Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#129 In which our hero gets a new job.

The new job: simply stated, it’s incredible.

Now, I’ve been online long enough to know that it’s not exactly wise to write about your (current) job and co-workers… but I am absolutely bursting at the seams about this place. However, because I would really, really like to keep this job more than two years (the longest I’ve been able to keep a job since moving to Cleveland) I will keep certain details vague. Or I’ll try; I’m not always great at keeping my mouth shut about things that get me excited.

I go through a series of interviews at this place, meeting with new people each time. As previous mentioned, I am the King of Interviews, so these, like most every interview, go really well. I like what they have to say, they appear to like what I have to say. But I try really hard not to get my hopes up, because I’ve been burned before. But it’s really starting to look like the light at the end of the tunnel. And when I say “tunnel,” I mean the soul-crushing cesspit I’ve been stuck in for more than a year.

A word about my employment history in Cleveland.

I moved up here after securing a job with what was at the time the largest advertising agency in Ohio. I guess I can tell you it was Wyse Advertising (I have nothing bad to say about them, so no-one there should care if I spill the name). I loved Wyse. It was an impressive-looking agency, full of open brickwork, hardwood floors, glass-walled conference rooms and extremely expensive old advertising posters from the president’s private collection. It was also on the top three floors of a skyscraper in downtown Cleveland. It even had a deck with an amazing view of the city and lake.

And in addition to the snazzy digs, I really liked the people. Not all the people of course, (who am I, Mother Teresa?) but everyone I worked with directly. And the creative director, my boss, was the best boss I’ve ever had. I had my own office with a decent view. People seemed to appreciate my work. I was working on accounts that people had actually heard of. All in all, it seemed like my dreams of moving to Cleveland and hitting the big time had finally came true.

Then I got fired.

Well, laid off. My boss told me at the time that if business turned around, I would be the first one they called. Four years later, still no call.

Getting fired from Wyse started an alarming downward spiral. At first, I couldn’t even find a job. No one in advertising was hiring at all -- this was just as the economy was tanking in 2002-03. It was cold comfort to know that I was one of many laid-off ad people. As weeks turned into months I started to broaden my job search to anything that including a writing element. Finally, after eight months or so of being without work, I was applying for everything: warehouse worker, administrative assistant, anything. But, employers who needed my talents weren’t hiring, and everyone else probably looked at my resume and realized that I was just slumming and would quit their job the second I got an offer from an agency. I could find nothing!

Finally, a year later, just as my unemployment compensation was ending, I got a job at Progressive Insurance. Telephone customer service. I don’t have anything bad to say about Progressive, I just didn’t want to work there. Six months later, I got a call out of the blue from a small agency (Wyse had about 150 employees at the time, this place had 25). I interviewed (brilliantly, of course) and got the job.

My experiences there are featured in the archives, but in particular I would direct you to this one and this one and this one. This job lasted two years before I got laid off again.

The job was no great shakes, but it was a real agency and I did some good work there. But I never liked my boss nor, pretty much, any of my co-workers.

Then I got another job at a tiny agency (I was employee #9), but that didn’t turn out well.

This, most recently, I got that junk mail job (just me and the boss).

So you can see the agencies got smaller, the work got shittier and I started to become more and more depressed. At one point I declared to The Scientist that “Cleveland is fucking poison to me!” A little dramatic, perhaps, but Jesus, when was I going to catch a break?

Well, it appears my break has arrived.

Going in, I didn’t know a great deal about the agency I now work at. They had some big name clients, but that’s not so unusual. Their website showed some nice work, but that’s to be expected. All I really knew was that they weren’t a shit-hole two-man operation doing junk mail, and frankly, that’s all I really needed to know.

As it turns out, this agency is the fucking promised land. I feel like I’ve been called up to the majors. Day one, I come in for orientation and my new boss (the creative director, and a former copywriter herself) meets me and shows me my office. Now, I assumed that I was getting a cubbie, because when I was here before space was at a premium. When I said as much to my boss, she says, “Well, we like to put the writers in offices because we know we’re… special.” And she says “special” like she means “retarded,” but I know what she’s really saying: copywriters are driving the bus at this agency.

And then the sky parted a shaft of pure white light illuminated my sight, accompanied by the dulcet strumming of golden harps.

See, in a lot of agencies the account staff drives the agency. The account executives are the ones who make client contact and negotiate deals and the like, after all. And I don’t mean to take anything away from them, because their role is a very important one. However… what an advertising agency is really selling is creativity. And this creativity starts in the creative department and, most often, with the copywriters. So to be at a place that puts the emphasis on the writers was a revelation.

