Can you tell me a little about your background?
In a nutshell: I graduated from the University of Texas, where I had a double major in English and History. I worked for a newspaper for a short time, then did a stint with the Peace Corps in Morocco. Upon my return, I started my career in advertising. I held positions as copywriter, ACD and Creative Director at four agencies, where my accounts included Pepsi, Frito-Lay and many others. After that I freelanced for a couple of years, working with about 30 advertising and design firms. I started my own agency and grew it to a staff of 25. After 12 years, I sold out to my business partner to return doing what I enjoy most: freelance writing, concept, and creative direction.
What types of clients have you worked with?
I’ve worked with tons of clients over the past 20 years, and I feel comfortable working with about 70% of the industries out there. My higher profile clients have included Pepsi, Frito-Lay, Hilton, Texas Instruments, EDS, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Nokia, Lipton and several other Fortune 500 companies. I’ve also worked with a couple hundred mid-tier, regional, niche and start-up firms. You’ll find a more comprehensive listing if you scroll down to the bottom of this page.
What type of assignments can I tap you for?
As an extremely well rounded writer, I can work in most media. My clients tend to fall into two categories:
1) Agencies that need a writer who can provide good, solid campaign or ad concepts, and
2) agencies that need a writer who can integrate the “whole ball of wax” for clients who might need everything from brand messaging, to print, to web, to direct mail, to sales collateral, to video, to blogs, to social and so on.
Basically, I can write just about anything that comes along. But I really shine in those two areas: Campaign / ad concepts, and making all the communications of mid-tier companies work together.
A few other areas where I’m particularly strong: I’m very good at helping technology-related companies translate their messages into business propositions, and telling their stories in clear, concise language. B2B clients like my ability to hone in on their message. Also, I have a solid background in healthcare, promotions, finance, and a few other areas. You’ll see them if you scroll down.
Oh. I don’t do jingles.
How are your rates structured?
The vast majority of my jobs are bid on a project basis.
In most cases, my clients have a budget in mind and they simply call me to see if I can deliver the project within that range. Having owned a shop, I really like to try to ensure that my clients have a decent profit margin on any work they send my way. So give me a budget, and let’s see what we can do.
When you don’t have a budget, I submit estimates based on the scope of the job.
My rates are fairly competitive when you consider the quality of my work, and I always stay within budget. If the scope of a project changes after it gets started, I will let you know at that moment whether or not the budget will be impacted. When you work with me, there are never any billing surprises.
Are you available to work on site in my firm, with my staff?
Maybe you’re short a writer. Maybe you need a few weeks to find a new creative director. Or maybe you’ve just gotten so much work that it’s causing bottlenecks and busting morale. If this is the case, I can be retained to work onsite. For a busy shop, this can pose considerable savings, as I’ll work on whatever projects you have for one blanket fee. If you’re searching for a new employee, this will enable you to take your time until you find a perfect candidate.
When you hire me in this capacity, you can also tap me for ideas in a couple of other areas in which I excelled when I owned my own shop. Namely: Setting up a new business program, agency self-promotion, and developing a new client prospect list.
Engagements of this nature require a one-week minimum stay. You can book me based on a 4-hour or 8-hour workday.
If you’d like to discuss such an arrangement, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 214-597-0980.
Take a minute and tell me about the bottom-line results you’ve gotten for clients.
Okay, start the stopwatch: I helped an electronics manufacturer generate 30,000 website hits from a single ad. Increased vending machine sales for Lipton by 50-100% in participating markets in a single quarter. Helped Pepsi launch some of its most successful sales incentive programs ever. Created a direct mail initiative for EDS that got a 43% response rate. Helped Nokia increase sales in three key retail accounts by 400% in one year. In 90 days, led one of the country’s biggest BMW dealerships to its highest netting quarter in 30 years. Increased lead generation for a division of Texas Instruments by 300%, and wrote annual reports for companies that were instrumental in driving their share prices up 50 – 200% within three months of release. Created a campaign for the American Cancer Society that increased their media donations by 800% over the previous year. I’ve helped rebrand a couple dozen companies and products, and launched a dozen more.
