Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Review: "Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Advertising"

They say that in order to succeed in any given industry, you really need to immerse yourself in it. In other words, read books, read trade journals, listen to mentors, and generally gain a passion for the field. By doing this, you will become a student of your job, and eventually an expert.

In the weird, wild world of advertising, there are myriad books and magazines and awards shows that a young devotee can immerse herself in. One book that is able to effectively summarize the art of advertising and how to improve yourself in the field is "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This" by ad vet Luke Sullivan.

Anybody in the ad business knows that advertising is largely subjective, ever-evolving, and a creative challenge that is not easy to master. Sullivan describes in detail why these points ring true, while primarily delving into the art of making good ads. And rather than producing a dull, intellectual, research-driven book that could potentially turn off any curious reader, Sullivan has fun with it by showing many great examples of premier ads. Indeed, his passion for advertising jumps off the page. It's a solid book for any college student considering studying advertising in college, or for a burgeoning member of the advertising field, or even for a seasoned pro who just needs a light refresher course. The book is quite versatile in that way.

The book was originally published in 1998, followed by new editions in 2003 and 2008. As a result, "Hey Whipple" touches on new media avenues, such as internet advertising, but still mostly focuses on the big ad outlets of print and TV. I'd say that one area where this book lacks is its small focus on how to create great ads in this new world of media, and where advertising will be going in the future. Since the world of advertising is so rapidly changing, it's important to have a plan for how to adapt.

Another area that lacks in this book is accurately describing life in an ad agency. Sure, if you're a Madison Avenue all-star, this book hits the spot, but the vast majority of ad agencies are not in New York, and in fact many are not even in big cities. So there are many stereotypical references in this book to the life of an ad guy (or gal) that reflect on the one we know so well from the Big Apple. This quote from Neil D. Brown in a recent book review on reflects my sentiments exactly:

What you [Sullivan] espouse about agency life proves you have no idea what the real world of advertising is like. You have a lovely and accurate view of the myopics for New York agencies and clients and processes and even though you now call Austin home you have never really worked in the world of small agencies, smaller clients. And it shows.

His "myopics for New York agencies" notwithstanding, I think it's a good book that breezily depicts the creative side of advertising. That said, you should take this book as just one of thousands of potential sources in your ongoing immersion of the field. Everybody in advertising has an opinion, and this is just one of them. Enjoy your exploration.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Journalism on Drugs

I have a good friend who lives in the San Antonio area. Today I did a news search to see how things looked there after Hurricane Dolly swept through the area. I found the article below which recapped the damage done in a very succinct manner, like a good write-up is supposed to do. But then, right at the end they throw the reader a vicious curve ball. And I mean a wicked Roger-Clemens-on-steroids curveball. Have a look for yourselves...

"WHOA!" Right?


Can anybody explain this journalistic twist for me?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A New York City Hotel Surprise: Comfort Inn

This past week, my wife and I took an overnight trip to New York City, in part to see Ricky Gervais stand up. (The show was quite funny, for those who are wondering.)

Going to NYC doesn't thrill me enough to go regularly, but it's fun to zip up there for a quick vacation getaway every once and a while. One reason I don't like going there regularly is because of the notoriously insane prices for everything. And hotels are one of the big culprits, especially if you crash at a nice place in a central location in Manhattan.

But this past trip I was pleasantly surprised with the Comfort Inn that we stayed at on 46th Street between 6th & 7th streets. The location was great, situated within walking distance to Central Park and down to Madison Square Garden, and the other key spots in between. The price was the cheapest I could find out of any other hotel when doing a search on my preferred vacation planning source, I was a little squeamish about what the place would be like when we got there since it was the lowest price and because Comfort Inn is not exactly synonomous with the Ritz-Carlton, but I'll be honest and say that the Comfort Inn genuinely came thru for us.

