Tag Archives: ranting

When I See Advertising

birches

I thought this would be a good post for the day after Labor Day since it acknowledges the hard work and long hours of frequently unconsidered employees at companies all over the world.

I don’t know what you see when you see advertising but what I see are all the people behind the work, and I’m not just talking about the commercials you see on TV. I’m talking about all of it. I’m talking about all the marketing collateral, all the websites and all the software that has to be produced every time someone in some brand strategy department somewhere has an idea. You might see a commercial for some product you may or may not buy, but I see all the poor people behind the scenes who have to work late and lose sleep because they didn’t hear about the updates that needed to be made to the company’s website until it was really too late to get them done right. You might see a commercial, but here’s what you don’t see.

  • You don’t see the guy sitting in his wife’s hospital room with his newborn baby on his lap trying to meet some deadline.
  • You don’t see all the people talking on Skype with offshore developers at ungodly hours of the day because it’s the only way to get their job done.
  • You don’t see large numbers of people scrambling at the last mine to make changes because something didn’t pass legal review, or worse, because some lawsuit was filed by your client’s competitor while you were feeding your three your old that morning.
  • You don’t see the poor guy who had the original idea for the campaign which was actually kind of genius but who had to watch his own idea get so badly watered down over the course of six months and thirty-nine rounds of internal review that he’s downright embarrassed by the time his family sees it.
  • You don’t see the twelve-hour emergency conference calls that start on Thanksgiving night and don’t end until the next morning because some last minute Black Friday project for some ubiquitous brand just blew up in everyone’s faces.
  • You don’t see the badly written contracts which frequently don’t get read at all and usually don’t get signed until after the projects have started.
  • You don’t see how long it takes for some of these campaigns to go from idea to execution and you don’t think about how sick of looking at it everyone is by the time you get to see it.
  • You don’t see the woman, two years later, changing the channel with a shudder because that ubiquitous brand is re-purposing the creative collateral (and national TV advertising) from that Black Friday project that blew up in everyone’s faces and resulted in that twelve-hour emergency conference call.
  • You don’t see all the price tags on all the projects that are required to support one national TV advertising campaign.
  • You don’t see how many agencies and how many people are involved when one big brand launches any size campaign.
  • You don’t see the hundreds of conference calls that people scurry to all day long most of which are not progressive and some of which are downright nonsensical.
  • You don’t see all the sixty-hour weeks or the high agency employee turnover rates.
  • You don’t see the postmortem meetings for the train wreck projects that almost didn’t make it to market.
  • You don’t see all the pitches that didn’t make it through the final round even though tons of people worked through multiple weekends to meet those pitch deadlines.
  • You don’t see how the decisions each advertising executive and brand CEO make affect the people who work for them.
  • You don’t see all the very funny fake marketing collateral which is produced by agency employees who are so frustrated by their current clients they can’t help but make fun of them.
  • You don’t hear the nicknames agency employees give their projects or the nicknames they give their client-side counterparts most of which should never be repeated in public but many of which frequently are.
  • You don’t see those meetings where everyone is so tired that an otherwise relatively important discussion devolves into delirious hilarity. And you don’t see those meetings where everyone is so frustrated that an otherwise relatively simple discussion turns into an awkwardly tense one.
  • You don’t see the story boards for the option B commercials which often don’t get produced but still have to be ready in case of disaster.
  • You don’t see the producers scurry when the only B-level talent their client could afford bails on their commercial contract the day of shooting forcing a sudden and unfortunate shit to the option B-commercial at literally the very last minute.
  • You don’t see the six versions of the website design that preceded the one which finally got client approval.
  • You don’t ever think about the enemies which are made or the friendships which are kindled over the course of all those conference calls and I’m sure you never think at all about the awkward silences which some of those conference calls produce when someone has to tell the truth and admit that this or that deadline is never going to be met.

All they want you to see is the product they are trying to sell you, but when I see advertising, I see all the people behind the work, and all the work behind the work. I see all the meetings and conference calls. I see all the versions it took to get to market. I see all the departments at all the companies which have to work together in order for the wheels of the advertising machine to turn, and I see the suffering of those poor souls who work at all those brands, and agencies and subcontracted vendors.

I think that’s why I like it so much in the Adirondacks, where I can walk for hours without being bombarded by the visuals of the advertising machine and without being reminded of all the people behind the work. Just yesterday I walked for over an hour and the closest thing I saw to advertising was a small sign on a lawn encouraging passersby to vote for Peter Olesheski for Johnsburg Town Supervisor.

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The Work-Life-Art-Sleep Balance

lilacs for decoration

People (and companies) talk a lot about a good work-life balance but that phrase has started to annoy me. Sometimes I wish that was all I was striving for, but the life of an artist is not that simple.