I could go on. But a minute’s up.
Tell me a few good things about working with you.
I bring four things to the table that my clients seem to like:
• I consistently deliver good, solid work that is on time, on budget and on message.
• I have no “prima dona” tendencies. My attitude is professional, down to earth, and very easy to work with.
• I have a good business sense. Creatives like me for my headlines and concepts, and clients like me because I understand their business and communicate the precise points they’re trying to convey.
• As a former owner of an advertising and design firm, I’m a resource you can tap for bouncing around ideas in other areas. My strengths as an owner were setting up a new business system, agency self-promotion, and raising the quality of the shop’s creative work. Firms that bring me in for on-site engagements can benefit from my experience in these areas.
Can I get some samples of your longer stuff?
Sure. Just email me and ask for a copy of one of my advertising white papers. Or, if you have a specific client or project in mind, give me a few details and I’ll try to send you something that is relevant to them.
Enough about business for now. Have you seen any good movies lately?
I don't go out to see as many mainstream movies as I used to. Lately, I'm more apt to binge watch TV series like "Ray Donovan," "First Person," "Fargo," "Coupling" or "Miranda." I also like going back and finding obscure films and documentaries like "Grizzly Man," "In The Realms Of The Unreal," and "Wisconsin Death Trip.” By the way, the DVD of “Grizzly Man” has a short film in its 'Special Features' section that is better than the movie itself. My all-time favorite movies include "Once Upon A Time In The West," “Cinema Paradiso,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “The Unforgiven.” If you like unusual films that are outside of the mainstream, I would suggest “The American Astronaut,” “Osama” (which, surprisingly, in not about Bin Laden), “The Thin Blue Line” (not to be confused with The Thin Red Line), “Salaam Bombay,” “Project Grizzly” (not to be confused with “Grizzly Man”) and “Life Is Sweet.” If you like Vincent Van Gogh, I recommend that you check out “Vincent and Theo” and “Lust for Life” and watch them on the same weekend. If you’re an art director, check out “The Night of the Hunter” with Robert Mitchum, just for the extremely cool cinematography. Also, check out a little gem from 1955 entitled “Dementia.” For a quick smile, try W.C. Fields’ “The Bank Dick.” And for something completely different, try to track down a 7-part BBC miniseries called “The Singing Detective.” Do NOT confuse it with the Robert Downey movie of the same name.
If you have any good movies you’d like to recommend, please send them my way. I’m running out of titles.
Thanks for the movies. Can you recommend any books while you’re at it?
I hate to admit it, but I just don’t read as much as I’d like to. Things have just gotten too busy, and I’m also hooked on movies. Plus I spend way too much time on the internet. I’m lucky if I can get through a few books a month these days.
That being said, after acquiring Hop on Pop at age 3, I went on to read about a gazillion things. You can’t go wrong with the following authors: Paul Bowles, Raymond Carver, Vladamir Nabakov. Elias Canetti and Dashell Hammett. Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald are still good after 70 years, and Poe is still good after 170. If you want a good funny read, I’d go with “Choke” by Chuck Palahniuk. For an action-packed page-turner, I think “Lonesome Dove” is one of the best novels of the past 50 years. I’m re-reading “Roughing It” by Mark Twain right now. It rocks.
Where are you going on vacation this year?
I’ve not taken a real two-week vacation in about 8 years. They wear me down and I return more tired than when I left. Maybe I just don’t understand what you’re supposed to do on vacation, because I always come back exhausted. So I take about 4 long weekends a year instead. It’s easier that way. This year, it looks like I’ll probably head for New York, Boston, and maybe a hike in the Grand Canyon. Or Paris. I can’t decide. I may go back to Quebec City, which is like visiting France, only with a shorter flight. I don’t like flying anymore. Don’t get me started on this.
What’s for dinner?
I’m looking at salmon today. With green beans. As God is my witness, I will be back to size 34 jeans by year’s end.
What’s hanging on your wall?