So yeah, I’m happy as hell here. It’s only been three months, and in that time I’ve identified some weird quirks, as in any agency. But this place has two big, big things going for it:
  1. Everyone seems to really be dedicated to doing good work for the client
  2. Everyone is busy as hell.
Number two is especially important, since I’ve been at agencies that aren’t so busy, and it always results in me losing my job in short order. Will I keep this job more than two years? Will I even get past probation? Put your bets in now!

"Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them."
~ John Updike


#128 In which our hero has a problem with Katie Couric.

Tomorrow is Katie Couric’s last day on The Today Show. My morning ritual generally doesn’t include watching TV, since The Scientist and I each take a child and prepare them for the day. However, every once in awhile we turn on the TV and watch The Today Show. And once upon a time, (before children, when my only early morning decision was to shave or not) I had time to watch TV in the morning… enough in fact, that I developed a problem with Katie Couric.

First, it appears that America loves this woman. Which is fine, whatever, but I just don’t get it. I mean, yeah, she’s perky and if you like perky than by God you just found your poster child. I don’t think I’ve ever been called perky, certainly not first thing in the morning, so that’s one strike against her. People also seem to find her attractive, but I think her face looks like a bad street fair caricature. Now, if you’re looking for hotness on The Today Show set, lets go over to the news desk and Ann Curry. Mmm-mmm!

But honestly, I fell as hard as the next guy for the friendly banter between her and co-host Matt Lauer. They seem to genuinely like each other, and it makes for an enjoyable companion to my bowl of cereal.


Katie Couric does one thing that drives me crazy: she interrupts people. Mainly people she is interviewing. And given that The Today Show is an interview-based show, she is given ample opportunity to cut people off and talk over them. I hate this. HATE, HATE, HATE!

Not only is it rude, but it’s arrogant. Couric is always jumping in and summing up the speaker’s point for them, as if it say, “This is only a three-minute segment, pal, so let me just finish your thought for you before I barrel ahead to the next bullet point on my list.” The fact that her conclusions aren’t always right seem to have no bearing on her interview style. She also has the ability to make the interview more about her than the person she’s actually interviewing.

Now, not so long ago a friend accused me of Schadenfreude, which is a German word that roughly translates to “taking enjoyment in the misfortune of others.”

Isn’t that just about the greatest word you’ve ever heard?

And it’s true! Maybe I’m a huge prick because of this, but I do take enjoyment in the misfortune of others. Not all the time, and not all people, but certainly some. People I don’t like. Stupid celebrities. Incompetent politicians.

Katie Couric.

I should probably cut her some slack… today’s paper has a story about her. She has two daughters, like me. Her husband died at 42 of cancer; I’d be devastated if anything happened to The Scientist. But I can’t help but think that if I were speaking to Couric it would go something like this:
ME: Y’know Katie, I’ve been thinking that I should --
KATIE: --Cut me some slack?
ME: Um, yeah, right. I can sympathize on the loss of your --
KATIE: -- Husband? Yes, that was quite a blow.
ME: I’m sure it was. And with --
KATIE: -- Two young daughters? Yes, it’s a real parenting challenge for me.
I can’t tell you just how much I hate being interrupted. So yeah, I suspect I’ll be enjoying a little Schadenfreude when Couric moves to head the CBS news desk. Because she’s going to go down in flames.

I mean, I just don’t understand how anyone thought this would be a good idea. For the past 15 years, America has come to love Couric as the giggly, smiley co-host of The Today Show. We’ve turned to her for a fun morning dose of joy. We haven’t turned to her for hard news.

I mean, sure, she does serious topics on The Today Show sometimes; but as she goes through the grim-faced motions of telling us about a mine collapse or bird flu outbreak, America is really just gritting her teeth waiting for Couric to get to the fun cooking segment or interview the author of the new Chicken Soup for the Goth Teenager’s Soul.

And this interrupting bullshit… how do you think that’s going to fly with Vladmir Putin or Hamid Karzai? These are guys who can have people killed for interrupting them. There’s no fun in the evening news, and no-one wants to see a joyless Couric deliver stories of death and destruction night after night.

Here’s my prediction: something will change within six months of her debut as lead anchor. I don’t think she’ll be fired outright, but I suspect she will be paired with a co-anchor. An older, somber man who can handle the heavy stuff, leaving her to deliver the lighter, slice-of-life stuff.

But man-oh-man, those first six months are going to be a train wreck.

Viva Schadenfreude!


#127 In which our hero quits his job (epilogue).

I was a little worried about the actual quitting part of quitting my job. I had signed a non-compete agreement with my (then) boss that stipulated that I was forbidden from going to work for any current client or competitor for a full year.

Now, the reality is that this tiny little two man shop was in no way a competitor to the large agency I was going to work for. However, if you interpret “competitor” in a broad sense you could argue that any business that does advertising or marketing for another business is indeed a competitor. I was extremely worried that my boss would try to pull something like that. I was afraid that he would go to my new agency and do some legal saber-rattling. Would this be enough for the new agency to say, “Ugh, what’s all this potential lawsuit bullshit? No single writer is worth this hassle, just retract our offer” ? This is what kept my up at night.

On top of this was my boss’s paranoia. His former writer was a real piece of work, and when he left to set up his own business, he wrote letters to all their current clients saying, basically, “I’ve done all your writing for the past year. Now I’m on my own, so you need to start funneling your money my way.” So, I can’t really blame my boss for doing everything he could to keep from being screwed again.

But that wasn’t my intent. I just wanted to work at a place that had a real receptionist on the payroll.

So I carefully lined up my arguments, and thought up counters for anything he might say. I was going to be calm, cool and professional throughout, and if he wanted to be a screaming child, then it would all be on him.

Preparing for this was extremely difficult, because I am the first to let loose with a, “well, FUCK YOU, asshole!” when it comes to disagreements. But when it finally came to it, it was hugely anticlimactic. My boss was reasonable. Amazingly reasonable considering that 50% of his staff just walked in to his office and quit.

I had considered just showing up on a Thursday and saying, “Tomorrow’s my last day, sucka!” but I didn’t. I gave him two weeks notice. Don’t get me wrong, I was in a big rush to get the hell out of there, but, see… I’ve discovered that the advertising world in northeast Ohio is really insular. And while I highly doubted that this one guy with a little rinky-dink operation could harm my career in some way… I wasn’t sure. He might know someone who knows someone, and the next thing you know I’m in the outs with my new employer. So I played nice, gave notice, finished up projects.

Now, more than a little of my concern came form the fact that my boss was a little bit slimy. Not completely, but somewhat. I think it’s unavoidable if you’re working in junk mail. So I thought he might not be above doing something slimy to me and/or my career.

Here’s a quick example of his ooze: he set up all DM projects that came through the door to be paid on a per-project basis. Most advertising is billed by the hour, that is to say, if a client’s post card took the copywriter an hour to write, and the designer two hours to design, then the client gets billed for three hours of time. My boss, on the other hand, would just give the client a flat rate. Which, y’know, whatever, if that’s okay for everyone than I could care less. But the issue came in when any project I wrote had to be designed. See, without a designer on staff, we used freelancers. And since we got paid a flat amount, my boss paid a flat amount. Say my boss agreed to pay the designer $300 to design the project. If it only took the designer an hour, then he just made $300/hour. If it took him two hours, then he’s only getting $150/hour. Problem was that most projects take closer to 5-10 hours, so the designer might be down to $30/hour or less when all was said and done.

But, if this is agreed upon at the start, then it’s fine. My biggest problem was that my boss preferred to get the work started, then talk about what he was going to pay later. Now, shame on the designer for going along with bullshit like that, but still: sleazy.

Two things you need to understand to appreciate the next thing: #1. In advertising, clients always want to see examples of past work. “Have you done any non-profit work before?” “Sure, he’s a sample of a fundraising letter we did,” and so on. So samples are very, very important to getting new business. When I came on as a writer, I brought all my samples with me. So suddenly my boss had samples from dozens of companies and brands that were never available to him before. This is pretty standard in the industry. Even if the AGENCY has never done work for a specific company, if you have a staff member who did (say, while he was working at a different agency, or as a freelancer) then the agency can then claim it as their own. I know, it’s a little bait-and-switchy, but that’s the way it goes. #2. My boss had a huge beef with people who did freelance when employed by an agency. He saw it as flat-out stealing form the company. In his thinking, any freelance you did should be brought to the agency so the entire agency could benefit form it, not just the writer. He said he just could not understand how any person could rationalize freelance work as anything but theft.

So, when I quit, my boss asked that I not use any examples of what I did for him in my portfolio. That’s a bullshit request, by the way. It’s just another way of saying, “While I benefited from you working for me, I don’t want you to ever benefit from working for me.” But fine, it’s not like my work there was going to skyrocket the credibility of my portfolio anyway. But in return, I asked that he not use any of my samples in the future when pitching new business.

When I said it, I saw all the gears in his head come to a sudden halt. Me leaving not only left him bereft of a writer, it also took away lots of good samples, and pretty much ALL the samples he was using for brand/soft retail stuff. He mulled it over for a second, then asked if I’d be willing to stay on as a freelancer.

What a fucking hypocrite! But remember, I was still paying nice, so I said I’d consider it. Now, I had already anticipated this move, and there was NO WAY I wanted this guy using any of my samples in the future. I felt slightly dirty even showing them while I was working there, forget it after I moved on. To this end, after I got the offer at my new agency my first action was to remove everything that was mine form the sample books, and delete all my work from the website. I was looking for a clean break.

So why didn’t I just say NO THANKS to the freelance offer? Because I’ve been burned before. I went to what I though was a promising agency only to be fired two months later. Advertising is shit for job security. So, if I could get a little freelance work out of this guy, why not?

I’ll tell you why not.

Because several weeks after I quit, he emailed me asking if I could do some revisions that had come in on a project that was in the works while I still worked there. I emailed him back and said I could and gave him my hourly rate. He emailed me again, sent me a PDF of the work.

I couldn’t open the PDF, so I called him. We talked briefly about the project, then got to what I was really interested in:
ME: So, you’re okay with the hourly rate I gave you?
HIM: Oh, I didn’t see that.
ME: It was clearly on the email I sent you.
HIM: I didn’t see it. Maybe I didn’t scroll down far enough.
ME: Um hm. Well, it’s still $XX/hour.
HIM: Oh, well, I really prefer to pay on a per-project basis.
ME: I know you do. But that doesn’t work for me. I charge $XX/hour. That’s why I wanted to make sure you where okay with the rate.
HIM: Well, lets worry about the price when the time comes.
ME: I think the time has pretty much come right now. If you’re not willing to pay $XX/hour, I’m not doing work for you.
HIM: Okay, well, let me send you another PDF and we’ll talk about it.
And so it went. Finally, after a series of fruitless emails back and forth, I just called him and said, “look, you’re not willing to pay me what I want, and I’m pretty busy at my new job, so I can’t commit to doing this project. You’re going to have to find someone else.”

And I really thought that was it, that I was done with this guy. Until I got my final check in the mail.

For some reason, the check was short by two days. Honestly, I don’t think he was trying to screw me, I think he is just so disorganized that he didn’t check the dates and screwed it up. So I emailed him, pointed out the error, and he said he’d send out another check for the difference right away.

So when I got that check, I see that now he’s overpaid me by about a hundred bucks. I’m like, are you fucking kidding me? So I email him again, point out this error, and get this message in response.
Your so good. Would you keep the difference and apply it toward freelance writing for the XXX job? I should have revisions in a couple days.
First of all, learn to spell. Second of all, AARGH! So now I’m wondering if he overpaid me on purpose so he could come back later and use it as leverage for future writing. I email the guy back, and say, “Okay, look, I’ll keep this money and do the revisions, but anything over and above I’m going to charge you at a rate of $XX PER HOUR. Is that clear?” He says he understands and will get back to me.

Two months pass.

I haven’t cashed his check, just because everything that was happened before has made me very leery of accepting extra money from this guy. So finally, just a couple of days ago, I get fed up and mail the check back to him, along with a note that says that I won’t be doing any more freelance in the near future, so please take this check back and send me another one for the right amount.

I can’t wait to see what ends up in my mailbox next.


#126 In which our hero quits his job (part IV)

To recap my experience in junk mail: I didn’t like my boss and I didn’t like the work. But I could have honestly gotten past those two things (I have certainly worked for asshats in the past doing jobs I hate) and maybe even really excelled in the direct mail world, except for the biggest hurdle, the one I just could not get past:

Thing #3: Myself

I didn’t want to do it. No matter how hard I tried to motivate myself, I ultimately could not muster much of an interest in the hard core direct mail world. And to really excel in this kind of writing (as in most of any kind of writing) you have to really love it. You have to be all over it, pushing yourself, striving to improve, clawing your way to the top of the heap.

My heart just wasn’t in it.

And to be fair to my boss, I think he really wanted to help me improve in the field. He was forever forwarding DM-related emails to me, and cutting out articles, and bringing in books for me to read.

Many, many books.

My boss had no formal training in writing, and it was clear that everything he knew (or thought he knew) he picked up from the massive DM writing library he had assembled. I gotta give the guy credit, he did due diligence in reading the materials that are out there. And there are NO shortage of books on how to write strong direct mail. Day one he made me buy a book (this one, if you’re interested) and read it cover to cover.

A little aside here: I don’t think you can learn to write from reading books. No more than you can learn to drive from reading Motor Trend. If that were so, my boss would have been a fucking DM genius. No, I think you need to actually write to get it right (ha, ha), preferable under the guidance of a more experienced writer. I had the benefit of being second copywriter to a very smart, very accessible guy in my first real writing job, and it benefited me hugely (thanks, Andy). And that was probably my biggest issue in my relationship with my boss: he wanted to help me, to guide me... but, shit, how seriously can you take the advice of a guy who can’t write a simple letter without it being full of grammatical mistakes and misspellings?

So, anyway, I was obviously resistant to trudging through a library full of books in the hopes that some “nugget of information” (my boss used this term all the time, and it still makes my skin crawl just to type it) would stick in my head. I told him that I didn’t really learn that way (by reading) and that I’d learn better by just doing.

And again, to be fair, his advice was to grab a bunch of the DM samples we had laying around and take them home and rewrite them. This was actually great advice, and it would have been a great way for me to learn.