First of all, let’s face it. The forty-hour work week is dead, at least for salaried workers in professional service industries. No matter how hard you work while you’re at the office, the to-do list is never done, and most companies expect salaried employees to put in late days and weekends when necessary. Some companies and some industries are less prone to fifty and sixty-hour weeks, but that has become the norm for many, in a lot of different industries.

Second of all, life is a lot of things. The life in the work-life balance is supposed to be time with your family, time with your friends, and time to relax, but no one ever talks about the time it takes to call the insurance company about the claim they just denied, or the time it takes to do your taxes, keep your house clean and cook dinner. And these days, the administrative side of life is more frustrating, and more time-consuming, than it has ever been.

That’s why sometimes I wish it were as simple as a striking a good work-life balance but for artists, we are driven by some inexplicable creative engine and we struggle for more than a work-life balance. We struggle to achieve a work-life-art-sleep balance and frequently the sleep part of the equation gets seriously short changed.

You know your art has a hold of you when it hurts in some way not to do it. Maybe a bad mood creeps up on you when you neglect your art. Maybe you end up distracted by the artistic thoughts which you don’t have time to realize. Or maybe you just hate life when it doesn’t include whatever kind of art drives you. I have stopped trying to explain why I am simply happier when I am making progress on a writing project, but I do believe artists everywhere know what I’m talking about. I have also stopped wondering where anyone’s well of art flows from, but I am constantly trying to balance my art with the rest of life, work included.

At this point in my life, here is what I’ve learned about my own work-life-art-sleep balance.

  • I would rather make less money and spend more wisely if it means I have more time to write.
  • Sleeping less is okay but there are limits and you have to pay attention to how well your brain is functioning.
  • It’s impossible to strike the work-life-art-sleep balance if you don’t make time for your friends and family.
  • The early morning is your friend if you use it wisely and actually get up when you alarm goes off.
  • If you are going to burn the candle at both ends, real food will improve your stamina and bolster your immune system.
  • Taking the time to prepare real food and eat it with your friends and family is as nourishing as the food itself.
  • The nine-to-five (or more accurately now, nine-to-six) workday is the death knell of efficiency but it cannot always be avoided.
  • Productivity begets productivity if and only if one’s categories of productivity are varied and well-rounded.
  • Whether it’s mail, laundry, or dirty dishes, you’re better off not letting anything in your life pile up, even if that means you get a little less sleep that day.
  • For me, making time to write is not optional.
  • Art includes more than just the creative part so you have to make friends with all the rest of the business and logistics that go into being a working artist.
  • The more you do, the more you get done.
  • Everything in life takes longer than you thought it would.

Unless you decide some day to give up your art entirely, the struggle to find your own work-life-art-sleep balance will never end. And unless you strike it rich, the best you can hope for is some sort of zen acceptance of this constant battle. Along the way, you can make choices in life which will tip the balance one way or another, forever or only for a time, but that’s a pendulum you have to keep tapping every now and then if you’re going to maintain your happy place and keep a roof over your head.

If you’re like me, I wish you the best of luck finding your own work-life-art-sleep balance. And let’s maybe start calling it the life-art-work-sleep balance because that’s really how we all feel. If you’re not an artist, then I encourage you to call it the life-work balance instead, because shouldn’t we all be working to live instead of living to work?

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From Web 2.0 to Web WTF

<really long rant>

This post is for all my friends and colleagues who work in digital. We used to call it the IT industry, but now we just call it digital, and if this industry wouldn’t mind, I would like to ask it to slow the fuck down. I never thought I would miss the Web 2.0 days, but in all honesty, I would do anything to turn back technological time. I wish cell phones were just cell phones again and I wish no one ever invented the cloud.

Now, we build websites and apps. We design software user interfaces and digital marketing campaigns. We create content for more social media networks than I can keep up with, and we have to make sure everything we do works on a bazillion different permutations of operating systems, browsers, devices and screen sizes, not to mention all the audiences, personas and strategies. There are no less than ten competing varieties of every kind of platform and technology, and vendors are popping up every day selling all kinds of different services which are all supposed to provide some kind of marketing miracle for all the poor shmucks who make a living sell things or helping people sell things.

And I am one of those poor shmucks.

Now, we have to figure out how to design and build all sorts of digital things so they work on all sorts of devices and, in the agency world, we have to do that with clients of all kinds breathing down our necks.