I have a handful of old advertising posters, my favorite one being a large 1915 poster for Le Nil cigarette papers that features a huge white elephant. Also, there are some primitive Egyptian tapestries that were made for the tourist trade in the 1920’s. There’s a primitive oil painting entitled “Pineapple Sam.” There’s a ceremonial rifle from Morocco (doesn’t work, but looks impressive), as well as a couple of pencil drawings by a local artist. I also have a large poster of “Marquis, the 20th Century Magician.” There’s also an old metal sign for Kist Root Beer. Next to is an old bottle of “Pop Cola.” Pop Cola was marketed with the tagline, “It’s Real Nice,” which just may be the most flexible tagline ever written. You could tack it onto any product and it works. Microsoft — it’s real nice. McDonald’s — it’s real nice. iPod — it’s real nice. “It’s real nice” would probably be the greatest tagline ever written if it weren’t for the fact that it’s pretty bad.
What’s the oldest thing in your fridge?
A jar of jalapeno peach preserves. What was I thinking? Oh, wait, now I remember — I wasn’t. But it does have a silhouette of a cowboy on the label, which counts for something. Anyway, you can have it if you want it. Otherwise, it’s going out.
Do you have any really stupid stories about your childhood?
Plenty. In fact, most of my childhood memories are stupid, at least on some level. Here’s one:
My mother was ill on the day that I was supposed to start first grade, so she told my sister to enroll me in class. My sister was no stickler for paperwork, so she just dropped me off at the classroom. As it happened, all the chairs in the first grade room were taken, so I decided to look around the school for a vacant desk.
I finally found one down the hall in a fourth grade classroom, so I decided to sit there. And I stayed. For, oh, about 8 weeks.
Mind you, I had gotten really good grades the previous year, but it soon became apparent that kindergarten had left me ill-prepared for fourth grade. I remember when the teacher started writing cursive on the board. I didn’t swear as a child, but what went through my mind was a six-year-old’s equivalent of “Seriously, what the f**k is that?” Luckily, a kid name Billy Camel took it upon himself to give me some pointers, and within six weeks I was reading and writing cursive well enough to eek out a long string of C’s. Billy became my closest friend in that class. Looking back, I now realize that he probably just came to the conclusion that I was a “special needs” child and felt sorry for me.
It all ended one day when I walked up to Mrs. White’s desk (which happened to be the exact same height as me). She looked down at me and asked me how old I was. I still remember the sound of her stifled laughter as she walked me down the hall. I’m pretty sure I must’ve been the talk of the teacher’s smoking lounge for at least two weeks after that. But at the time, I didn’t care. Life was good in the new room, for it was there that I met Ms. Duford, the first great unrequited love of my life. But that’s another story, one that is best told offline and over a beer.
Who’s in your CD player right now?
I’ve got one of those six-disc players. Right now, there’s Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Chet Baker. There’s also a compilation of current artists that a client used as an agency promo, and a CD by German flamenco guitarist Ottmar Leibert. The sound track to “The Deerhunter” is in there, too. It only has three good songs, but there’s also a 60 second clip of an Apache helicopter with machine guns firing, which is fun to play in traffic.
Do you collect anything?
I have a collection of silkscreen posters, mostly of fringe rock groups of the 80’s and 90’s, as well as a few dozen posters from Hatch Show Prints. I’ve also accumulated a collection of about 30 walking sticks. I don’t know why. For some reason, I went through a 5-year stretch where I kept running into really cheap walking sticks at flea markets and yard sales. I never set out to collect them; it was more like, “Hey, a cool walking stick for two dollars. How the heck can you pass that up?” Anyway, after I got about 15 of them, other people started buying them for me for Christmas and birthdays. So now I have like thirty of them. I hope I never actually have to use one.
Do you ever experience déjà vu — the feeling that you have lived this moment before?
As a matter of fact, it hits me about every other month. For a while, I thought this feeling was some sort of clue that life might be a cyclical loop, or maybe that things are predetermined by fate or destiny or some other external force. Later I heard that deja vu is the result of the brain recalling something about a billionth of a second after it happens. This sounds like a plausible explanation, but I’m still not discounting destiny.
What’s the best thing about the Internet?
The internet has done a lot of things, both good and bad. One wonderful thing you never hear anybody talk about is the fact that it has made the family vacation slide show obsolete.