Here's what I liked:

-The room was perfect for what we needed. You're not going to get a huge room in NYC without paying out the nose for it, but in this room we could move around and there was ample furniture and storage space. In addition, everything was new, including the bathroom which was also roomy and recently remodeled. The flat screen TV was a nice touch too.

-The staff was friendly. Sometimes you go to a hotel, particularly in NYC, and the bellhops or other staff members are just hanging all over you for tips. I understand that's their job and that's how they make money, but it can be overbearing and annoying. Other times they can be crabby. Here, they helped you when you needed it, let you carry on if you didn't, and generally smiled the whole time either way.

-The continental breakfast was pretty good. It featured your basic spread of cereal, toast, bagels, donuts, fruit, juices, and hot beverages, but everything was well stocked, fresh, and tasty. The only downside here was the the breakfast room was tight and a surge of people came in while I was there making it a bit uncomfortable.

The only major downsides are that the workout room is literally only a couple of machines, our room had a dismal view of a brick wall behind the building, the hallways and elevator are narrow, and the ice/vending machines are on the ground floor rather than on each floor. Ultimately, however, none of these negatives had any real dampening effect on our stay.

That's my review of this noteworthy NYC hotel. Business travelers and families going on vacation alike should check it out when heading to the Big Apple. And I'd be happy to hear your reviews if you stay there...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shipping Tips Learned the Hard Way

Pop the cork, I made my first sale on ebay!

(Yeah, yeah, I hear you out there saying "Welcome to the 21st century, slacker." Jibe noted.)

It was an exciting moment for me, but unfortunately it wasn't all rainbows and sunshine.

I was pretty clueless about, of all things, shipping the item to the buyer. Here are the issues I had...

1. I was tempted to print a label and send it from home, but I wasn't going to be home to send it and didn't want to (or know if I even could) just leave it outside for a pickup.

2. I didn't want to send it from work because I didn't particularly want the recipient to know where I work.

3. So I went to the local UPS Store, innocently, and perhaps stupidly. For starters, in the auction price I way underestimated how much shipping would cost so I had to eat a few bucks on that end since I figured in a set shipping price. (Lesson learned: either explicitly leaving shipping cost blank and make sure buyer knows that they will pay full shipping price, or get a more accurate estimate in the first place, if possible.) Also, at the UPS Store, I blindly brought my item without a box, figuring, "Okay, UPS gives away free boxes for shipping all the time, right?" Well maybe I'm just clueless but I wound up paying three ($%@ing) dollars for a box that was no bigger than a toaster oven (or a breadbox, if you must). So that was a major rip. Three bucks for a stupid box. Wow.

In the end, after making these poor decisions about shipping I hardly made anything on the sale and I wound up spending a lot of time on it to boot.

I'll chalk it up to beginner's errors and see if I can improve on it in future sales. But hopefully you don't make the same dumb errors and assumptions that I did.

Happy selling!

(And shipping!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Yes, I'm Fashion Illiterate

I was just looking at Eddie Bauer's website, and I realized just how fashion illiterate I am. I usually just buy clothes based on looks and prices, but I feel left out because nobody ever sat me down and told me what the difference was between "chino" and "khaki" pants or "chambray", "poplin", "twill", or "oxford" shirts, for example.

This lingo confusion is, of course, one of the major gaps between shopping at, say, or Gap in the mall. In person, you can touch, try on, and ask others about their opinions; descriptions have minimal value because you're right there to look at the clothes. Online, you're dependent on the company's descriptions-- some of which are unitelligible-- and one-dimensional photos. To add to that, you have to wait for these closed to arrive at your house to determine if you like them, plus you get to pay for that convenience of shipping.

Obviously, these limitations don't apply only to clothes, since buying virtually anything online involves a leap of faith to some extent, but I'd say clothing is probably the most challenging common item that would come into play.

For those of you wondering at home, I'm wearing mesh basketball shorts with an all cotton t-shirt. And no, they're not for sale...

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Dumb Economics/Financial Question

I follow the economy pretty regularly, though I have no formal training in it. I like to learn about the world of finance, without delving deep into complex formulas and numbers. Call me a minor league financial fan, if you will. Not quite ready for the big leagues, but definitely way more advanced than tee ball.

So here's my dumb question:

In a market like the one we're facing today, where virtually every sector is losing money... WHO is making money?

I don't think anybody would argue with the fact that the industries of housing, banking, retail, manufacturing, and so on are struggling right now, both in America and in many other countries. On the flip side, energy companies have done well and perhaps a few other sectors.

But ultimately, it seems like a LOT of money has been lost all across the stock market and in the housing market and elsewhere, and I'm not quite grasping as to where it's all going. Consumers are getting squeezed by higher prices all over the place (read: inflation), companies are starting to cut back on employment and production it seems, houses still are not selling all that well, savings rates are low so holding money in a safe account doesn't reap big rewards, and on and on.

So I ask again, WHO is on the other side of the transaction, making money right now? Average John and Suzy homeowner, stock investor, employer, and consumer sure aren't making money... so where does it all go???

-Curious in Jersey

Sunday, July 6, 2008

I Don't Like this Form of PR

The other day while finishing up a project at the non-profit foundation where I work, I got a call from a PR person from another charity. I won't use any names to protect the innocent, but the charity itself is a very noble cause and the person I spoke to was genuinely friendly. She was essentially calling me asking for ways to get them grant money, which is fine since we do award grants.

But this was about the third time in six months I have either spoken to this same woman or had an email exchange with her and she still doesn't know who I am. Not only that but she sends these massively huge email files containing Word document attachments that clog up my inbox or that don't work or look unprofessional when I am able view them. In fact, one time when she sent these Word files that didn't open, I suggested she make them into PDFs. She replied saying she didn't know how to convert Word documents to PDFs. So I replied telling her how to do it. So she did it and rattled off like seven in a row in a drive-by emailing. They promptly went into my trash file. And then, as part of this latest phone call that she made, she had the audacity to ask me what my email address was.

I really don't like this form of PR.

What this tells me is that I'm just one person on a huge list, she has no kind of records about who I am, and quite frankly, she doesn't know how to do her job.

Nice combo there.

To all college graduates looking to get a job in public relations, here are a few quick tips:

If you're going into the field of public relations...

1. Learn who your audience is and how to talk to them
2. If you're trying to build rapport with someone... build it! Don't just dump your emails on them or pester them with phone calls. That just moves your organization down a notch on your caller's list because you're annoying them.
3. Learn the latest best practices and how to use technology. Don't expect anybody to bend over backwards for you. You need to be ahead of the game and be able to make somebody else's job easier, not more complex. People are busy and you're trying to get their good favor, not make things harder for them.

Good PR can do an organization a world of good, but bad PR can set it all back a hundred years.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Cleveland Indians: Adding Insult to Injury

It's bad enough that there's a professional baseball team whose team logo depicts a cartoonified, stereotyped drawing of a Native American warrior. But I think it's pretty ridiculous to offer up a 4th of July logo design that has a United States flag emblazoned over the face (see right).

Across Major League Baseball tonight, teams sported Independence Day designs on hats to salute the troops and raise money for veterans. Nice idea, but the execution by the Cleveland Indians did little to stir a patriotic feeling in this writer's heart. It's adding insult to injury for the Indians to slap a patriotic American design across a stereotyped logo, especially considering how Native Americans were pilfered and plundered by people representing these American colors over the centuries. Now the remaining Native Americans get to be reminded of this shame by watching a baseball game.

Sorry, but no medicine man can cure those longtime wounds, and MLB certainly isn't helping any.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

One hundred thousand pounds of...

One hundred thousand pounds of pigeon excrement will have been scraped off of Philadelphia's City Hall by the time its refurbishing is done.

Ummm.... on the bright side, it's a good thing elephants can't fly and land on buildings, I guess.