free Credit Report guys—or the current OREO’S Wonderfilled campaign.)  When other “hot” agencies looked down their noses at “commercial critters,” The Martin Agency was making them funky.  (Pilgrims for StoveTop, a band for FreeCreditReport and a whole menagerie of geckos, cavemen, pigs and camels for GEICO.)  John Adams’ agency isn’t afraid to be different.

It’s now commonplace for agencies and marketers to talk about multimedia brand storytelling.  Maybe because he actually began his Martin career in the agency’s PR department, John has always had a broad vision for the possibilities for any client—always suggesting ways to extend ideas to new places

When local media name the most powerful people in Richmond, he’s inevitably on the list.  How could he not be?  His work in education and the arts alone would qualify him many times over.

Harry Jacobs and I have always received a disproportionate share of the credit for The Martin Agency’s creative reputation.  The truth is, we’ve had the unmitigated joy of working with dozens of incredibly talented people.  We take the bows for their achievements.  None of those talented people rank higher than John.  Our longtime agency policy is that the creative director makes the call on what work leaves the building.  The chairman and CEO have no more right to kill or change work than the receptionist.  So when John has a strong point of view—and John almost always has a strong point of view—he has to make his case to the CD.  (Damn, is he good at that.) Here’s what’s interesting:  unlike our CDs, John won’t accept the occasional argument from a creative team that “this work may not be award winning, but it’s right on target.”  John points out that the work will be more effective if it’s also award winning.  The fact is, he’s tougher on the work than I am.


1.      He makes it a point not to serve on a board or committee unless he’s an active member.  Which makes it astounding how many groups he’s served, including the The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, United Way, the American Cancer Society, the Salvation Army, the Virginia Historical Society, the Richmond Management Roundtable, Theater Virginia and the Boy Scouts of America.

2.     He’s currently active on at least four boards.

3.     He’s an education fanatic.   He’s served as a trustee, board member or high-ranking volunteer at Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, VCU and the University of Richmond.  He’s been an advisor at Randolph Macon, Randolph College and George Mason.  (He doesn’t tell this story himself, but one major university actually sent out feelers to see if he’d consider accepting the presidency of the school.  For all kinds of selfish reasons, I’m glad he didn’t do that.)

4.     He’s the chairman of the board of the VCU Brandcenter, arguably the finest graduate program in our industry.  Over the years he’s been one of the two biggest fundraisers for the Brandcenter.

5.     He gives the entire agency staff this instruction:  each one of them is to commit one act of kindness every morning and another every afternoon.  Compliment a coworker.  Help a subordinate.  Do something special for a client.  Thank a vendor.  Reach out to a student.  Make someone’s life a little better.

6.     On Glassdoor, the website on which anonymous employees rate their company—usually very harshly—John Adams gets 100% approval from employees (as of 9/10/13.)  How many top guys at companies of 500 or more get that?

7.     At the turn of this century, the oldest sitting government in the Western Hemisphere—the Virginia General Assembly – named John Adams and me “industrialists of the year” for bringing scientific insights into our marketing work.  You’re right in thinking that whatever got us that honor was much more John’s doing than mine.

8.     When Seiko created its leadership teams for its three top watch brands, two were headed by Japanese management executives.  The other was headed by John Adams.

9.     He is now board member and treasurer for the JFK Library Foundation.  Some names he could be dropping in that connection:  Caroline Kennedy, Sumner Redstone and Conan O’Brien (really.)

10.  Only one agency was on Advertising Age’s A List in each of the list’s first five years: John’s agency.  And during John’s time, The Martin Agency has been named Adweek’s Agency of the Year—regional or national – at least six times.

11.  He’s funny.*  In fact, after college he toured with a comedy and theatrical troupe.

12.  He’s a teacher.  He’s never too busy to take on one-on-one training with an employee.  When most agencies were abandoning their in-house training program, he continued to expand Martin Agency U.

13.  He’s almost always ahead of the curve.  (OK, I’ll admit he’s not the first person to call if you need IT help.)   In the early ‘90s, when Coca-Cola was commissioning its first website, the company talked to more than a dozen agencies and tech firms.  John led The Martin Agency team that won and completed the assignment.  (It’s not a coincidence that The Martin Agency has created two of the five most honored interactive projects of the past five years or that the agency won 11 Lions at Cannes this year for its digital work.)