That’s really important to me, because I come from a family of seven kids and we all travel. Thanks to modern technology, my relatives will never, ever prepare another 3-hour slide show of Universal Studios, or any other place for that matter. Instead, they’ll build a website and send me a link. Then I’ll wait a day or so and send them back a quick note saying how much I enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong; I love my brothers and sisters. But, I’m just sayin’…
Which is better: Pie or cake?
You know, I’ve thought long and hard about this and I still don’t think I’ve resolved the issue conclusively. Some people would say that it’s like comparing apples and oranges but it isn’t, because apples are like fifty thousand times better than oranges. With pies and cakes, though, there are just too many variables to factor into the equation. It’s just too close to call. If you were to press me for an answer right now, I’d say pie. But that’s only for this moment. My answer might be different tomorrow.
Who was your favorite Super Hero?
I had two favorites when I was a kid. I liked Spiderman for the artwork and the storyline, and I liked Thor because he was the easiest to mimic. All the other super heroes did things like fly above cities and burst into flames, but Thor basically went out and threw a hammer at bad guys. While other kids were running around pretending to fly and bend steel, I could actually go outside and throw a real hammer at things. Granted, Thor’s hammer was magic and returned to him all by itself, but I was willing to overlook this minor difference.
What is the secret to winning big in Vegas?
Glad you asked. I’m pretty sure that I have found the secret to breaking the casino. I have tested it out on a small scale, and it worked as planned 4 out of 5 times. If you want all the details, shoot me an email. The short version: All you have to do is walk up to the craps table and play “Don’t Pass.” Each time you lose, increase your bet. Each time you win, decrease it. Keep playing until you double your money. Then, take your winnings and lose every bit of it on blackjack. This last step is optional. Otherwise, the system seems to work like a charm.
Speaking of Vegas, are there any cool things to do there other than go to casinos?
There’s one thing I’m going to try on my next visit: there’s a room where you can go and fly around for a while.
Technically, it’s a skydiving training school. Their facility contains a room with a metal grid floor, beneath which is some sort of turbine engine that is pointed straight up. The engine is powerful enough to blast you into the air. I think you pay sixty bucks or so, put on the helmet, and just sort of fly around the room for about five minutes. Let me know if you’re going to be in Vegas and we’ll check it out.
Ever notice that Coke doesn’t taste as good as when you were 5 years old?
Yep. It’s due to two factors. First, the introduction of “New Coke” was one big giant hokey-doke perpetrated by Coca-Cola. They needed a smoke screen that would allow them to switch from cane sugar to high-fructose corn syrup and that was their solution. So when they “gave in to popular demand” and brought back “Classic Coke,” it wasn’t the same thing. Some people viewed changing the formula for Coke as sacrilege, but not me. I’m a Pepsi man.
But the real travesty goes back even farther than that, when plastic liter bottles surfaced. They couldn’t handle the high levels of carbonation that most soft drinks had. If your mom was coming home from the grocery store and she stepped on the brakes too fast, the plastic bottles would fall onto the floorboards and explode, drenching the interior of her Ford Country Squire with sticky, caramel-colored sugar water. So, instead of ditching the crappy plastic bottle, Coke (and all the others) lowered the carbonation of their drinks and ruined their products.
It makes me sad to think that kids today do not know what it's like to have soda pop shoot out their nostrils on a regular basis. To be honest, the old carbonation was so high that sometimes the glass bottles blew up, too. I had a friend whose mom had the back windshield blown out of her VW Rabbit by a case of Dr Pepper while driving over a bumpy road. That’s pretty cool. I don’t mean to make light of the potential hazard, but nobody was hurt, and after all it was only a VW Rabbit.
Where can I see a Moonbow?
If you’ve got your heart set on it, there are only two places in the world where you can see a rainbow at night, or a “moonbow” as it is properly called. Cumberland Falls, Kentucky or Victoria Falls, Zambia. For most of my clients, Kentucky is a lot closer. Ground transportation is about the same in both locations, I think.
If you encounter a bear, what should you do?
