A Little Inspiration.

HERO PORTRAIT 02

And now, a piece that has a bit to do with advertising and a lot more to do with our purpose as human beings and as parents.

Last weekend, I began filming a series of inspirational videos for Oberto Beef Jerky around our tagline, “You get out what you put in.” Most of the time, this slogan speaks to the fact that the performance you get out of your body is directly related to the quality of the food you put in. For these videos though, we were focusing on something bigger — the karmic cycle of how putting good out into the world, often results in good coming back to you.

For the first of these videos, I spent two days with six-year-old Brady Wein, his parents and their extended family, the Brady’s Bunch Lacrosse program. Small for his age, Brady is full of energy, full of life and full of tales from doctor offices and hospitals. You see, he’s been battling leukemia since he was three-months old. As his mom, Rachael, will tell you, Brady has never known what it’s like not to have tubes stuck in him. Or to get painful shots, drink “yucky” medicine or race to the hospital in an ambulance at a moment’s notice. He’s spent days, nights, weeks and holidays in hospital wards. He’s played more with nurses than children his age. He talks about the “port” in his chest as if his condition is so common we should all be familiar.

And yet, I dare you to find a more happy and enthusiastic kid. His parents will say, “That’s just who he is. That’s just Brady.” But it’s more than that. It’s who they’ve helped him become. And it’s not simply that Mike and Rachael quit their jobs and effectively dedicated their lives to being by their son’s side during this long, often heartbreaking journey. It’s that they’ve expressed the words many of us have all too often swallowed. They’ve voiced more “I love you’s” and taught more life lessons in the last six years than most of us will have heard by the time we turn eighty. They relish it all — the laughs, the tears, the temper tantrums. Because Mike and Rachael have come to appreciate just how special a gift life is and how wonderful each moment is with their child. They take nothing for granted.

In the way that the toughest of circumstances seem to birth the most beautiful of results, Brady’s Bunch was born. Equal parts inspiration and personal therapy, Mike formed The Bunch around a photo of Brady, the line, “B Strong” (The similarity to Boston Strong that came years later is not coincidence) and the faith that this organization could somehow keep his son alive. Whether by intention or happenstance, the cornerstone of the program became not the performance on the field, but Mike’s speeches to the players and parents on the Friday night before each tournament began. Speeches that six years later, still seem as cathartic for him as they are motivating for his players. You see, unlike 99% of what you hear from coaches in youth sports, Mike’s (AKA “Papi’s”) speeches have very little to do with lacrosse and even less to do with X’s and O’s. He wants to teach the kids to be winners at life. To appreciate their parents. To value themselves and their teammates. To understand what a gift it is to be able to play a sport, because whether it’s for financial, medical or other reasons, not everyone is lucky enough to get that chance. And so, between the tears and periodic efforts to catch his breath, Mike talks about how character, family and something that typically makes teenage boys very uncomfortable– Love. He explains that if they choose to wear one of the Brady’s Bunch rubber bracelets, they’re not just representing themselves, they’re also representing his son. And with that comes an obligation to try to do the right thing, not just on the field, but off it. He tells them that over the weekend, they’ll win some games, they’ll lose some games and that in the end, the score won’t really matter. What will matter, is that they were good to their parents. That they believed in their teammates. That they were respectful to the referees. And that they picked up the trash on the sideline afterwards.

The speech concluded and as I wiped a tear from my own eye, I looked around the room and saw something you don’t normally witness: fifteen and sixteen-year-old boys crying. And suddenly, it hit me just how rare this all was. I had played sports my entire life and sat in more bleachers and stood on more sidelines watching my kids play than I care to remember. And yet, I had never heard anyone reach young athletes on such a profound level. Sure, there were some good coaches who talked about how we’re all in it together. Who encouraged the players to seize the opportunity and leave it all out on the field. But nobody had opened eyes and hearts like this. Nobody had told them, “You’ll send out what, 300 text messages today? Send one to your mom and tell her you love her. You probably won’t get in trouble for it.”

Gradually, something more enlightening and disturbing hit me — Not only had my boys not heard a speech like this from any of their hundreds of coaches. They hadn’t heard it from their dad, either. Yeah, I spoke to my oldest about the importance of driving to the hole, being unselfish and keeping his composure on the court. And I talked to my youngest about using his left hand more, believing in his natural athletic abilities and taking control of a game when he needed to. But of all the times I praised my sons for a great a move, shot or pass, I don’t recall ever applauding them for helping an opponent to his feet or making the worst kid on the team feel like the best. I never truly used sports as an opportunity to make them better people or an excuse just to tell them how much I loved them.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in these failings.