I remember when the VP of Creative Services came back from the Internet Retailer Conference one year and said, “If I hear the phrase ‘Web 2.0’ one more time, I’m going to kill someone.” But as a project manager, the Web 2.0 days made me giddy. Finally, finally, we could create in code, almost anything a designer could imagine. We could create rounded corners using CSS and if the designer got too crazy we could always call the flash guys. Finally, I didn’t have to explain to designers (and clients) why we couldn’t do things because coding technology had finally caught up with Photoshop. And this progress was happening in parallel with the platform-ization of the digital landscape. And platforms were great, platforms got installed and customized instead of built from scratch. And if you didn’t get too crazy with the design, you could leverage the platform and limit most of the heavy lifting to CSS. And CSS, we never really thanked that technology thoroughly because we were getting caught up in all the other progress.

But at this point, I really do just want to turn back time. Because how the hell are we all supposed to keep up? I used to joke that this wasn’t rocket science, but I’m tired of keeping up and responsive website design didn’t turn out to be the godsend it seemed like it was going to be. I remember being in the let’s-let-flash-die camp, but now, I can hardly remember why. Oh, right, it was the smart phone. That’s why we needed flash to die. Because those two technologies couldn’t play nice together, or at least that’s what I remember after so much technological water under the bridge.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what point in time I would like to turn us back to, but it was somewhere around the advent of the smart phone. But those early days of the smart phone weren’t too bad. All of a sudden we had all these new projects. Suddenly, companies didn’t need one website, they needed two websites. And no one expected the mobile website to be nearly as cool as the regular website, so it wasn’t so hard. No one minded, the use of really janky “wrapper” technology and those were the glory days of web services and custom API development. Yes, we had problems with data synching and the mobile websites we were cranking out were kind of clunky. But everyone felt so cool with their new smart phones it took them a minute to get hyper-entitled about usability and page load times. Things were starting to get complicated, but at least back then we could easily justify separate, additional budgets for the development and maintenance of mobile properties. And really, the expectations were relatively low, both on the client side and on the user side.

But now, everyone wants everything. They want the website and the iOS app and the android app and they want the strategy for the website and the app. And they want the social media campaign and the search engine optimization, and they want the social media campaign to work miracles while the paid media campaign has a zero dollar budget. They want viral video and cartwheeling menu buttons which all work seamlessly across any device you can think of. They want data of all kinds and they want everything to be integrated with backend systems even if those backend systems are dangerously out of date because the parts of the website no one can see never get any of the budgetary love. Everyone wants to lower their overall cost of ownership, but no one wants to face the pink elephant in the room which is a digital ecosystem which was been taped together over the years by a revolving string of marketing and technology resources who were all just doing the best they could with what they had that month all while racing to keep up.

If you’re lucky, you work at a company which survives by nibbling on one or two relatively isolated slices of the digital marketing budget pie. If you’re kind of lucky, you work client-side where you have to worry about the totality of the digital landscape, but only for one brand. But if you’re not lucky, you work at an agency, that does everything.

Regardless of how lucky you may or may not be, my job and the jobs of my friends and colleagues are appreciably harder than they were eight years ago and the budgets are tighter than ever due to the continued slicing of the marketing budget pies. But there comes a point when marketing professionals must admit that a pie sliced into too many pieces is no longer edible.

And really, people want everything. People want websites that are the most awesome things ever no matter what they are trying to sell. The website needs to work miracles and drive engagement like no one has ever seen. The website needs to look perfect even on the marketing director’s nephew’s android phone when he turns it sideways at dinner to show her something. The website needs to be easy to update and the website needs to look as awesome on your iphone as it does at on your work computer. Never mind that your work computer is running IE8 on Windows XP because the giant corporation you work for hasn’t updated, or can’t update, their software due to some other old technology dependency. Oh, and that website which is all responsive and shit which really does look so awesome on your iphone, the same one that needs to work on your work computer with IE8, it also has to be ADA compliant so a blind person can use it on their ipad, in portrait mode. Oh, and that website, it also has to fit the design sensibility of someone’s boss, whose design sensibilities are stuck in the Web 2.0 days. And worse, the design of that website is going to be performed by committee, and we all know that is never good.

And of course, everyone wants everything yesterday and it’s not just users who want everything. Industry professionals who are well aware of the exponentially complicated nature of what we do, are genuinely surprised when a website built two years ago for less than market value doesn’t work on a first generation kindle fire in portrait mode.

Sigh.

Later today, I will reapply my happy face and I will not let progress get the best of me. But sometimes, I really do wish I could turn back the digital clock to the good old Web 2.0 days.

</really long rant>

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No Kids Does Not Equal No Life

peaches

<rant>

I read a recent article in Fortune by Katharine Zaleski, a former executive turned working mom who felt the need to apologize to all the mothers she ever worked with. With her honesty, Zaleski brought light to an issue to which all working moms can relate but her article got me thinking about the flip side. Unlike Zaleski, I’ve never been judgmental of working mothers, but as a woman who has chosen not to have kids, I feel like I pay a different kind of price in the workplace.