Hey. I’ve had four bear encounters and I really need to clear the air on this one. There’s a book called “Worst Case Scenario” that says that if you encounter a bear, you should lie face down and play dead.
To me, this sounds like bad advice. True, if you do this with a grizzly, he might ignore you. Then again, he might simply maul you for a little while, as grizzlies are territorial and like to poke around at whatever is on their turf.
However, if you encounter a black bear, it is my belief that lying still is a bad idea. Black bears are not as territorial. If one is messing with you at all, it’s probably because he wants to eat you. So if you lie down, it’s like saying, “Hey, help yourself.”
My advice is to stay in the car and keep driving, or maybe pick a vacation spot that doesn’t have many bears. But if you do encounter one, I say quietly walk away and hope that the bear loses interest. Also, if you do go camping in bear country, always take a friend. That way, you don’t have to outrun the bear; you just have to outrun your friend. Incidentally, that piece of advice works in so many situations that it’s not even funny.
What’s the oddest thing in your desk drawer?
There’s an old campaign button that says “Nixon. Now More Than Ever.” It’s unclear how it got there. I’m waiting for just the right moment to put it to use.
If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
I really don’t like questions like this, but I have to go with hickory. And please, don’t ask me what kind of animal I would be. I’m very serious about this.
Do you know any dirty little corporate secrets you’d like to share with us?
Here’s one that will make you angry.
Have you ever had to sit in a packed airplane on the tarmac for an hour or so? You probably have, but you probably don’t know why. I have it from a very reliable source that the people who keep track of official “On-Time Departures” base their figures NOT on when a plane leaves the ground, but when it leaves the gate.
So, if it looks like there is going to be a backlog due to weather or something, the airlines will board you onto the plane anyway, and make you wait on the tarmac instead of inside the airport. In return, the airline gets to log it as an “On Time Departure” even though the plane takes off late.
What’s your favorite element on the periodic table?
My sentimental favorite would have to be carbon. But if you’re just going by how cool the name is, I’d go with Einsteinium. I don’t know exactly what it
is, but I’d like to have a keychain made out of it.
For a while, scientists were allowed to give really cool names to elements, like Protactinium and Nobelium. But lately the names have gotten pretty lame, with additions like Ununtrium, Ununquatrium, and Ununpentium.
What is the oddest thing on the Internet?
The Woodcutter. Without a doubt, it’s The Woodcutter. I’m not going to post a link here, because I think simply viewing it will erode a person’s IQ by about 5 points. It’s sort of like that movie “The Ring,” only after watching it you don’t die, you just get dumber. At least, I know I feel stupider for having gone there. If you really want to see it you can Google it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
When you’re at Starbucks, do you ever eavesdrop?
You have to. It’s not like you have a choice. So, since it’s going to happen anyway, I set out and do it purposely. Every now and then, I’ll jot down a line. Here are a few from the past couple of days:
“I TOLD him not to move that bud vase.”
“Like I don’t know how to tell if a f**king avocado is ripe or not.”
“It’s not a nursing home; it’s an assisted living retirement apartment community.”
“You know, he COULD have told you that before he moved in.”
“I’m driving up, but I’ll be flying back.”
Are there things that just out-and-out baffle you?
Yes, there are a couple of things in quantum physics that I have a hard time grasping. For example, there are some subatomic particles that, as far as we can tell, really have found a way to be in two places at the same time. Now, I don’t really care about subatomic particles. But when you start messing around with our basic assumptions of time and space, well, nothing good can come of that. And whatever you do, don’t tell any AEs that it is possible for things to be in two places at once.
Here’s another one: Because space is curved and the universe is expanding, it is possible for another planet to be moving both toward us and away from us simultaneously. How does that work? Don’t ask me. It’s sort of like the way Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elvis keep getting both better and worse the more you listen to them. Nobody knows how that happens, but it does.
Name 3 examples of pop-culture mediocrity that you’re ashamed to admit that you love.
Only three? That’s easy. COPS. The 99-cent value menu at Wendy’s. And those series of books entitled “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Whatever” and “Such and Such for Dummies.”