If you have a son or a daughter in youth athletics, ask yourself how much money you’ve spent on coaches and specialists to perfect your child’s skill, versus how much you’ve spent to help them perfect themselves. If this calculation comes out the way I imagine it will, and if it becomes clear that you don’t have a Mike Wein in your child’s life, find one. And if you can’t find one, become one yourself. Because I guarantee, when high school ends—and I can say this as someone who has both a son in college that’s stopped playing competitive sports and one who is going to continue on at the Division 1 level—every dollar you invested in making your son or daughter a better person will be worth a hundred you invested in making them a better athlete.

It’s About Focus

On set and in the stomach with Andre Pontes (Brand Manager), Bob Rice (film director), Tom Ennis (CEO), Greg Yahn  (Chief Marketing Officer), Mike Ginal (Marketing Director) and myself holding giant fake piece of All Natural Oberto Beef Jerky.

On set and in the stomach with Andre Pontes (Brand Manager), Bob Rice (film director), Tom Ennis (CEO), Greg Yahn (Chief Marketing Officer), Mike Ginal (Marketing Director) and myself holding giant fake piece of All Natural Oberto Beef Jerky.

“It makes you sharper.” That’s what my real estate buddy said about operating on the precipice of financial peril. And he’s right. Six months into my new gig, I feel like I have less security and more good ideas, insights and clarity than I have in a decade.

But it’s not about fear, it’s about focus. It’s about waking up every morning knowing exactly what you need to do to be successful. Which, due to a myriad of pressures and influences, is something I believe has largely been lost in the advertising business. I know, because for the last twenty years, I was a perpetual multi-tasker across multiple brands. And here’s what I can tell you—I concentrated more on the big clients than the little ones and my greatest efforts were spent not on the clients we had, but on the ones we didn’t. That’s the way the system was set up. Now, you can say that I was inefficient or that I had my priorities in the wrong place. But the fact is, my behavior was emblematic of what most people do in my role. If you don’t believe me, ask someone who works at a multinational how much of their time the Chief Creative Officer bills. It’ll be somewhere between 200-300%.

It’s an epidemic. And clients are just as much to blame as agencies. You simply can’t ask an agency to participate in a four-month review, where they’re tasked with not with just providing an opinion on a representative business problem, but solving every single issue facing the brand. If you choose to make participating agencies endure this experience at the expense of their paying clients, you should expect them to do the same for another brand less than a year down the road.

On the other hand, my Oberto clients know that while I may field calls from prospective clients, I am not going to spend time actively soliciting them, nor will I “pitch” their business. If you checked my time sheets, this simple act will effectively give me back about half of my man hours. Eliminate commuting, internal staffing issues, performance evaluations, company finance meetings, offsite retreats, email chains and “quick regroups,” and I’ve suddenly got more hours to dedicate to my client in a week than I previously had in a month.

Granted, on any given day, there’s still plenty of multi-tasking. Today I jumped from a website discussion, to brainstorming advertorial piece with Outside Magazine and Horizon Media to writing a radio spot for Pandora. All before noon. The difference, is that all these efforts were focused on a single brand, with one initiative actually helping to inform the thinking on the others. Especially since they all revolve in some way around the new tagline I wrote, “You get out what you put in.” Which means that everything I’m involved with is an opportunity to come up with ideas.

And it’s a funny thing, when you’re bringing your clients ideas rather than simply responding to their requests, they tend to be a lot more interested in what you have to say. Because now, you’re not just an ad guy who spends an alleged portion of his or her time overseeing the creative for their brand. Now, you’re a catalyst. You’re invested, hungry and active. And every brand could use someone like that as part of the marketing team.

Over the years, different companies have consciously or unconsciously placed a value on my involvement in their business. And that value has probably ranged from “Totally expendable” to “Absolutely essential.” Due the emphasis on creativity and longevity of our relationship, I believe ESPN and The State Of California Anti-Tobacco group would both say I was pretty integral to what they were doing. But in the 29 combined years I spent working with them, nobody ever paid me the compliment I received in my fourth month on the job with Oberto. I was walking the halls of their headquarters last week, when a guy who just joined the marketing team stopped me and said, “Nice to meet you. Our CMO says you’re the best hire in the history of the company.”

I could try to convince myself that this response was due to my years of experience or some God-given talent. But if I’m honest, I think it’s because I stopped being an agency CCO and started being someone who rejoices in the fact that, for better or worse, my future is tied to a single ad client. And I’ll be damned if it’s not going to be for better.

Agencies Implore Clients To ‘Do Something Big,’ But Here’s Why They Need To Do It For Themselves

As seen on Forbes.com

There’s no more common refrain in marketing than that of the ad agency imploring the client to “do something big.” And yet, how many agencies do you recall actually doing something big? I’m not talking about big commercials, stunts or social programs for the brands they handle. But something big for themselves.

Looking back, I can’t tell you I expected our project to generate 55 million media impressions. Not even close. But I did know that it had the structure, heart and drama to make an impact. And that if executed properly, with a little of the luck that seems to befall all good documentaries, it had the potential to profoundly affect people.