But, again, my heart wasn’t in it. I suffered through the day doing this stuff I didn’t like for a man I didn’t like, and then he wanted me to take home books to read and finish homework assignments? Fuck that.

Did this make me a bad employee? Yeah, pretty much.

One morning I came in to find that my boss had lined up twenty (20) books on my desk. He wanted me to read them all. The problem (other than my apathy) was that most of them were so old as to be obsolete. My boss even admitted that, picking up a few and saying, “This one probably doesn’t really apply, but you might be able to pick up a few nuggets from it.” Ugh.

Looking back, it’s clear that it was much more me, than him. My boss needed someone excited about DM, someone young and impressionable that would unquestionable do and read what he was told, someone who was invested in the company.

That wasn’t me.

At one point, my boss suggested that instead of reading the newspaper during lunch, I should pick up the phone and start calling people. Who? I asked. Prospects. Leads. People we’ve done business with before. Just get your name out there. Hustle it a bit.

Clearly, he needed a salesman who could write well. I’m no salesman, far from it. I hate that shit. I just wanted to take a quiet lunch, but my boss was the kind of guy who thinks you’re on all the time, 24 hours a day. He would strike up a conversation in the elevator and end up giving the guy his card. Waiting in line for the train, he'd ask random people what they did for a living. These are good salesman tactics, I suppose, but are pure poison to me.

Oh, I should mention that in addition to a salesman, he needed a receptionist as well. He was running a repair business out of the same suite of offices, and all the calls rang through the same phone system. As he was often out of the office doing God-knows-what, and the one tech employed by the repair business was out doing house calls, I was left to answer the phone. And, y’know, I was happy to get a steady paycheck and all, but it chapped my ass more than a little to have some bozo on the phone holler at me because the repairman was late.

But again, I did try. At first. I really tried to motivate myself. Of course, the biggest motivator was money. Not only my salary (which was way shitty, honestly) but the promise of commission.

Now, commission for a copywriter is unheard of. Agencies just don’t work that way. Account people get commission, creatives don’t (I’ve bitched about that here). My boss set it up so that I would get a cut of all the money that was generated by the agency once we hit a certain level. This had the potential to make me a lot of money, and my boss told me that he was confident that he could get me to six figures in three years.

Six figures? I’d never made anything close to that. The prospect was very exciting. So I tried, imaging just what I could do for my family with that kind of money. We could live a very comfortable life without having to worry about money all the time. Private schools for my kids, more horse shows for my wife, bigger and better toys for myself.

(In the seven months I was there, I never made any commission, by the way. The one month in which we did make our nut, some creative bookkeeping on my bosses part kept my commission check at $0. I figure he screwed me out of about $2000.)

I’m not saying I tried as hard as I could, but I tried as hard as my crushing apathy and disinterest allowed. But something happened after I had been there about four months: I got a call from my old boss.

Not the jackass boss of the job that most recently laid me off, but the guy I worked for in the agency that employed me when I first moved to Cleveland. I loved this guy… he was the best boss I’ve ever had in any job. Yeah, he fired me, putting into motion that chain of events that found me worked in a shitty junk mail job, but he didn’t seem like he wanted to at the time, and after three years, all was forgiven.

It wasn’t for a job, he was just looking for some freelance help. As part of the junk mail job I had to sign a non-compete agreement that forbade me from taking any freelance work (which was bullshit in and of itself) but something very important came from that call:

I was out.

Gone. Kaput. At the moment I got a call from someone working in the real advertising industry, I mentally checked out from the DM world once and for all. I was working in this job I didn’t like first and foremost because I couldn’t find a job at a traditional agency. Now that the door to that world seemed to open a crack, I started sprinting to the light as fast as I could.

But no-one was hiring then. But after a total of seven months there, I got another call. A very important call. THE call, you might say. The HR manager of a big agency found my resume on and contacted me, asked if I was interested in coming in for an interview. Needless to say, I was.

I interviewed there three times and after much fretting and nail-biting on my part, I finally got the offer. It was one of the greatest phone calls I’ve ever received.

So ended my long, dark exile in the land of junk mail. I hope to never return.


#125 In which our hero quits his job (part III).

The saga continues.

Thing #2: The Work

Once again, I knew going in that I would be writing junk mail. And I didn’t have a problem with that. Or so I thought.

I have a stock answer anytime someone questions the veracity of an advertising strategy: I’m not a journalist. And I firmly believe that. Journalists are bound to report the facts without embellishment or exaggeration. Advertisers aren’t bound by the same rules. We're allowed, even expected, to twist the facts and present whatever we're selling in the best possible light. If a client’s tire reduces road noise by 46%, I’ll write, “Reduces road noise by nearly 50%!” While I’ve never (knowingly) written a complete fabrication in my advertising copy, I’ve sure come close. And that’s okay. That’s the business.