To expound a bit, within the space of two hours those books will give you a cursory/introductory knowledge of just about any subject, from fly fishing, to cooking, to home repair, to architecture, to the Lewis & Clark expedition. But you have to tear the covers off of them if you go out in public, so other people don’t see what you’re reading. Also: There is actually a book entitled, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Professional Wrestling,” which deserves some sort of award for unintentional irony.
Oh. And back to COPS. In addition to making me feel about 500 billion trillion times more grateful for my own lot in life, that show has taught me a valuable lesson: No matter how hot it gets, you should always wear a shirt. Seriously. Because if you’re out somewhere and the police show up, the cuffs will automatically gravitate towards the wrists of the guy with no shirt. You can bank on it.
What is the first TV commercial that you remember seeing when you were a kid?
There used to be a series of Public Service Announcements when I was growing up. The spots featured little kids finding blasting caps, and it talked about how dangerous they were. It was the first commercial that I saw that had the opposite of its desired effect, because all the guys in my class wanted to be the first to find one. Some kids went so far as to make their own faux blasting caps by attaching wires to things they had found in their dad’s garage. None of them looked very convincing, though.
Blasting caps were small yet potent explosive devices used to detonate dynamite. Years later, I heard that they were also used on railroads. Their loud report would tell workers up the track that a train was approaching. They never mentioned this in the commercials, because if they had my friends and I would have been on those tracks faster than you could say “Oops, there goes a thumb.” I guess they stopped using them sometime around the late seventies. They must’ve been pretty awesome, though, if they were louder than a train.
I was disappointed that YouTube did not have any of the old blasting cap PSAs, but I did find a longer instructional video that was made in the late 1970’s by the Institute of Makers of Explosives. Check it out here, if for no other reason that the exceptionally funkalicious sound track.
Oh. If you happen to have any blasting caps, or find any laying around, please do not mail them to me. I’ve grown out of that phase.
Have you met any dysfunctional dogs?
Yes, while visiting a winery in Oregon. There were two dogs on the grounds, a black lab named Boo and a German shepherd named Sarge. The dogs’ master had left to run some errands when I arrived. This didn’t seem to phase Boo, but Sarge was insistent that everyone be sad and mope around until his owner returned. I decided to kill some time by playing Frisbee with Boo. This was too much of a blatant display of joy for Sarge, so he ran out, snatched the Frisbee, and hid it in the crawlspace. Then he came back and pouted for a while. He would let you pet him, but only begrudgingly, and he refused to be happy about it. If you happened to walk away from Sarge, he would walk back into your line of vision so you could see how much he was moping. I like dogs, but Sarge has a problem. I mean, what a baby.
What was the high point of American history?
This. This photograph, right here.
This may have been the coolest moment not just in American History, but in the entire history of the universe.
The year was 1975, if I am not mistaken. Rock & Roll successfully breached the White House gates, and the president was outnumbered. I'm not saying things have been awful since then, because they haven't. American History is one endless roller coaster, with continuing ups and downs. But that moment was the apex. Can it be topped? Maybe. I hope so.
What is your earliest memory?
My first memory is of a dream. I don’t know how old I was, but it was before I could talk.
It was Christmas and my dad had bought an electric train set for my older brothers. That night, I had a vision in my sleep. In the dream, the wheels of my crib were sitting on rails. I was standing at the front of the crib, and it started rolling up and down the stairs and all around the house. It was going pretty fast, and I was laughing like crazy. The next morning I remember getting up, looking over the edge of the crib, and seeing that the rails were gone. I remember getting very agitated about this. I shook the crib really hard but it wouldn’t roll.
I probably spent the rest of the day thinking about the disparity between real life and one’s dreams, but I don’t really remember that part.
A walrus versus a gorilla with a mallet. Who wins?
If I spent as much time on this question as it merits, I’d have to bill you for it. I’m not kidding.
Do you ever experience déjà vu — the feeling that you have lived this moment before?
As a matter of fact, it hits me about every other month. For a while, I thought this feeling was some sort of clue that life might be a cyclical loop, or maybe that things are predetermined by fate or destiny or some other external force. Later I heard that deja vu is the result of the brain recalling something about a billionth of a second after it happened. This sounds like a plausible explanation, but I’m still not discounting destiny.
What was your big glory moment in high school?
I was a member of the trivia team. You know – those television shows where 4 high school kids from opposing schools sit around with buzzers and answer questions for a half hour. It was nerdy, but at the same time it was kind of cool because we got to go on TV. Our team went to the state finals, largely because we knew who succeeded Stalin and could name three inert gases. Think Kobe or Shaq could do that? I think not. Booyah!
So you probably know a lot of trivia. Are there any areas that you know a lot about?
History, literature and art were my strong suits. I used to be big on popular culture and movies, but I haven’t kept up. I also know a lot of random, useless stuff. Odd facts have always had a way of lodging themselves in my head. I don’t know why. I can tell you who invented earmuffs, and where. Or, that most toilets flush in the key of E flat. I don’t really want to know this, but I do. There are other types of trivia that I like — particularly things that are counter-intuitive: Donkeys kill more people than airplane crashes. Coconuts kill more people than sharks. The cigarette lighter was invented before the match. A third of the world’s population have never used a telephone. A quarter of the US population claim little or no use for cell phones or the Internet. When you hear things that are counter-intuitive, it makes you stop and wonder what other assumptions you’ve made that may not be true. That’s a healthy thing, I think.
Do you have a favorite trivia fact?
Yes. Chimpanzees and dogs made it into space before humans did. Sure, the Soviets and Americans had their reasons for that. But, still, it makes you think.
Do you have any wacky stories from the zany, madcap world of advertising?
Here are three:
When I worked at a large agency, there was one art director who would leave a donut and half-full cup of coffee on his desk every night before he went home. He did this because the creative director would walk the halls every morning at 8:30 to see who was in and who wasn’t. I don’t know if the donut and coffee fooled him into thinking the guy was in the building someplace, but you have to admit the guy was thinking.
There’s another story about a writer in New York who went to work for two different agencies at the same time. He’d put in an eight-hour day, making the four-block trek from one agency to the other three or four times a day. This went on for about six months before anybody caught on. I don’t know if that story is true, but I like to think it is.
I’ve also heard of a creative director who, when stumped for an idea, invented a secret weapon that he calls “CA-28.” He has subscribed to Communication Arts (a respected advertising and design publication) for years, and whenever he’s in a pinch he just goes back 28 issues and copies whatever he can from that issue. Mind you, he doesn’t steal EVERYTHING he does. He’s very capable in his own right. However, whenever the deadlines get crazy or the hours get short…..well, let’s just say that he always manages to bring some award-winning work to the table.
Tell me something that not even your closest friends know about you.
I hesitate to put this in writing, but here goes: I have imaginary friends. Not just a couple. Lots. About twenty. Most of them are chimpanzees and dogs. There’s also one Kodiak bear, a chestnut stallion, and a few miniature horses. Some of them are based on real animals I have known. Some are stragglers from childhood. Others just sort of showed up.
It’s not like they’re with me constantly. They normally aren’t. Most of the time, I’m out there navigating life on my own. But if I’m on a long road trip, one or two of them might accompany me. They also show up in hotel bars, taxis, airports and casinos.
Over the years they’ve taken on distinct personalities. Darvin is a sentimental older chimp who has a drinking problem and a fondness for love ballads and old movies. Marky is a chimp who drives a taxi and has a very low tolerance for small talk and obfuscation. Doc, the horse, enjoys riding in elevators and frequently shows up unannounced when I am in buildings that have more than 10 stories. And some of my investment decisions are swayed by a miniature horse who goes under the pseudonym of “The Psychic Pony.”
They are a well-behaved lot for the most part, but they can and will attack on my command. The streets of Dallas are filled with people who have no idea that they have been mauled by imaginary chimpanzees and dogs. But I know. And that’s what matters. I’ve yet to set the Kodiak after anyone, though. I’m saving that for a fitting occasion.
If you could wave a magic wand and make one big social change, what would it be?