It started with a simple, ad-like proposition: In a world of lines that divide us as people, let’s create one that brings us together. The first question was where to place this line that would unite? I chose the gymnasium floor at Compton High School—specifically the free-throw line, a decision based partly on the fact that my son, Chase, had played basketball with boys from Compton since he was young and partly due to an observation that Compton was probably the most rebuked and vilified community I had ever seen.

The first task was to work out the specifics of the program, which centered around a free-throw contest where the winner would receive at $40,000 scholarship and each of the seven runner’s up a $1,000 scholarship. The key was to ensure that the contest came off as a platform for these amazing kids to share their stories, rather than just another reward for athletic skill. My hope was that during our two weeks of filming, what began as competition would gradually become cooperation. Ultimately, the level of support and kindness these eight boys and girls showed one another rose to a level I could have never even imagined, as those of you who watch the film will inevitably see.

The final hurdle, if you don’t count lawyers, was money and resources. I turned to my agency, WDCW, for both. After an initial round of friends and family fundraising, we were still in desperate need of cash and skilled people to bring the project to life and adequately reward all the contestants. There was no way to justify these investments from a P&L standpoint. There was only the promise of doing something that felt important.  And I will be forever proud of my partners for believing that was enough.

You may have heard what transpired during and after the event, as it became the lead story on Yahoo News and one of Bing’s “Decisions That Shaped 2011.” But if not, it’s all here in the eight-minute TED Talk I recently delivered.

And the film, titled “Free Throw,” was just released on Apple iTunes, Amazon, Video On Demand and through our website, Freethrowmovie.com

Ultimately, the size and value of what we accomplished is better judged by someone other than myself. But as I’ve watched this line go from metaphor to a reality, I can say that, personally, I will feel less hypocritical next time I go to one of our clients and ask them to “do something big.”

 

The moment.

In addition to the obvious, “Seeing my children be born,” I realized last night that I’ve had the good fortune to experience some pretty cool things.

I got to walk the red carpet at Mann’s Chinese in front of Will Ferrell at the premiere of my movie, Old School, while a bunch of college kids on either side went nuts. At the time, my heart was beating so fast that I had to go to the bathroom and throw water on my face before I took my seat because I thought I might pass out.

I got to stand on the coast of Nova Scotia with Colm Meaney and my entire family as the director, Adam Massey, yelled, “Action!” on my independent film, a Lobster Tale, after ten years of watching the script fall in and out of “option.”

And just last month, I got to share the Audience Award for our film, Free Throw, won with about a hundred of my high school, college and work friends at the Boston Film Festival.

But I think the single most satisfying moment of my life took place two days ago at the Manhattan Beach TEDx event, Journey To Purpose.

It was partly being asked to be part of a dais of that included everything from a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, to the former ambassador of Uruguay, to someone who works with NASA’s aerospace and science technology. This group was so inspiring, yet humbling, and I couldn’t help but feel like a kid who had snuck into the party through a back door that some dishwasher accidentally left ajar while he was on a smoke break.

It was partly knowing that I was able to fight through my nerves and use my eight-and-a-half minutes to make a presentation that lived up to what I rehearsed in front of my dog. (I can’t tell you how intimidating it is to have no cue cards, multiple cameras, four hundred people and a giant digital clock that is forever counting closer and closer to “zero” from the moment you take the stage.)

Mostly though, it was simply realizing that this project that meant so much to me had, indeed, struck a universal chord. People laughed. People cried. And to my amazement, when I left the stage, they all stood and applauded. Walking back onto that stage was one of the strangest, most wonderful, out-of-body experiences I have ever had.

Thank you to John, Marla, Denise and everyone who helped make it a reality. It’s something I will genuinely never, ever forget.

What Brad Pitt Taught Me About Creative Directing

I’ve known a lot of creative directors in my time. And the one thing we all have in common, is that at one time in our career, we were certain that our value was tied to our ability to sift through a mound of ideas, identify the ones with potential and help turn them into great campaigns. I used to think this way, and am pretty sure my partner, Tracy, did too. Heck, who doesn’t want to think that their personal taste, experience and certain je ne sais quoi are integral to the creation of every great campaign that comes out of the building? And don’t get me wrong, a good creative director can and should recognize the potential in an idea and be able to help steer it towards its finest iteration.

But, if you took a “Moneyball”-like approach to creativity and eliminated all the subjectivity and romantic notions about creative leadership, what would you find has the greatest impact on creative output? (For those who haven’t seen or read “Moneyball,” it’s an approach to baseball espoused by Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Beane, who stopped focusing o more subjective qualities such as speed, quickness, arm strength, hitting ability and mental toughness and instead, focused almost exclusively on simple on-base percentage.) Would it be the creative director’s ability to see and develop the big idea. Or would it be something else?

I would argue that in an industry that’s more driven by technology than ever before and spread across a number of disciplines that require more specialization than ever before, there can no longer be a single keeper of the creative flame. A creative director may be great at storytelling or great at digital or great at experiential, but he or she is invariably not the single best, brightest, most informed individual in the building on every possible initiative that will require creative thinking.

So if it’s not the keen insight and direction of the creative director that most directly leads to breakthrough creative work, what is it?

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Before You Leap Into 2012, Take One Step Back

‘Tis the season and ‘tis the profession to look forward. To let old acquaintances be forgot along with technology that’s more than 15 minutes old and ideas that got 3 million hits on YouTube last month. Let’s face it, this time of year fits well with the mindset of our industry. One that’s driven by what’s just around the corner, whether it’s the next campaign, the next pitch or the next big thing. And I not only understand but embrace this mindset as, well, it completely mirrors my own.

I have a feeling advertising attracts people who have trouble standing still for a few minutes, much less getting satisfaction out of their accomplishments. But while I’m already spending a good 90 percent of my energy on what lies ahead in the first month of 2012, I am forcing myself to spend a moment to look back and think of all the cool stuff that took place in the last 12 months. And, no matter how foreign this idea is, I urge you to do the same.

For me, it was an exhausting year in many ways, but one of my most satisfying. With the help of my partners and the people in our company, I got to direct my first feature film around a concept that was dear to my heart at the start and close to all-consuming by the end. Then I got to watch that concept go from being a half-baked idea to something that was on the local news, to the lead story on Yahoo. More importantly, I got to bring all these incredible new people into my life as a result of the project including principal Jones, Satra Zurita, the head of the Compton school board and numerous civil servants, humanitarians and other ordinary folks like myself who were just looking for a little inspiration to create their own platform. I’ve always said our business is about the people, and I got to meet more good, smart, generous people in 2011 than any year I can remember.

I also got to learn about a hell of a lot of really interesting stuff. We tend to minimize this benefit of our job, but there was one moment last year where it became particularly apparent. I was driving back from an interview with one of the physician/scientists at our Cedars-Sinai client, when it suddenly hit me how amazing it is that I just got to listen to one of the leading cancer researchers speak for an hour about the potentially world-changing breakthroughs he and his team are making, and I didn’t even have to buy a $1,000-a-plate chicken dinner for the privilege. Honestly, without either having cancer or going to four years of med school to work at Cedars-Sinai, there’s no way I’m able to hear this story unless I’m in advertising and lucky enough to work on the Cedars-Sinai business. I also got to hang out with Clay Matthews, Serena Williams and Carmelo Anthony on an ESPN shoot, work with my partner, Tracy, on our first pitch together and eat some really good Lebanese food in Detroit. Finally, I got to learn all sorts of new technological wizardry like how to create an app that scrubs your Facebook page and turns it into a personalized song and how to use projection to turn an ordinary piece of glass into a touch screen, which my partners Scott and Kris at our digital company, United Future, actually created.

(Like airplanes, I still can’t fully understand how it can work without, um, magic being involved.)

As far as ideas went, this was probably my favorite of those we produced:

http://tinyurl.com/44txstv

Unfortunately, there were a bunch other really good ideas which came up somewhere short of actually getting produced for a variety of reasons that range from the garden variety to “the FBI just seized our Full Tilt Poker client’s business.”  But man, was it cool to be part of work for Conan, Epson and others that would have rocked the ad world had the ad world actually gotten the opportunity to seen them. In short, like most agencies these days, we’ve got some cleaning people who are super impressed with the comps they saw lying around our office in 2011.

I guess the point of all this, is that the best part of our business is that we get to learn a little about a lot of things, work with some really smart, creative and likable people and spend a good portion of each day trying to come up with stuff we think will delight and entertain others. So, no matter how many headaches you endured, disappointments you experienced and great ideas you had that met an untimely death, there have to be a few wonderful moments you experienced in 2011, specifically because you are in the ad business. So take a moment, breathe deep and reflect on them. Okay, time to go kick ass on 2012.

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Bubbles 2

I was going through some old work this week for one of our new pitches and I came across a spot I hadn’t watched in a while. It was for the California Department of Health Services anti-tobacco initiative. And it was inauspiciously named, “Bubbles 2.”

Of all the spots I’ve been part of, this is maybe the one that means the most to me.

Not because it was the best. Don’t get me wrong, I always liked the original spot, entitled, “Bubbles,” simply because it was the only positive anti-tobacco ad I’ve ever seen, much less been part of. Like most sequels, “Bubbles 2″ had a little more action. A few more locations. And a bigger ending. But that’s not what made it remarkable. What made it special, was the fact that it was written by my friend and art director, Shawn Brown. Without the use of his arms or legs.

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