14.  John is almost certainly responsible for bringing in more new business and creating more new advertising jobs than anyone else in his part of the world.  Who imagined that an agency in Richmond, Virginia, would represent Mercedes, Wrangler, Pizza Hut, Saab, Discover Card, Kraft Foods, Morgan Stanley and Mondelez?  Who imagined that it would ever create international work for Manpower, UPS, OREO and Coca-Cola? Today the two largest companies in the world—Walmart and Exxon–come to Richmond for advertising.

15.  John’s best friend?  Bunny.  Next in line?  Their sons John, Cliff and Nat—a musician, a strategic planner and an economist.  The only disharmony in the family?  Bunny’s desire to be a grandmother.  (She’s being very patient.)


In the early ‘90s, The Martin Agency was proud to partner with another agency on Mercedes Benz’s American campaigns.  But we longed to have “a car of our own.”  Saab called—and said it was willing to let the agency compete under the radar so no one would know of its involvement in the pitch.  John, the agency’s young, relatively new president, anguished over what to do.  He decided it wouldn’t be right to work behind a client’s back.  “Mercedes has been good to us.”  So John Adams called his biggest client and informed them that the agency would take part in the Saab competition, in effect resigning an account he loved.   When he told the Saab officials what he had done, they were astounded.  “You guys in Virginia are a real long-shot for us.”  Apparently there is something like karma in advertising after all:  John’s team won the Saab account.  (And to this day John has friends from both the Mercedes days and the Saab days.)


People in the creative department would sometimes roll their eyes when they’d hear Harry and me say that John might well be the best writer at the agency.  Some of the copywriters felt they deserve that compliment.   But Harry and I are convinced that nobody writes a better letter or a better introduction or a better speech than John Adams.  I get a lot of credit for the writing in a little red book the agency gives new employees.  The last half of the book was blatantly stolen from John Adams’ commencement address at the first Brandcenter graduation.


•    KISS.  One of John’s great strengths is that he helps simplify complex things and bring clarity to almost every discussion. When we’re working to boil down complex strategies for our clients, John has a way of bringing a defining clarity to the discussions. Externally, clients find that to be of amazing value as they articulate their brand. Internally, it helps our teams, strategic and creative, focus on the most important message. 

  • Consensus building.  John has an uncanny knack of being able to see issues from a 360-degree view. He understands multiple POV’s–and finds the common ground necessary to build consensus.
  • Boosting Creativity Confidence.  John believes that everyone can dramatically improve their own, personal, creative output — and you don’t have to be in the ‘creative’ department to do it. During the years, John has been a major proponent of internal employee training from Edward De Bono for all employees and external Hyper Island Training for company leadership. 
  • Master of Details.  John’s a stickler for rigorous preparation. Whether it’s for an internal staff meeting, held quarterly for 20+ years, or for a major new business pitch, John examines every detail. So when employees know how high his standards are, they rise up to meet them. This cerebral, thoughtful approach has become a hallmark of The Martin Agency. 
  • The Theater of Business.  John loves the theater. He’s a student of the dramatic structure of great plays and has used those frameworks to help The Martin Agency create compelling client and new business presentations. This innovative approach has helped The Martin Agency land some of the most well known brands in the world and sell in smart, distinctive, award-winning creative work.

One final thing in my too long, more-than-you-care-to-know-about-John-Adams tell-all.  The guy’s a softie.  Like me, he can’t deliver a toast without choking up.  He’s got the world’s biggest heart, a heart that has room enough for all of us.  Get to know him.  Force him to talk not just about you, but also about him.

 *OK, “funny” isn’t the first thing people think of when John’s name comes up.  To some people, he seems  too buttoned-up to be funny.  But those who know him best know his wit, which is very sharp.  That doesn’t mean he’s the funniest person in his family.  That would be Bunny.  But a guy can be funny even if he isn’t the funniest in his family.  My sister is the funniest person in my family.  [Of course, someone told me I’m not funny; what I am is goofy.  That’s kind of disappointing to me because I think I’m very funny.  I know I laugh at all my jokes. (My son Jason tells me that’s one of the things that makes me goofy.)]

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments