Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leadership: it's lonely at the middle.

          I had a student a couple of years ago who said his goal was to someday be in middle management. I couldn't believe what I heard, so I asked him why.

          He told me it was safer in the middle. You got respect, a good salary, but you didn't have to make the big decisions.

          I understood completely. For years, I thought I was a born employee. Sure, I always thought I'd be a good leader, and had a million ideas for doing things better than they were being done. Yet there was comfort in having a boss. Someone to take all that weight off your shoulders.

          When I first became a copy supervisor at an advertising agency, I had eight writers working for me. I got a big office and my job was to make assignments to the creative teams and evaluate and sharpen the work they did. For a couple of weeks I loved the big white oak desk and the closet for my boots and overcoat. I even had a secretary (that was before they were reclassified as executive assistants).

          Soon I didn't like that I didn't really have anything to do. I didn't want to assign all the good jobs to myself because that would've upset my people, I thought;  and the regular ads I needed to assign to keep everyone in the group busy. Except myself. It was a perfect case of the Peter Principle. I had been  promoted to a job that wasn't for me.

           It wasn't long before I diagnosed my unhappiness. A bricklayer isn't happy unless he's laying bricks. I began assign jobs to myself, to do with Gene, the art supervisor. Soon I was having fun again.

           That's when I realized it is good to be the top dog. You get to make the decisions. If things aren't right, you can make them right. Your destiny isn't completely in the hands of others. I went on to eventually become Executive V.P. of a large Chicago ad agency, and a member of their executive committee, but I never stopped making ads and commercials. I need to do creative work every day or I get grumpy.

           What's the lesson of this story? Some people are perfect for middle management, but don't make it your goal too early in your career. Aim higher.

            As Chicago ad agency founder Leo Burnett used to say, "Reach for the stars. You may not get there, but you won't come up with a handful of mud, either."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The customer is always right, isn't she?

          If a woman comes into your store wanting a white top, should you try to convince her she looks better in a blue top?

          That's a key question in marketing. For years, the Chicago merchant Marshall Field's answer seemed perfect: "give the lady what she wants." Mr. Field was a pioneer in merchandising, a retail genius. Yet his philosophy was incredibly simple, and it worked.

         In the last few decades, stores were our purchasing agents. They bought what they thought we wanted and offered it to us. They and the manufacturers were in control, because they had the computers. They knew what they sold, in what quantity, at what time of year, and more about you than most of your relatives.

          Today, it's the customer who has the resources. With the Internet and social media, she can find alternatives, compare prices, go the store, note the price and find it cheaper on the Web, make requests, get advice from friends and experts, get reviews from strangers, and in many ways, get products customized to fit her tastes and needs.

          That top she wants can be cotton, silk, bamboo, nylon, acrylic, or a hundred other fabrics and combinations. It can button, zip or tie in every which way or not at all. It can be ridiculously cheap, average price, or outrageously expensive. You can see what it looks like from various angles, and have it shipped the regular way, the faster way, or the fastest way. You can have it held in your "wish list" till you get the money, or charge it to your credit card that still has room on it. And you will receive reminders that you have looked at it in the past.

          So if you want to go into the white top business, what should you do? Your research. Does the world really need another white top?

          Next, think of a way you can give your white top what venture capitalists call "an unfair advantage".  Which is to say, something that competitors can't easily copy, at least for a good long time. Maybe it's a unique way to shop for a white top, or a unique guarantee. Maybe you can come up with a unique way of selling it, or seeing yourself in it, or a white top app. In other words, in a world of white tops, yours has to be the most satisfying purchase.

          Shopping has to be a gratifying experience. Give your customer what she wants --- and if you're not sure, she'll tell you.

     

Monday, November 28, 2011

Do you think small talk is romantic?

         When I opened my laptop yesterday morning, the lead story on Yahoo had me smiling. The headline was, "Skip the small talk on your next date".

          It seems that "deep and meaningful" conversations are still important. That's according to a new study from the University of Arizona. It also revealed that happy people "have more substantive conversations than those who engage in small talk alone".

          The article on Yahoo says that while small talk will help you break the ice, your date doesn't find the weather report scintillating. Shallow equals unromantic, and separates Mr. Right from Mr. Right Now. The article suggests that you at least talk about the news, pop culture, what you're reading or movies you've seen.

          Then you can get into topics that are deeper, such as emotion. That involves risks, of course, as do real relationships. We social animals really want to connect, intimately.

           This is also a good way to think about marketing and advertising. If our communications are shallow (and most ads are), we can't hope to have a real relationships with our customers. We can lose their interest the moment a competitor demonstrates it can understand them better. Even worse is when we create shallowness in social media. Our customers are complex, with hopes and worries that go  deeper than attitudes about products. Listening and helping carry you a lot farther than boasting.

            Maybe we should look at marketing communications as dating. Potential customers are a first date, and of course you want to impress them. One of the best ways to do that is by showing your interest. Your present customers are farther along. You shouldn't be repeating surface-y stuff. You should be their partner, and act like it. But remember: someone more attractive may come along at any time, so don't ever take your customers for granted.

            We've been learning about all this dating stuff since we were in sixth grade, and it's time we apply it to what we do for a living.

              Oh, I meant to ask you: do you prefer Hindemith or Bartok?

   

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why ads are too long but Harry Potter isn't.

         In class after class, with both my advertising and my fashion marketing students, the complaints seem to be the same.

         "That ad is too long."

         "Nobody's going to read all that."

         "Put words in a fashion ad? That would cheapen the clothes!"

         I wonder how these people got through all those volumes of Harry Potter a few years back. They were probably at the bookstore at midnight to get their copies and read all night. These days, three paragraphs pose an overwhelming barrier. What's changed?

        I think I know. For one thing, Harry Potter was fascinating. Most ads are hopelessly dull and banal. That's one of the reasons some people hate commercials and love Tivo.

        We only read and watch things that are interesting to us --- helpful, relevant, sometimes silly, often funny, hopefully useful. Most ads aren't, so why should we pay attention to them?

         When I was a young, $15,000-a-year copywriter, I made the mistake of telling my supervisor that the product he assigned to me, Delco shock absorbers, was dull. He made it clear: there were no dull products, only dull writers. He was right. Good shock absorbers make your car more comfortable, can help other parts last longer, and under some circumstances, could even save your life. Suddenly, they're not so dull anymore.

         Some people blame MTV for our lack of attention. All those quick cuts and fabulous visuals and music that we were brought up with. Other people blame all the new media, Facebook et al.

         I blame copywriters and art directors if people aren't reading ads today. The principles of advertising are the same. Research has shown that only about 20% of the people who see an ad read the text. But those are the people who are most likely to buy the product.

         My simple point: if the ad is dull, it's always wrong. If it's interesting, it can be as long as Harry Potter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm Punch, you're Judy.

            One of the most colorful advertising people I knew in New York was Judy Wald. She was the super-powerful headhunter who single-handedly put us creative people on the star system.

            We used to joke that when Judy liked you it was worth an extra 25 big ones a year. She knew better than anybody how to recognize talent, and nurtured her people like your mother would if your mother were a therapist.

             Judy knew everybody, and everybody knew her. She could walk by every reception desk in town and no one would question her. She had a gift for getting large agency creative directors to trust her, because she was such a good listener and judge of creative talent. Then it was as if she became your business agent, and told you where to interview, what approach to use, and who to be sure to say hello to.

             Doyle Dane Bernbach used her regularly, and that was the best door-opener anyone could have in the '80s. I loved Judy. She was an Auntie Mame character, and I'd try to make time to stick my head in her door every time I was in New York, not always successfully.

             Two phone calls from Judy when I was in Chicago stand out. The first went like this: "Harvey, I need a heavy rubber writer."  "What's a heavy rubber writer?" "You know, a writer with a lot of tire experience." "Oh." "You know, someone like you." That was Judy.

             The other call I remember from Judy was when she was desperate for radio writers. Even Doyle Dane was looking for one. I asked Judy why. "Nobody in New York wants to do radio. It's too lonely.
You just sit in your office and type. " It was a real problem until it got fixed when one agency was smart enough to team an art director up with a writer for radio. After all, there are pictures in radio --- pictures in the listener's mind.

             My favorite Judy story was told to me by my friend Marv Honig, the Vice Chairman of Doyle Dane. Judy was always trying to meet with Marv to sell him on her creative people. But Marv didn't want to be cornered by her. Judy didn't know it but they lived in the same apartment building, on the same floor.  They would meet almost every night at the incinerator chute down the hall, but Marv would never let on who he was. That went on for years.

             Judy taught me at least two things. One, never quit your job until you have another one. No matter what you say, the sparkle is off when you're out of work. And two, it's okay to switch jobs often to get experience when you're young, but be prepared. The phone stops ringing when you're 40. Hang in where you are; advertising venerates youth.

             I'm sorry that when my phone rings these days, it won't be Judy Wald on the line, looking for a heavy peanut brittle writer. She sold her business, but she's still in New York.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The salesperson who refuses to speak.

           Every time I suggest putting words in a fashion ad, my fashion students look at me like I'm from another planet.

           They're horrified that I'm suggesting something akin to wearing Gucci loafers to rake the leaves, or wearing a Burberry blazer with pleated jeans. The looks on their faces tell me everything: it just isn't done. It reeks of low quality. When I ask why, nobody has a definite answer.

           To keep the conversation moving, I then suggest that inasmuch as advertising is salesmanship in the media, and since luxury goods salespeople do talk, it's okay for ads to talk, too. Not just whisper their Web addresses sideways in mousetype along the edge of the page.

            Kenneth Cole built his whole business on witty ads. In fact there's a book, "Footsteps", that's full of them, along with the story of how they helped him grow his business. In the retail store category, Ohrbach's broke all the rules. From catty to cool, they were wonderful --- including painting moustaches on the beautiful models on the billboards to announce the opening of their men's store.

           Also in retail is the current campaign, "Oh my Lord and Taylor!" as they announce great buys every week. The "diamonds are forever" ads for deBeers use provocative copy in a format that's almost all headline, except for a small photo of a diamond.

           This myth about copy lessening the perception of quality in fashion ads is a worrisome game of Simon says. I don't know why a company would pay over $100,000 for an ad in Vogue and not use one of the most effective communication tools in their toolbox. Language.

            When will Dior tell us the benefits of their French heritage? Or Gucci tell the advantages of Italian craftsmanship? Would that really lessen the perception of quality? Perfumes do it. So do private jet planes. What about Vogue itself; do luxury fashion buyers find the magazine low in quality because they use words?

            And please, please don't tell me fashion ads don't need headlines because they're works of art. Even Picassos and Cezannes in museums need those little cards with explanations next to them.

            Try it yourself. Turn to one of these copy-less fashion ads in a magazine and write a  headline for it. Or try something else. Find a BMW ad and take all the words out. Where did all the luxury go?


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sometimes I use my cellphone to actually call someone.

         When I give students my first lecture on media, the last item I cover is mobile advertising. It should really be the first.

         Bloomberg reports that Facebook has announced its next billion users will be added mainly on mobile devices rather than computers. "By providing this opportunity on mobile devices, we can make the pie bigger and much more quickly," said Vaughan Smith, Facebook's director of corporate development.

         Facebook now has 800 million users, but the shift is to smart phones and tablets, Bloomberg says.

         I see it every day in my classes, in public transportation, on the street. It seems like every minute people aren't doing anything, or even when they are, they reach for their cellphones.

        Students tell me who's going to be late to class, who's home ill. If we need a fact checked in class, someone always gets the answer on her cellphone. It's always distracting, though, when texts come in. Which they seem to do in a steady stream.

       That's here in the U.S. In India and Asia, there are less computers, more cellphones.

        Cellphone advertising advocates are making extravagant claims. They say that mobile ads are better than print because they can dominate the screen. But look how small the screens are. Who needs a tiny Tide commercial? These advocates also say people are more likely to act on cellphone ads. In many cases, I'm sure that's true, when the cellphone ad answers an immediate need.

       I even predict that the time will come when we get cellphone service free, like radio and local television, because advertisers will be footing the bill.

        As marketers, we have to figure out the best roles for mobile in the marketing mix. It great for sales promotion, but what about its role in brand-building? Is there one?

        Once we get beyond the tech magic we can do on cellphones, what's the ideal content? Is it news, information, relationships, community service and/or entertainment? Much research has yet to be done.

        Finally, how will we ultimately react to this rush to mobile advertising? Will we continue to be amused, or will people become angry, annoyed, grateful, dependent or disgusted? It's important we keep watching.

       

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Now who's going to replace Ron Johnson?

         There's a very big retail job open and few people qualified to fill it. Maybe 30 in the world, tops.

          Ron Johnson was the head of Apple's stores; the retail genius who brought us the genius bars, among other things. He recently joined J.C. Penney as president, and the search for his replacement at Apple is on.

          There are three people at Apple who headed up groups under Ron, but Apple's store operation is global, and the immediate future seems to be expansion in China.

           If you had the responsibility to replace the head of Apple's retail division, what would you do? Would you promote, from within, someone who's completely familiar with the Apple way of doing things?

          Or would you look outside the company for someone who knows the computer business really well, including computer retailing?

          Or would you look outside for someone beyond the world of computers who really understands global retailing --- someone from Ikea, for example, or Japan's Fast Fashion?

          I would guess they're going to choose someone from inside Apple. A known quantity. Personally, I would look outside for someone who can bring new ideas, new thinking. It's way too early to settle for what they already know, and not try to stretch beyond.

        I would look for someone entrepreneurial.Willing to take risks. Anxious for independence. Insisting on being in control. If they settle instead for someone with a "What would Steve do?" attitude, they'll fall behind. That's only my opinion; what's yours?

        Daydream awhile about being Ron Johnson's replacement. What are the first six things you would do?

        I think I'd offer Ron Johnson about three million dollars to come back.

     

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Believe what you read in the paper.

         My marketing students seem to know more about the San Francisco Chronicle than the Chronicle does.

          Every term I buy 20 copies of the paper and pass them out to the class. Their job is to come up with ideas to save the Chron. American newspapers are in trouble. It's been estimated the last paper will be thrown on someone's front steps in the year 2043.

          My students don't have any trouble with the exercise. They can see why newspapers have lost readers under 30.They also know how to change the paper into something desirable.

          Most of what they suggest involves the product itself. It simply isn't helpful or relevant to them. They know how to make it interesting, and they say so.  For example, if it looked and read like a magazine. If it was more about people, new ideas, and entertainment. Then, when I ask them if the Chronicle made all their changes and did everything they asked, would they read it...about half are not sure.

          I love newspapers. When I was about seven and the paperboy slammed the Chicago Herald-American against the back door of our apartment, I'd quickly bring it in the house to read all the news that Hearst saw fit to print. It was fun. Most of the other people in our building got the Chicago Daily News in the afternoon, the liberal paper. Mine, with all its scandals, was far more exciting to a kid. That's when my love for writing began.

         In sixth grade I published a newspaper, The Room 313 Flash. I didn't have any way to print it, so I just typed one copy and put it on the bulletin board. The best part was the gossip column. In high school I switched to writing plays, but in college I was a journalism major and editor of a humor magazine. I'm an avid newspaper reader to this day --- two and sometimes three papers a day.

        Unlike my students. They check their computers every morning for the news. You don't have to fold them and you don't get ink on your hands. Then on to their cellphones, texting their way to school.

         I hope that newspapers will look around at some of the media that are doing well and learn a few lessons. My students can also tell them 20 or so ways to survive. If newspapers would be willing to re-think their mission and delivery system for 2012, they might turn things around.

        I'll believe it when I see it in the newspaper. And if anyone from the Chronicle is reading this, I'll set you up with my students. They have some terrific ideas.

   

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is advertising everyone's hobby?

         Why is it so many people say they have expertise in advertising when they really don't?

          I don't know any other field where so many people claim they have experience. I don't hear people saying "I have experience in being a prosecutor" or "I have experience in being a brain surgeon" or even "I have experience in selling cigars".

          But advertising? Everyone's an expert. Everyone who wrote their own business card, sold raffle tickets, helped a friend write a want-ad to sell a bicycle, or done a poster for a lost kitty claims to have ability in advertising. Why?

           For one thing, they've written letters all their lives. They know how to put a noun and a verb together to complete a sentence, so they're writers. Now computers make it easy for everyone to be an art director, too. Just download a photo or illustration. You can always tell a wannabee because they say "fonts", the incorrect Microsoft Word name for "typeface". (It was shorter.)

           For another thing, now that "Mad Men" has been on TV, advertising is regaining some of its original glamor. Watch a few episodes and you can pick up the action, the moves, and the language. It all seems simple enough. Just have a brainstorm, put it into words and pictures, put on your "Mad Men" suit from Banana Republic, and sell your idea to someone. If you're not successful, just open the bottom right drawer of your desk and have a drink.

          I want to stick up for the professionals in the crowd. The hard working, hard thinking people who have to face a blank computer screen and come up with good ideas not just one day a week but every day. Under the pressure of deadlines and meetings and the person in the next office. Plus all the usual worries everyone has these days. It looks easy, and advertising people are often naturally playful, so it's misleading. That smirk on a copywriter's face may be heartburn.

          Try being in advertising. Write a commercial for a new toothpaste named Blitz, that's made with a new cleaning ingredient, B-F 20, from Switzerland. Go ahead. I'll be back in an hour to see how you're  doing.




 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Bling" go the strings of my heart.

         A few Saturday nights ago in L.A., my nephew Jeremy Falk (MacMan, the Mac technician to the stars) arranged for our Southern California relatives to have dinner together. He made the reservations at Red O restaurant, Chicago chef Rick Bayless' new place on Melrose.

          The place is so hip you have to have a reservation to even get through the outer gate. Inside the restaurant, a heavy wooden door later, the beautiful people were dining on exquisite Mexican cuisine. And yes, the people were beautiful.

           The women's clothes were breathtaking, their eyes lilly pond liquid, their skin lubricated, and their hair swept, splashed, teased and tampered with. The men were L.A. casual, which is the same as Midwest casual except hundreds of dollars more going into cardigans. Their jeans had holes in all the right places, and looked well worn, like they had been chewed on for days by European aristocrats.

           The food arrived and the guacamole was perfection, but every time I got a chip ready I was blinded by a ray-gun light from the next table. One of the two women was wearing a diamond bracelet that reflected every facet of the crystal chandeliers every time she smoothed her eyebrows. (The other woman at the table couldn't lift her arm to eat her tortilla soup because of her many bejeweled bracelets.)

           At the table on the other side of us was a man in chains. On his wrists, around his neck, and who knows where else. His date was in chains, too; long ones that kept clunking on the table. It was daunting.

           I loved every minute of it. Here in Northern California we're much more conservative. Personally, I always feel I'm wearing the right thing at the wrong place. In two weeks I'm going to a three-day meeting in Atlanta where they said the dress is business casual --- another wonderful opportunity to misinterpret the rules.

          My curiosity and interest are always peaked by the energy and enthusiasm of people who are interested in fashion. My students are always up on the latest, and many have distinct styles of their own. I applaud them for it, and we use their fashion sense as the bases for many resounding discussions in marketing classes. We don't seem to spend time on bling, though. Maybe we should.

          Clothes may or may not make the person. But they certainly make the person interesting.

         

     

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What creative directors keep in their back pockets.

         "Where's the ad? This is it? What else have you got? Nothing?"

         When I first became an associate creative director, I was worried my group might let me down. What if they didn't come through? I'd better have something of my own in reserve, in my top drawer, just in case.

          It was rarely needed. When you work for a living, something serious comes over you. The possibility of being fired was never lost on my writers and art directors. Plus they knew there are always 10 more people in line to take their places.

          Over the years, I've had a lot of interesting people working for me. The guy who never came back from lunch, but always left a note on his door about which bar he'd be at in case I needed him. The guy who always came back from lunch, even though I told him not to. (One Thursday afternoon he came back so smashed that he threw all the potted plants from the lobby down an elevator chute.) The writer who always had twenty ideas for every assignment but could never decide which one was good. The other writer who cut off an art director's new tie because he wouldn't do the ad the way she envisioned it. And the art director who cried at meetings when the client rejected her ideas. (He couldn't take the guilt and changed agencies.)

          It takes all types, and there's room for them in the ad agency business. But please know that the real ad-makers --- the ones who do the funniest, craziest, most mind-changing ads and commercials --- always meet the deadlines, always show up for meetings, always are respectful. Their talent is inside of them, and they protect it.

          Jerry Della Femina said that advertising is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. I agree. But it's hard work and you're given a lot of freedom for a reason. People are counting on you and you have to deliver.                                                                                                                                                                    

          That's why even today I always try to have some ideas in my back pocket.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What women want to know.

         If you are an entrepreneur at heart, you know that the path to success is understanding your customer well enough to satisfy her unmet needs. But what are those unmet needs that women say are highest on their list?

         Some of the answers are dealt with in depth in "Women Want More", the informative book by Michael J. Silverman and Kate Sayre of the Boston Consulting Group. Their source is mainly a survey of 11,747 women. Here's what they learned.

          To begin, women have serious dissatisfaction in their role as customers. The worst categories are investments (47% dissatisfied); cars (47%); banking (46%); life insurance (44%); physicians (41%); and car insurance (39%). These are huge numbers.

          Next, there are categories where women are perfectly willing to pay top dollar for better products and services: food (23%); personal clothing (16%); facial skincare (18%); bedding (14%); and perfume (17%). The key, of course, is what does "better" mean.

          Before you set out to explore that question, there are major, overriding things that women want, according to the survey, and we marketers better listen.

          First, they want love and connection. That includes a lasting romantic relationship; trust and commitment in a partner; connection with family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

          Second, they want fulfillment. Freedom to pursue happiness and satisfaction, however they choose; empowerment; flexibility; and encouragement to achieve.

          Third, they're concerned about money as a marker. That includes increasing expectations about being valued; skepticism about claims; wanting more information and guidance about money.

          Fourth, women surveyed want a balance of life and work. They've learned by watching men. They're time-stressed and looking for ways to get leverage. Women are taking on more and they're worried about making it all happen.

          Those are the marketing clues of the day. If you can help in a meaningful and value-conscious way, you'll have a chance to make a difference and maybe get rich. And  by the way, if you think women need a lot, be assured today's men need a whole lot more.

          Where do you start? By listening. That's probably what women want more than anything.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who recruits the recruiters?

         Everyone has their own interviewing techniques when they apply for a job, and some have really caught me off guard.

         In Chicago one afternoon, when I was doing the interviewing of copywriters at FCB, a guy came in from Leo Burnett Co. As soon as we shook hands, he asked where the piano was. I told him it was in a conference room three flights up. He said he wanted me to hear something. As soon as we got there, he proceeded to play "How I'd love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener..." He said he wrote it. I asked him if he also wrote copy, which was sort of implied in the term "copywriter" in the want-ad, and he said no, he only wrote jingles. I told him his resume would be on file in case anything came up.

        At least seven other people from Burnett came in claiming to have written "finger-lickin' good" for KFC. One also claimed he wrote "We serve Sunday dinner seven nights a week." None were convincing.

       Being in Chicago, I was interviewing a constant parade of critter-writers from Burnett. Their samples of commercials included Tucan Sam, Snap, Crackle and Pop, Tony the Tiger, Freddie the Fox, Charlie the Tuna, and Morris the Cat. It was a real zoo, and soon everything looked alike. So did the candidates.

      One interview really floored me. The guy showed me his TV reel and on it was a commercial I had written. He swore again and again that it was his, as I lifted him up by his elbow and escorted him to the lobby elevators.

      I've interviewed a comic book illustrator, schoolteachers, a lawyer, and every kind of writer from novelist to recipe writers. Here are a couple of interview suggestions for you:

      1. Know who you're talking to. Do your homework. Know all about the company --- before you come to the interview. It's great to ask questions, but not the basic ones.

     2. Remember you're there to help them, not vice versa. Demonstrate how you can solve their problem. Your needs come after you've dealt with theirs.

     3. Don't be all ga-ga over your own work. Be sure to have someone whose taste you trust winnow down your samples to only the best. Ordinary work means you don't know the difference.

     One more thing. Have some empathy for the person interviewing you. She has a big job to do, and has her hands full trying to please everyone and make constant judgements. Remember, the interviewer is being judged by her bosses, too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You can't tell a good ad person by her hat.

       In years of working with creative people, I've learned just how deceiving looks can be.

       Pete's a good example. He really looked the part of a 1980s ad writer. Every day, a fresh blue button-down shirt, blue blazer with brass buttons, cordovan shoes polished a rich ox-blood, and a serious paperback under his arm. He talked the part, too. Go with him to a third-rate bar of his choosing, and he'd have critiqued every ad in The New Yorker by the time your prime-rib-au jus-on-a-French-roll arrived. He could also imitate talk-show hosts perfectly. If you missed Johnny Carson, he'd do the monologue for you.

       Trouble was, Pete couldn't write. Every ad he wrote was as interesting as instructions for a washing machine. The language stilted, the plot hokey, the dialogue contrived.

       Sharon was another example. She always came to the office dressed as if we called her in from gardening. She would've been great if we had an organic gluten-free account, but we didn't. The closest we  could come up with was a whiskey account. She refused to go meetings, and was too shy to speak in meetings anyway. But, boy, could she write about the rolling fields of grain and the limestone water in whiskey. We told her she didn't have to go to meetings. Stay in your office and write. The guys from the distillery never knew their ads were written by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

        The most complicated case, though, was Richard, because he was never the same two days in a row. One day he was as sharply dressed as a Men's Warehouse salesman, and the next day he showed up looking like a telephone lineman after a double shift. One day Mr. North Face, the next day Bowler of the Week. You never knew who you were talking to, and soon you were the one having an identity crisis. I tried to find the relationship between his productivity and his persona, but I couldn't. Clients loved Richard. He was Brooks Brothers at meetings. His writing was buttoned up, too.

       I'm still looking for the connection between wardrobe and writing. I remember growing a full beard when I was secure in my job, but shaving it off when I was interviewing for a better one. When a writer wears a tie, he's probably covering something up.

      When you're starting out, it's probably best to dress a little on the conservative side. Until both you and your boss agree you've got ability.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"And what did you do at the office today?"

         One thing I love about being a writer is that you can do the most important parts of your work almost anywhere. Anywhere you happen to have a pencil, paper, and peace of mind.

         I once wrote a 24-page brochure for a luxury resort while sprawled across a bed at the Plaza II Hotel in Toronto. It wasn't one of those "heavenly beds" so I was able to stay awake.

         My art director friend Ross and I worked on ads and commercials over the phone when I was at a hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and he was at home in San Francisco. I once got an idea for a Hush Puppies shoes commercial while mindlessly watching the news on TV; I ran into the bedroom with a pad of yellow paper, stretched out across the floor, and wrote it. I seem to do my best work in a horizontal position.

         Over the years I've written advertising on trains, planes and (when I worked on Hatteras) on gorgeous white yachts. Come to think of it, I don't think I wrote that many ads at the office since those first few years when I thought I had to. Part of the reason is those endless meetings people call. The other part part was enjoying the day discussing advertising and life in general with my fellow creatives.

          Today, of course, copywriters aren't as mobile because they also have to know computer graphics almost as well as art directors do, and many are quite busy designing ads and ideas for the Web. Which all balances out because most art directors I know love trying to write copy.

          The hard part of writing isn't what you do on the computer, it's what goes on in your head. Creative directors and clients are looking for ideas --- concepts that change people's minds. You don't see too many mind-changers these days, and ad agencies in New York are crying for idea people. The idea drought was a major topic this year at Advertising Week.

         To come up with a good idea, you have to lift your eyes off the product and look at the bigger picture. The question isn't "how is my product better?"; it's "how can I help consumers make better choices?"

         You can't always come up with mind-changing ideas sitting at your computer. Sometimes you can see things better from an Italian coffee shop or a Canadian train window.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now what does she want from me?

         Michael J. Silverstein and Kate Sayre interviewed thousands of women for their book, "Women Want More". They came to a conclusion you may find startling: women don't really care about goods and services.

         "Yes, they pay careful attention to what they buy", the authors wrote. "They know in detail the good points and bad points of all the products they purchase. There are certain brands they love and respect. But products, services, companies and brands take a very distant backseat to what truly demand women's attention, care, and love."

         So what do women really care about? Here are the four top findings and the percentage of the women interviewed:  

                                  Love, 77%
                                  Health, 58%
                                  Honesty, 51%
                                  Emotional well-being, 48%

         Now you clearly see what every good marketing and advertising person knows. Products and services are not ends in themselves, but rather means to more fundamental ends.

         To understand this fully, you have to know that the women you're talking to are challenged. They're challenged by time. Too many demands, too many conflicting priorities, and not enough space for themselves. They spend much of their days at work. In Silverstein and Sayre's research, 38% of the women said their husbands or live-in partners do virtually no household chores. It's a battle of balance.

         The survey also showed that women are highly educated, love learning, and apply their skills to spending. You'd better listen to them, talk with them, and satisfy their priorities. More than that, you have to respect their intelligence. If anybody has the intelligence of a 12-year-old, as the cliche goes, it's those people who are doing all those insipid ads and commercials that talk down to their audiences.

         Today, women are the name of the game. If you want to play the game, pay attention to deeper values.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The sale must go on.

         The theme of "The Experience Economy" by B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore is very dramatic: "Work is theatre and every business a stage".

         Every marketing student learns about the importance of the shopping experience. Sometimes it's more important than what you're actually buying, or at least adds a lot to the value. When you go to the Ralph Lauren store and you're encouraged to relax on the sofa and enjoy a glass of wine as they bring the clothes to you --- that's the experience.

         You can buy pretty much the same things in a lot of places these days; even in the comfort of your home. Not all customers put the same value on a product's benefits and features, and many customers really don't pay attention to them. But a great shopping experience can bathe them in a warm, memorable total package.

         Pine and Gilmore quote Dave Power III of J. D. Power and Associates: "When we measure satisfaction what we're really measuring is the difference between what a customer expects and what a customer perceives he gets." The authors suggest that every purchase of ready-made products involves some sacrifice; rarely, if ever, is something precisely what you would want and provided exactly the way you'd prefer. Unique experiences help marketers go beyond expectations in ways customers often can't predict.

         I just came back from a short trip to Washington, D.C. on United Airlines. A $25 charge for my one suitcase. Slow boarding procedures. Not so much as a peanut unless you pay for it. No pillow, no blanket. Boxed food available for a ridiculous price, in limited quantities. And no cash accepted; only credit and debit cards. Worst of all, not so much as a smile from the flight attendants. They looked stressed and unhappy. If you watch the TV show "PanAm" you can see what flying could be like. Obviously United execs don't watch the program.

         It all comes back to understanding the customer. Which we now can do better than ever, thanks to social media.

         The next time you go to a store, ask yourself: instead of the experience they do offer, is there an experience you'd rather have? What would make it better, and what would you be willing to give up?

          They used to say that the customer is always right. Now we'd better realize that without a good experience, the customer isn't always a customer.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Another way to get to Carnegie Hall.

          Konstantin Stanislavski, the great director, asked Sergei Rachmaninov what the secret of mastering the piano was. The brilliant composer replied, "Not touching the neighboring key".

          Stanislavski appreciated that idea, and used it with his actors, teaching them to stay within the limits of their unique roles. I think it's great advice for marketers as well.

          Everything we do in marketing and advertising should stay within the agreed-upon strategy;  not blurring it.  Nothing less, because then we're hurting our chances of meeting our goals. And nothing more, because we'll be diluting the force of our actions.

           We've all seen commercials where the humor comes not from the product or competition, but from left field. They end with a joke that completely obliterates the message the advertiser was trying to get across.

           Borrowed interest is another case of touching on the neighboring key. You know, the fashion ad where cold-looking models are poking at each other in a scene so overwhelmingly fascinating that we lose the focus on the artfulness of the clothes.

           Analogies are also strategy diluters. "If you think the Grand Canyon is something, you should see our big new line." See how weak that is? Everyone's thinking about the Grand Canyon!

          When your new fragrance is supposed to be the primal lure for your next mate, the free gift-with-purchase of a toothbrush tote somehow has a way of breaking the spell. Your strategy is designed to be your map to success; veer off it at your own risk.

          On my first job, I was handed an assignment touted as the opportunity for greatness. The marketers of Lava Soap--- the gritty strong soap that farmers and factory workers use--- decided it deserved to be used by all women. Research showed it was a bad idea...such a campaign would dilute its very reason for being. To prove that point, I spoofed the idea with a commercial for "New Pink Princess Lava". The client got the idea, and changed the strategy.

          On the other hand, when you've got a winner, with hard edges to hurt the competition, stick to it all the way. As the song says, "Once you have found her, never let her go."

   

Friday, November 11, 2011

Don't lie about your salary the way I did. It cost me.

       Only once in my life have I lied about my salary. And it worked.

        I was in Detroit and dying to get back to Chicago. I decided I was a city boy at heart and Detroit was more like Los Angeles, suburbs that are suburbs of other suburbs. A headhunter told me there was a good job in Chicago at Foote Cone and Belding, and I lied about my salary. I knew the budget for the job would put me out of the ballpark, so I told them I was making many thousands less than I really was.

        I got the job and you can predict what happened. I was perceived as being thousands of dollars less valuable, put in a little office, kept out of decision-making, and given easy assignments. It was rougher on my ego and sense of ethics than on my bank account. The sheen of Chicago wore off quickly and I was pinched --- figuratively, financially, and emotionally.

       Fortunately, at the end of the year they found me out and I got a big raise and a bonus, restoring my salary, plus.  If there's a moral there, please call me.

      Working at FCB was fun. I was on production in L.A. a lot, once for 14 weeks straight. I had a lanai room poolside at the Sheraton Universal, and got to go back to Chicago 6 times on weekends. I left the agency a few years later to help a friend of mine start an agency in Ohio, but FCB wanted me back. Instead of asking me forthrightly, they sent a University of Chicago professor to Ohio in a blizzard to"interview" me, and used the information to persuade me to return. I wasn't angry; I was flattered, and came back as Vice President  to head up creative on Sears, Kimberly Clark, part of S.C. Johnson and Hallmark.

       All in all, I got a great education at Foote Cone and Belding. Even though that first year's tuition was pretty steep.

    

  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The perfect, the near perfect, and the cheesy.

          I'm always pushing creative people to work hard and improve the potential of their work. After one pep talk with me, a writer accused me of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

          He said because we'll never be perfect, why don't I accept his good, professional output. I couldn't. Not because I expect his work to be perfect, but because there was a lot of ground to cover on the way to perfect. I would certainly settle for great.

          I doubt if any advertising or marketing will ever be perfect. In the '70s, the VW Beetle ads were mind-changing. The advertising for the little $1,700 car from Germany challenged the long, futuristic, over-finned brands being cranked out here in America. The VW ads attacked our car culture and such ideas as annual model change, car shows, depreciation, questionable quality control, built-in obsolescence, and everything else. People loved the ads that turned quirky into cute and simple into sensible. Yet even with all this, we weren't all buying Beetles. The ads were perfect in positioning the product, and for selling more cars than anyone thought possible. But nobody claimed it was perfect.

          I've always resented it when a creative team showed me work that was cute and clever, but not clear.  Or when it was so different that most prospective customers wouldn't get it. Or when it appealed to the writer's and art director's sophisticated friends, but they would be the last people to be in the market for the product.

         I've resented it because I felt they were cheating the client, and cheating me. I had faith in them to come up with something that met the requirements, and they brought in something perhaps amazing, but totally off the mark.

         Sometimes it's easy to sell a client an idea that isn't right for them. Like all of us, clients like to be considered hip and up to date, with-it and wonderful. Sometimes our enthusiasm for the idea can pull the client off course. You have to be careful.

        In advertising and marketing, you have to know what to be creative about. What the target market cares about, what problems they have, what they aspire to. And if you can meet these needs while tripping up competitors, so much the better. That's what strategies and tactics are for.

        Try for perfect, settle for great, but never settle for good. Your competition can do that.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I'll tell you everything except my name.

           My friend Jennifer Cobb, of Spruce Advisors, is an expert on social media and has published a new paper. It's titled "Designing Social Media for Creative Outcomes", and gives us another prism through which to view these.

            Jenn writes that Facebook and Google+ argue that sites where people use their real names tend to be more polite and cleave to accepted social norms. "The problem is", Jenn says, "this lines their pockets with vast amounts of personal data about us that they resell for great profit."

           She reports findings from Andres Monroy-Hernandez, writing at the Social Media Collective blog about two key axes of design --- from anonymity to strong identity, and from permanence to ephemerality. Jenn reports that her secondary research shows that they do make a difference on the level of interactions. The more you know about a person, them more you tend to like them. "But paradoxically," she writes, "it turns out liking them has little impact on your evaluation of the outcome" in group situations.

           There are other things happening on Facebook and Google+ as well. When you see someone's real name, you're more likely to edit your responses. Because anonymity promotes uninhibited behavior, and masks failure, Facebook and Google+ may indeed be inhibiting creativity. It's not so easy to mask social risks.

           Would we be more creative on social media if our names were identified but our comments were wiped away every 30 days? How about if our names went away but our comments remained? These are both more like normal conversation, where nobody's keeping records on who said what when.

           I'm struck by how much social media is like all our relationships. We're always freer to make a mistake if people don't know who we are and there are no consequences. We've all said or written things that we'd like to have vanish into thin air, and are more creative when we have the freedom to fail.

          We're social beings, so I suppose we're social media beings. Jenn has brought up some really good questions. Would it really be social media without our names? Can our relationships be real without our vulnerabilities and our humanity?

           I don't think so. I am a specific person with specific vulnerabilities. So are you. And once we lose sight of those, we're just usernames and passwords.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Staying awake at a media lunch.

       In my early days in advertising in Chicago, I used to love to go to media lunches, where the food is good, the drinks are free, and media reps try to convince you why their magazine or TV network is perfect for your clients. I was dressed up anyway and eager to learn, so I went.

      The older, more experienced writers and art directors shied away from these events because they were attended mainly by the "suits"--- account executives, clients, and media people --- and the talks were unvarnished sales pitches, although often multi-media and colorful.

      Often I'd sit next to Rance Crain, the editor of Advertising Age. We were both young and in a fast-moving business, and had good discussions over the chicken and peas. Rance told me he'd publish articles I wanted to write about starting out in advertising, if they were any good. I sent him about six pieces, which he published. Then I ran out of things to write about. Rance is now the publisher of Ad Age.

      In the October 10, 2011 issue, he wrote a column about Jack Connors, a founding partner of Hill Holiday Connors Cosmopolos, the most successful agency in Boston. In the column, Rance said building an agency isn't a matter of size but of attitudes. He quoted Jack: "You know, it's like anything else. There are trappers and there are skinners. To be a trapper, you've got to put on snow shoes, you've got to go out in the cold, you've got to set those traps, and then you've got to go back and see if there are any animals in them. And it's cold out there." He said most people choose to be skinners, because you can stay warm and don't have to be tramping about.

     Jack Connors said that his agency's ability to handle rejection was one of its keys to success. What valuable lessons for all of us, whether we're building an ad agency or a career.

    First, we have to be willing to go out in the cold, and do the tough jobs others rather not do.

    Second, we have to be able to handle rejection. I'm still having trouble with that. Even though I know it's simply the other side of the success coin.

    With experience, both should get a tad easier.  I hope you achieve success in something you love, as Rance and Jack have.

                                       Best wishes, Harvey the trapper.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Steve Job's belief in the basics.

         When I moved to California, I immediately set out to get new clients for our ad agency. The easiest kind of new business to get was high tech. Or so I thought.

         I was up against a wall I never faced in Chicago or Detroit.

         People I met in high tech seemed convinced that the product was the marketing. Just focus on the product, explain its features, and you're done. That was advertising. It was completely alien to me because I was brought up learning that people were more important than products. To me, the only thing that mattered were the benefits, not the features. What a product could do for you.

         So I contacted Regis McKenna, the high-profile Silicon Valley public relations guru. He urged me to stick with what I was doing; he felt the same way and was doing exactly that in P.R.

         The October 10, 2011, issue of Advertising Age brought it all back to me. It said that when it came to marketing, Steve Jobs was an "exceptionally bold traditionalist".

         To quote: "At a time when marketers obsess over the virtues of targeting, 'likes', dashboards, platforms of all stripes and sophisticated social media marketing schemes, Steve Jobs kept it simple: tell the story of how an amazing product can change your life, in the best environment possible."

         Apple spent $420 million in advertising in 2010. It was the ninth largest spender on outdoor ads in the U.S.

        Allen Olivo, who worked at Apple and now teaches marketing at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, said "Steve not only liked advertising, he understood the value of advertising as part of building a brand, selling products, and creating an entire customer experience".

        To quote Mr. Jobs, "Even a great brand needs investment and caring if it is going to retain its relevance and vitality."

        Nobody does it better than Apple, and now it's up to their ad agency to carry Steve's torch.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The girl who knew too much.

         I was giving a final exam in one of my fashion marketing classes.

        About a half-hour into the exam, one gifted student lifted her head up from her paper, looked me squarely in the eyes, and proclaimed:

       “Your questions are easy, but the answers are difficult.”

        The student is perceptive, and quite right. I’ve been thinking about her comment ever since.
       “Easy questions, tough answers” is a great description of marketing. There’s nothing complicated about the questions marketing asks:

                 1.   What is your objective? 
                 2.    Who are you talking to? The demographics and psychographics.
3.    Who is your competition? What do people believe about them?
4.    What is the benefit you’re offering, and why is that so good?
5.    How are you going to support this benefit?
6.    What will it take to achieve your objective?
7.    What do you want your target market to do right now and in the long term?

         The questions are simple enough; the difficult part is answering them well --- truthfully, cogently, with a sharp edge that cuts through the bull. That will be your job as a marketer. Your strategies can’t be stuck in muddy clich├ęs, drowning in unmeasurable objectives, or so general nobody can object to them. Yours will be bulletproof. You’re going to get promoted if you know how to get the answers, and be paid the big bucks when you do.
          The student who observed my m.o. knows that well.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Don't hold your nose. It's a perfume commercial.

        Why do the fragrance marketers aways seem to make the most captivating commercials and videos? Sure, there are others that are funnier and catchier, and even some that even contribute an idiom to our speech. But captivating? Nobody outdoes the perfume people.

                           http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=xe07cnrLy88&feature=fvwp


          I think that's because emotion beats rational every time. Emotional story telling, usually. We all love stories and instead of showing us a cross-section of a new gadget or a hair follicle, these fragrance ads show us slices of romance and relationships. Far more satisfying.

                          http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=ky5xmtWp1_U

   
          Wouldn't it be refreshing if Coca-Cola left us guessing about a meeting of a passionate couple (of people, not polar bears). Or if a Jetta commercial was a tribute to the independent businesswoman and her aspiring associates.


                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JITQY8FewA&NR=1


          Too many people in advertising who call themselves creative might start by looking at a half-hour of fragrance commercials --- and breathing some of that emotion into the advertising they're working on. In fact, you can start with this one:

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=TRCJhc3AVvY

Friday, November 4, 2011

She who eats on the train doesn't drink in the sign.

         At every-other seat on BART, the rapid transit system in San Francisco, there's a gleaming metal sign: "No food or drink. Violators subject to fine." They must be making a fortune on fines, because it seems more and more people are bringing coffee, pastries, and sandwiches on board. Don't the passengers read? Don't they care?

         I have a hunch a lot of it has to do with reading. Have you ever pushed the door that's clearly marked "pull"? A lot of us do it all the time.

         The things I'm talking about, reading and believing and ultimately caring, are issues marketing and advertising run into every day. Just because we write an ad, make it look beautiful, and pay the $120,000 to put it in the magazine doesn't mean it will be read or believed, which has to do with relevance. If you don't have a lawn, you're not going to read a lawnmower ad. If your boyfriend or husband has been hinting about an electric shaver, you'll probably read every electric shaver ad between now and Christmas. Most things are somewhere in-between.

         Another part of the equation has to do with how interesting the ad is. You can't bore people into buying something, David Ogilvy said. If you don't have a striking visual, or a provocative headline, and a good promise, you can kiss your audience goodbye. A lot of ads can be interesting to the creative team ("We have to go to the islands to shoot this"), or the client (the product is his love object), but not to the customer (who needs a dress within her budget to go to the party tonight).

        And even if you get her attention and you've interested her in your product, she may still be skeptical. Will it be well made? Will it last for a while? Is it worth the money, even though it's inexpensive? Will my friends like it? Will it make me look the way I want?  It's your job to assure her.

        There are sayings in the advertising business that apply here. The first is K.I.S.S. --- keep it simple, stupid. A second is "It's better to be clear than cute".

        The most important is, "The world is about people, not products". Start with your customer's needs, not your own.

        Remember these sayings the next time you do an ad or commercial. Or keep pushing the door marked pull.

   

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just the Fax, ma'am.

       I was told I was the last person Fairfax Cone interviewed. Two weeks after meeting me he had a stroke at his home in Carmel, California, and never came back to Foote, Cone and Belding.

       As c.e.o. of the big national ad agency, Fax was a monument to salesmanship in print and broadcast. He oversaw campaigns that are now classic: "Does she or doesn't she?" and "Is it true blondes have more fun?" for Clairol. "Raid kills bugs dead" for S. C. Johnson. "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?" for Dial soap. "When you care enough to send the very best" for Hallmark.

       His interview with me was in Chicago, and lasted maybe three minutes. I was at FCB for my final interview and was told Mr. Cone was in town and wanted to meet me. His lieutenants were probably trying to kill a few minutes of the boss' visit. Fax asked me a few questions, said he was glad I thought of the agency, and that working there would be good for me. I told him I hoped to see him on his next visit.

       Although I never saw him again, his words bounced off the walls and corridors of the agency the whole time I was there. Every employee was given a copy of his book "The Blue Streak", a collection of his memos. "A messy desk means a messy mind" he reminded us. (We all had to put our stuff on our chairs and push them under the desk every night.) We couldn't wear loafers because "I don't want my clients to think our people are too lazy to tie their shoes". "Your pants have to match your coat." And his account execs were told never to wear brown.

      That last one was my favorite because these days brown is re-emerging as the biggest thing in men's clothes. Fashion articles are everywhere featuring Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry", Ronald Reagan in his pinstripes, and Ryan Gosling in brown Gucci.

      Fax Cone himself was iconic in advertising, and I was thrilled to meet him, but his fashion sense wasn't his long suite. Not everyone is good at everything, I guess. Not even Dirty Harry.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The logic escapes me. Fortunately.

         Why do we buy new things? That's becoming an increasingly good question as products get more alike and money gets harder to come by.

          Certainly it's not our logical selves that are making all the decisions.

          In advertising, research has consistently demonstrated that feelings are more important than logic --- in attracting us to ads, to products, and to the store. In fact, when we see an ad, we feel before we think. But it's always tricky to know what emotions to evoke, what psychological needs we should try to satisfy.

         For years, manufacturers of laundry products were convinced that people generally based their choice on cleanliness. Which product would result in cleaner clothes. Why else would someone buy a soap or detergent? Every company tried to come out with better cleaning additives. Then one day a feisty brand manager decided to test this belief, and did some real research. It turned out that few women checked the whiteness of clothes as they took them out of the dryer. They smelled the clothes. How clean did they smell? That changed everything.

        Why do you love your Mac? In 25 words or less, please. Why do people trust Mercedes, and why do we still suspect that American cars just aren't the quality they should be?

        Some marketers, the lazy ones, rationalize not digging deeply enough into emotional values by saying  that people "will know it when they see it". Maybe so. But shouldn't we know ahead of time, and know how to present our products?

        Gatorade once gave our agency in Chicago this problem: how can we sell more Gatorade in the wintertime in the North? There was a logical reason to drink it --- it will rapidly replace the fluids that are lost when you're sick. But what was the ad that sent sales soaring? One that showed graphs and explained dehydration? No. The one that showed cute twins sick in bed. Parents melted.

        A client we worked for in Detroit was the Magazine Publishers Association. They're always fighting TV (and now the new media), and decided on a strategy that said use 'em all. The campaign we launched was "Television inflames, magazines inform". Television for the emotional sale, magazines for the rational. A recognition of the one-two punch of selling.

       If this sounds complicated, that's okay. It is. But understanding people, how they make decisions, is what's going to get you the big bucks.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The inspiration board of life.

        Designer Isaac Mizrahi, in his book "How To Have Style", suggests you start by buying a large corkboard and some pushpins.

        Not to wear, but to put on the wall and start your own inspiration board, with visual images of things you love. They could include clothes or shoes or flowers, photos from magazines and trips, scenes from your childhood. Mr. Mizrahi explains that your inspiration board will become a canvas of your changing moods and contexts.

        Next he suggests you fill out his questionnaire. It's in the book, and includes sections on describing your style. His questions are fun. Here are a few:

         "When you were little, what did you dream of looking like?"

         "What's the first thing you think of in the morning?"

         "What's the one thing you'd like to tell the world?"

        According to Mizrahi, "Confidence and knowing what's right for you is 95% of style". Confidence and knowing what's right for you are also two important pieces of advice in your choice of career.

        In college, I was a journalism major. For two reasons. One, I liked writing, and wanted to learn more about it. Second, the catalog said there was very little homework; everything was done in class. Which gave me a lot of time to explore other subjects as well as all the coffee houses in town. But as graduation approached, a wee small voice told me journalism wasn't for me. It seemed pretty lonely, especially since the only available jobs were courthouse reporting from cold cities.

        That's when, with all the confidence of a 20-year-old with a girlfriend, I decided on advertising. And never looked back. Interesting people, intriguing problems, and solutions that seemed to come readily to me. My journalism training helped me focus on what's important and how to explain complicated issues simply. I've used it for what was right for me.

         Now would be a good time for you to start Mr. Mizrahi's inspiration board. What do you think of first thing in the morning? I bet it's not about being the court reporter for the Iron City Times.