I’ve been really lucky when it comes to the companies I’ve worked for and most of them have gone out of their way for parents – men and women – who need to adjust schedules or take time off. Rightly, companies treat family time as sacred and no one complains if someone, mother or father, needs to leave at a certain time, or arrive at a certain time, or come in late on Thursday’s because that’s the morning he or she volunteers in the classroom. Personally, I go out of my way for people with kids so they can do whatever they need to do as parents.

But, why is a person’s personal time more sacred if they have kids? What if I would like to eat dinner at the same time every night? Or what if I’m working on a book on the side and would like to keep to an evening writing schedule? Or what if I really love to do something and I like to go home and do it after I’ve put in my eight hours? Why aren’t any of those things sacred?

No, I don’t have kids. But I do have a life and parts of it are really important to me. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for wanting to go home at the end of the day or not wanting to work on the weekend. No one should, whether you have kids or not. Though I agree companies should go out of their way for working parents, no one’s work-life balance should be more sacred than anyone else’s.

Ironically, the publication of this posts was delayed by one of those perfect storm weeks at work which made me drop everything and buckle down in a way that would be very difficult to do if I did have kids. But, I must say, this post was not inspired by this last week with three deadlines and too much work to do. This is an issue that I notice every now and then in subtle ways which does annoy me but which does not leave me begrudging working parents like Katharine Zaleski.

Unlike some people, I have not forgone child rearing so I can work more hours and make more money. I have forgone child rearing because there are things I love to do and those things are not necessarily the things that pay the bills.

</rant>

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Dear Venice Drivers

VENICE BEACH, CALIFORNIADear people who don’t live in Venice but who try to navigate the back streets anyway:

Please accept this blog post as a desperate plea from a girl who lives her life pretty much AWOL, which in LA-speak means Always West of Lincoln. I live in the heart of Venice and I work in Santa Monica and I only venture East of Lincoln Blvd when I absolutely have to. And now that spring is here, I once again find myself frustrated by those of you who don’t live on the far west side but who try to navigate the back streets of Venice anyway. I know that traffic is worse this time of year, but please, please , I beg you, don’t venture off the beaten path to beat the traffic or find parking.

First of all, you’re probably going to get lost because Venice is not an easy little rectangle like Santa Monica. We’ve got the canals and we’ve got Abbot Kinney Boulevard which throws everything off on a diagonal. The streets aren’t numbered for your driving convenience, and more importantly, we have these funny streets which are two way streets even though they don’t actually fit two cars side by side. And this is why I’m begging you to stay on the streets you know.

I’ve only lived in Venice for a decade, so I can remember what it was like to be perplexed by these two-way streets which should, in theory, be one-way streets. But now, now that I’ve lived in Venice this long, I use these streets like a native to get away from all the traffic on all the streets you’ve heard of caused by all the people who like to venture to the far west side, but who think it’s too chilly, or too expensive, to live here. Now, I need these side streets to get by. I need these side streets to run errands on the weekends and I need these streets to get to work every day now that the soon-to-be end of the Expo Line has traffic in downtown Santa Monica entirely effed up. These side streets, despite how perplexing they are, are my life blood. I zip around on them in my compact car with my windows down and my music blaring and it’s all well and good until I meet one of you on one of those streets on which you cannot figure out how to drive.

Somehow, people who live in Venice know what to do on these streets. We use the drive-way no parking zones and that convenient no parking zone right before a stop sign to politely pull over and let the other person by. Or, if necessary, we cross the street and stop far enough behind the parked car in front of us so the other person can pull out and we can pull past. We know when to let the wrong person go at a stop sign just to make it easier for everyone to get past each other and we know when we both can drive towards the center of the street at the same time because there are two drive-way no parking zones in the middle of the block which will allow us to path each other unscathed. I used to wonder how people did it, but now I’m one of those people and there’s nothing more annoying than one of you people who freezes in panic at the wheel because the street you just turned down seemed like a two-way street until you made the turn and saw a car coming at you in a space that is not in fact wide enough for two cars.

If necessary, we wait patiently for the other person to drive half a block and we don’t get all uptight about it because we are not just trying to avoid traffic or looking for parking, we live here. We wouldn’t live in Venice if we didn’t have a little joie de vivre and we don’t have any trouble at all navigating our far too narrow side streets until one of you people shows up and panics. It’s true, you can find yourself in Venice on two-way street that is not wide enough for two cars, but it’s not rocket science and it’s not so hot on the west side so you can turn off your air conditioning, open your window, breathe in the ocean air and chill out for a minute.

And better yet, you could stay on the streets you know. Stay on the streets you’ve heard of like Pacific and Venice and Rose and stay off the streets you’ve never heard of like Riviera and Andalusia. That’s it. That’s all I’m asking.

Sincerely,
From a west-side girl

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