See, all advertisers are liars. Bar none. The only difference is in the magnitude of the lie. Look at 7-Up’s new positioning: “Now 100% Natural.” That sounds great until you read the side of the can and discover that the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. Sure, HFCS comes from a natural ingredient (corn) but it’s one of the most highly-processed ingredients in food today, and has been linked to diabetes, childhood obesity and other non-desirable conditions. Or look at Nike: they’re telling you (albeit in a subtle manner) that if you wear their sneakers you’ll be a better athlete. Viking wants you to think that you’ll be a better cook if you use their ranges. Small lies, maybe, but still lies.

So I jumped in with nary a care about what BS I’d be asked to shovel to an unsuspecting public. But there was only one problem. There was no BS to shovel.

See, my boss had only started this copywriting company a couple years pervious with one experienced DM writer. This guy left to do his own thing and my boss waited several months before he hired a new writer (me). During this time his client base had pretty much dried up.

But, as the weeks turned into months the work picked up (slightly) and I finally got my hands wet. And while I did some decent work there (I think one of the pieces even found its way into my portfolio) most of it was stuff I wasn’t exactly proud of.

We had one client who seemed to traffic exclusively in products to help guys get laid. Dating manuals, hypnotism, tapes, pheromones. His only direction to me was that the stuff “has to be sexy!!!” Round after round of revisions would come back with, “Not sexy enough!!” At one point, he sent me an email that said, “The reader should be able to move from one sexy paragraph to another like they are greased!!”

Like they are greased.

But, it was the job and I wrote it, y’know? What was I going to do? And here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with marketing to dumb people. If you really think this pheromone-infused cologne is going to make women flock to you, then maybe you deserve to be parted with your $12. Or better yet, maybe using this stuff will give you the self-confidence to actually speak to a woman, and you can give all the credit to “SexSmell 5000” (not the real product name -- the real name was worse).

So I wrote crap like that, and it was fine. I mostly laughed at the offers, took a shower to wash off the slime at night and slept just fine. Until I got the job for a “sweepstakes report.”

If you’re not familiar (and why the hell would you be?) a sweepstakes report is a listing of a bunch of second chance/no purchase necessary contests you can enter. The idea is that you could search the newspapers/stores/Internet for all these contests yourself, or you could pay a guy $20 (or whatever) and he’d send you a list of the big ones so you could enter at your leisure. So far, so good.

But the problem was that our particular guy didn’t present himself as a convenient service provider; he positioned his mailings like you were actually entering a big-money sweepstakes. On the front of the letter in giant letters it said, “You Can Win $1.5 Million in Cash & Prizes!” All you need to do is send in your $20 and your “$1.5 Million Cash Report” would be sent out -- guaranteed! And here's where I have a problem.

If you didn’t read the fine print carefully… hell, even if you did read it carefully, it was so convoluted and deceptive that it would be very hard to suss out what you were really buying for your twenty bucks. And it was written this way for a reason: to trick you.

Now, you might say that the other junk mail I wrote was the same sort of thing, but I argue that it was different. If you sent away for the miracle weight loss scale, you really got a scale in the mail. Was it worth $50? Fuck no -- it was worth $5 and the guy selling it made $30 profit after postage and shipping. But the point is you really got a scale.

The sweepstakes report is different. See, they get the $1.5MM payout amount by combining all the grand prizes of the listed contests. So, if you entered EVERY contest listed, and won the GRAND PRIZE of every contest listed, you’d pocket the $1.9MM. I don’t have to tell you that the odds of that actually happening were as slim as me making a career out of writing shit like this.

That was the one job that really made me stop and say, “Ah man, this is shitty. All of this… really, really shitty.”

When I told my boss how terrible I thought the piece was, he replied, “Well, it must work!”

Which was the final straw to prompt me to say, “You know what doesn’t work? Me, here any more.”

To be concluded.



I'm currently working on transfering all my posts from the old version to this new template. Past entries may be a little... odd... until that's finished.


Couple of words/phrases that I’ve heard in the last couple of days that make my skin crawl a bit.

As in, “I totally heart this new wallpaper!” Get it? Like it was a little heart icon, but you actually say “heart” out loud when you read it? Ugh. But I do enjoy this.

Moving forward
I don’t know if this phrase lives outside of the advertising industry, but it sounds so BS-business-speaky that I have to guess it does. The reason I hate it so much is that I’ve only ever heard it used to dismiss the point someone (usually me) was just making.

CLIENT: We don’t want to use the low price message in this piece.
COPYWRITER: You told me to use the low price message.
CLIENT: Um hmm. Well, moving forward, we don’t want to use the low price messaging.

God help me, I just used this phrase in a meeting yesterday. And it was totally to dismiss a point the client was trying to make.

