Author, advertising and
publishing consultant, former
editor of Chicago and other
magazines, former creative
director of Campbell-Ewald and
other advertising agencies. For
more information, click here. Or
see Who's Who in America or
Consulting editor, historian, poet
and author of several books. For
more information, click here or
BLOGS and GLOBS: I have
been writing a blog since 1966,
only I didn't know it. In those
days, it came out in the form of a
newsletter on paper. Remember
paper? It never got lost in
cyberspace, although if it got wet
enough blog turned into glob. I
called it The Uncommentator,
and tried to make it amusing. To
read some of my favorites, see
Recent Books by the Frisbies.
A PSYCHOTIC BEAVER STRIKES BACK
The Boy Scouts recently published a revised handbook featuring a "new environmentally gentle approach to camping."
I guess that means they're no longer promoting the official Boy Scout hatchet, with the nifty holster you could strap to your belt. When I was a Boy Scout, every kid yearned for one. Naturally, as soon as we got one we wanted to chop something. That led to confrontations with adult authority. Even in that less environmentally sensitive era, leaders shrank from the spectacle of a horde of boys swarming into the woods like psychotic beavers looking for something -- anything -- to chop on.
I don't think leaders had that problem with Girl Scouts back then. Maybe they do now.
Actually, a short-handled hatchet is a rather limited tool. A saw or a wedge is much more useful for cutting firewood. If you need to chop down standing timber, you need a long-handled, full-sized axe. About all a hatchet is good for is trimming branches. Even so, I still have mine somewhere, out of sentiment, I suppose.
Part of the romance of the official Boy Scout hatchet came from the illustrations in Scouting publications. Many were drawn by an elderly Scouter named Dan Beard, who apparently grew up on the frontier where it was considered something of a public service if you felled an acre of saplings to arrange a comfortable camp for the night.
His drawings showed the details of making lean-tos, bridges, corrals and other structures by tying small logs together with cord. Everything was over-engineered. If a one-inch branch might do, Beard made it two or three inches in diameter in case you had to fence out bears. Implicit was a message to generations of boys destined for the business jungle: if something is worth doing, it may be worth overdoing.
The advertising jungle, for example. The advertising trade press reports there's a shortage of top-of-the-line creative directors. One reason given is that agencies stopped developing new creative leaders during the 1980s.
Industry observers said marketing and financial gurus from the business schools who could massage the bottom line and manipulate the agency's stock were in command instead of people who could sit down with blank paper and create an ad.
Looking back on my own big-agency days, I have the impression not much has changed.True, in recent years agencies have squandered their energies buying or selling each other or avoiding being bought. But it was always hard for the creatives to prevail when the arguments broke out, as Studs Terkel once put it, about which direction the little bears should run around the cereal box.
Former Boy Scouts know about bears in the real world. They don't run around a box. They just eat it, maybe along with part of your tent.
The head of an executive recruitment firm suggested that the big agencies hunting for top creative talent might want to talk to former stars who have left the big time to start their own agencies. "It's tough out there. They might want to come back," he said.
That comment started me thinking about what I miss from the old days. After nearly 25 years on my own, I can't imagine going back to work for a big advertising agency. But, just for argument's sake, I tried to get up a list of advantages.
I remember that it was nice to have a separate department to fight with the media. The big agency media and space/time reps are always wallowing together anyway in champagne and lobster. Let them work out problems like the insertion orders and ad film the media are always losing in their own offices. I'd just as soon not have to hear about it.
Also, it was fun now and then -- on sufficiently rare occasions -- when a client asked for a big job in a hurry NO MATTER WHAT THE COST. A Dan Beard kind of budget.
It was exhilarating to assemble high-powered photographers and models, book recording studios for the day, arrange for printers to put on an extra shift and give orders like a military commander storming the ramparts.
But, on balance, I definitely do not miss the stress of having to avoid screw-ups under this kind of pressure.
One New York creative director, who's not interested in changing jobs right now, told Advertising Age, "They pay a lot of money -- $600,000, $700,000, $800,000 -- but you earn your money. The higher it is, the more you have to sell your soul."
Once, around the campfire, we read Steven Vincent Benet's story of "The Devil and Daniel Webster." A witness happened to see the soul of a miser named Stevens just after the Devil collected it. Stevens' soul was about the size of a moth. Presumably, the larger the payoff the smaller the soul.
For $800,000 it probably comes down to about the size of a mosquito. Former Boy Scouts know all about mosquitoes.
What I do miss, really, really miss, is not having a full-time secretary to screen my telephone calls.
I could do it electronically, but no machine can tell the difference between a client and a criminal. I get calls almost daily from escaped lunatics who labor under the delusion that it is possible to get me to send them money because of something they say on the phone. If it's not Boesky & Milken selling investments, it's Prestone Imports offering wine by the case. If I could only reach them with my hatchet. At last, a practical and no doubt socially acceptable use for it has come along.
Richard Frisbie 1990