I’ve hated this word for some time, without any good reason other than I don’t like the sound of it. Blog. It’s just an ugly sounding word, the sound you might make if your drunken burp was on the verge of turning into puke. However, I find myself softening in my hated lately. When I refer to this website I find myself saying, “My website,” or “my online journal,” or some other equally awkward phrase that is clearly just me dancing around the word “blog.” The rest of the world has accepted it, perhaps it’s time I do, too.

#124 In which our hero quits his job (part II)

I went into this job with my eyes open, so I can’t say that I didn’t know what I was getting into. It was what my new boss called “hard core direct mail.” I had written plenty of letter packages and the like before, but I hadn’t really written this kind of mail before. But, as an experienced writer (I have been doing this for a living for nearly 10 years now) I had the attitude that I could write anything… but, honestly, writing junk mail is hard. Harder than you’d think… certainly harder than I thought.

I quickly discovered that the world of junk mail is completely different than the agency world I’d worked in before. For one thing, the copywriter is completely in the spotlight. Understand that in a typical advertising agency, clients are really only interested in how the final product looks, with emphasis on looks. The design is all-important, and copywriters often get short shrift. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “You need to edit this copy down to fit the design.” The one time I told a boss that he should make the images smaller to accommodate my copy, I got a look like I had just laid a turd on his desk.

But in the junk mail world, copywriters are like rock stars! It’s really pretty crazy. From the beginning I heard tales of how the top copywriters in the industry charge $20,000+ for a single letter -- and that clients happily pay because their letters work so well. No one would even suggest that copy should be trimmed to fit the design… in this world, the words are so amazingly powerful that all you need to do is stand back and let them wash over the prospects, and then smile when the cash comes rolling in. In a way, it seemed like the dream job for a copywriter. I would get to be the star of the show for a change! And even though I wasn’t very keen on working in junk mail, for the first month or so I really jumped in, pushed my reservations aside and told myself that I could make a go of this. Hell, I wanted to be a rock star!

Little did I know at the time that I had three big things working against me.

Thing #1: My Boss

I didn’t click with the guy in the interview, so it’s not surprising that I never clicked with him in the seven months I worked there. He is an entrepreneur, and only now do I really understand what that means. It means that he had four businesses running out of his shitty suite of rented offices, and who knows how many deals on the side. His focus was never really on any one of them. Add to that the fact that he was a didactic, egotistical douchebag, and it’s not a recipe for success.

Now, I have to take some of the blame, because I didn’t really represent myself honestly when I interviewed. Here’s the thing: I am the mutherfucking king of interviews. Maybe it’s because I’ve had so many of them in the latter part of my life, but I rarely walk away thinking, “that sucked.” I can read my audience well, and I present myself as they want to see me. So, once he identified himself as an entrepreneur, I played up the fact that I was tired of being laid off every couple of years (which was completely true) and that I was looking for a new opportunity in which I could have more control of my own destiny (which was mostly true) and I played up my past experience with direct mail and highlighted my desire to learn from his experience so I could conquer this new writing arena (which was complete bullshit).

But, he wasn’t completely honest with me, either. He told me going in that he had four copywriters working for him, when in fact the entire company was him and me. Now, he did have a couple of freelancers that he used, but they were all out of state and their contributions were uneven, to say the least.

The thing that really boggled my mind was that this guy couldn’t write. He more than once said, “If I had the time to really invest in writing, I could easily become a top-rated copywriter,” which was complete and utter crap. This guy could hardly put a sentence together. I was forever proofing and editing his letter and contracts. He saw no difference between “your” and “you’re” or "to" and "too" (and if you don’t see the differences either, please, for the love of God, look it up before you send one more email).

To be fair, the guy did have a good eye for direct mail. He was completely dogmatic about the core tenets of strong junk mail writing (i.e., people buy because of benefits, not features) and I did learn from him.

But the learning process would have gone much easier if he wasn’t so fucking condescending. He dismissed out of hand my 10 years of writing experience (“That’s agency experience, not direct mail experience.”) as if there was absolutely no cross-over between the two. And yeah, there’s more than a little bit of pride getting in the way there, but fuck, man, a properly constructed sentence is a properly constructed sentence. A typical exchange would go something like this:
BOSS: You need to stress more of the benefits in the opening paragraph.
ME: Yeah, I was thinking that I could feature --
BOSS: Craig, Craig. You need to stress. More of. The benefits.
Imagine him addressing a 5-year-old and you’ll get the tone of his voice. Needless to say, that shit drove me crazy. And it’s not even like he was wrong (he wasn’t, I was) it was just the way he talked to me.

And he loved to talk in declarative sentences. Such as:
BOSS: Yellow envelopes get a better open rate.
ME: Really? How do you know that?
BOSS: Craig. Yellow envelopes get a better open rate.
Where what he was really saying was, “In my opinion, I think yellow envelopes get better open rates.” Or, more often, “What I am saying right now with complete conviction is something that I stumbled across on the Internet and have latched upon like it was engraved on a big-ass stone tablet and I am going to flog it as unobjectionable fact regardless of any information you present that might contradict it.”

Finally, he was just about the most unorganized man I’ve ever met. His desk was a minefield of random detritus ranging from business cards to copious notes scribbled on whatever was handy. I am frankly amazed that the man could keep four businesses running at once given the chaos of his mind.

But in the final calculation, was he a bad boss? No, not really. I think he was fair for the most part, and I think he honestly was trying to make me a better junk mail writer. But there’s no doubt that he was a bad boss for me. Or maybe that I was a bad employee for him. He needed a young, impressionable writer who was anxious to absorb every pearl of wisdom that dropped from his befuddled ramblings; someone who really wanted to own part of that business and make a name for himself in the junk mail world. He needed a wannabe rock star.

So my boss was one of the things that kept me from really excelling at his agency. But he was nothing compared to the other two things.

To be continued.


#123 In which our hero quits his job (part I)

It seems that the one great Internet truism is that you shouldn’t write about your work or your co-workers behind their backs. I’ve been rather cavalier about this in the past; and while I’ve never been fired from a job because of it (unlike some other Internet superstars) I’ve still decided that it only makes good sense to keep my fat mouth shut about people I’m currently working for or with.


Once I’m no longer working for or with said people, I think the gloves are pretty much off, and I can say whatever the hell I want. And so I segue into the most desperate and depressing seven months of my career.

Now, all four of you who read this know that I’m a copywriter by trade. If you’ve forgotten what exactly that is over the past two months: basically, I write the words you see in print advertisements and/or brochures, posters, et. al., or hear on radio commercials (and potentially, TV, even though I’ve never had any TV produced). It’s a great job, and pretty much I’ve always wanted to be a copywriter since I knew what a copywriter was.

In 2005 I found myself fired from my third agency in five years (it’s not me, I swear… my biggest sin is that I was the last one hired, making me the perfect candidate to be the first one fired). This last lay-off made both The Scientist and I pretty desperate, because we had literally just had our second child weeks before and we were heading into the heart of winter, which meant stupidly high gas bills. The fact that I had only been at this last agency for two months (okay, this one was me) only added to the stress.

So, I did the unthinkable: I picked up the phone and called someone I didn’t want to work for.

Some background: I had received a call out of the blue a couple of years ago from this guy who ran a small agency. He had found my resume on Even though I was reasonable happy where I was, I’ve almost never turned down the opportunity to explore a new (and potentially higher-paying) job. Plus, it was to be a lunch meeting, and I’m a huge slut for a free meal.

So I go and it quickly becomes clear why the guy was so reluctant to talk about his clients on the phone: his was a hard-core direct mail shop. Now, I’ve written plenty of direct mail, and I don’t have a hang-up about it at all. It’s a completely sound marketing strategy and, despite popular opinion, can be extremely effective. But this guy didn’t do direct mail.

He did junk mail.

Unapologetic, unabashed junk mail. I’m talking the lowest common denominator shit that appears in your mail, the stuff you toss immediately. The type of mail that makes you wish there was a “do not mail” list. Vitamins, herbal sexual enhancers, sweepstakes. Complete garbage.

Now, I could go on and explain that this sort of mail works, if it didn’t the companies wouldn’t keep doing it. But you have to understand that it works because they mail out millions of pieces of mail, and hope for a 2% response rate. This allows them to break even, and fuels more mailings. So, yeah, the crap works, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to write it.

So I high-tailed it out of that lunch meeting and told the guy I wasn’t interested. That is, until two years later when I was again out of work and had zero prospects.

So I made the call.

We met, talked, and I went to work for him three days later.

To be continued.


#122: In which our hero returns triumphant.


Jeez, has it really been two months since I posted? Time flies. And my-oh-my so much has happened in those two months! Quitting a job! Getting a new job! A death in the family! Heavy machinery in the yard! Thrills! Chills! Narrow escapes!

Oh, and did you know there are like, tools, that you can use to make updating your website not a complete pain in the ass? And that you can get these tools for free?

So The Scientist decided that she wanted a blog, and instead of going through a bunch of fuss, she set one up with Blogger. And once I saw how easy it was (she set the damn thing up in 10 minutes, and was posting seconds later) I thought, "son of a bitch."

This is usually how it goes. I got through all the rigmarole and my wife later points out how I could have saved 12 steps by doing it some other way.

But, I always wanted my own URL, and that's why I went to the fuss of registering But, after poking around Blogger, I discovered that you can publish to your own server. After I read that, I was sold.

So, yeah, Blogger. Gives me everything I want: comments, simple archiving, and the ability to post quickly and easily. I've only been here for three days, but so far it seems to completely be the awesome.

Lots to tell. More soon.