I would make it 100% safe and acceptable to hitchhike. Better yet, I’d make it viewed as a patriotic or politically correct thing to do, like recycling and voting. Just think of what would happen if 30% of the population just hitchhiked everyplace they went: Less traffic. More empty parking spaces. No more imported oil. Fewer imported cars. Lower gas prices. No more waiting for buses or taxis. Fewer wrecks. Less pollution and greenhouse gases. Plus, you’d get to meet people from all walks of life and hear lots of different radio stations.
I would also make it to where the people who were hitchhiking would use the money they saved on car payments and gas to buy gifts for the people who gave them rides. Nothing major — maybe chocolates, votive candles, a venti drip or a coupon for a breakfast taco. That way, everyone would start the day with either a free ride to work or a present. Everybody wins!
What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?
I know that lots of people might say things like the airplane or the computer or the internal combustion engine or refrigeration. But I’d have to go with recorded music. I believe that no other single invention has touched and enriched so many lives in such a fundamental way. I remember one time I was in a remote little village on the edge of the Sahara desert, the kind of place where time had seemingly stopped about 800 years ago. I walked by one little hut where a 90-year-old Berber woman sat listening to Dean Martin. “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes.” How could anything ever top that? It was just so close to magic.
What things will be obsolete in the future?
Probably wristwatches, since we all have clocks on our cars, cell phones and computers. I haven’t worn a watch for years. Not many people realize that wristwatches were invented for early airplane pilots, so they could tell time in their open cockpits while flying through the skies. Before then, people carried pocket watches.
It would make sense for paper money to become obsolete and be replaced by debit cards, but that is an extremely old habit that will be a long time dying. Pennies will probably go pretty soon, though. Neckties have gotten dangerously close to obsolescence, but I think they’ll make a major comeback in the next decade or so. Fashion isn’t driven by necessity or logic.
Do you have a word of the day?
No, I don’t. But I really like words – their histories, their hidden meanings, their origins. The word “nerd” was invented by Dr. Seuss. The word "mortgage" comes from a French term meaning death pledge. "Turkey" (the bird) was named after the country, even though there are none there. "Heresy" comes from a Greek term meaning choice. "Robot" comes from a Czech phrase meaning forced labor. Frank Baum came up with the place called Oz by looking at the second drawer of his filing cabinet, which was marked “O – Z.” The prefix “in-“ usually means “not” (as in incomplete or incorrect), but for some reason the words flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
What is the worst thing you have ever seen while channel surfing?
You see a lot of awful stuff if you channel surf, most of it being pro wrestling, talk shows, cable news and MTV. But I did happen across one thing that was a huge disappointment. I landed on the Game Show Network one evening when they were showing an old episode of “I’ve Got A Secret.” Basil Rathbone was a guest panelist. So I thought, hey, cool, Sherlock Holmes. I bet he’ll deduce the guy’s secret just by looking at the wear patterns on his shoes or something.
Wrong. Basil came across like a complete dumbass. Seriously. A typical not-very-bright actor. I hated seeing that. I was a fan of his old movies, and I even read the “Complete Sherlock Holmes” one summer. (Most of the stories still hold up pretty well, by the way.) Anyway, I can’t watch any of the old Basil Rathbone movies anymore without thinking about how dim he seemed in real life. What a let down.
What’s your favorite line from a song?
“I guess you can’t exchange the gifts that you are meant to keep.”
Okay, how about a whole verse?
Like an echo down a canyon
Never coming back as clear,
Lately I’ve been judging distance,
Not the words I hear.
Tell me about a couple of things that have shaped your view of the world.
Two things come to mind. I did a stint with the Peace Corps in Morocco. Several years later, I bought and refurbished a little 1920’s apartment building, then rented it out for a couple of years.
No matter what your politics or worldview might be, serving in the Peace Corps will shake your fundamental beliefs and move you about 20 degrees to the left. By the same token, being a landlord will shake them around again, and move them about 20 degrees to the right. So, all that work and I guess I’m pretty much back where I started.
Speaking of politics, where do yours fall?
I used to have clearly defined political beliefs. However, one day I noticed that the same ideas were being espoused on TV by people who seemed less than intelligent and somewhat suspect. So I abandoned those beliefs and all I have now are an assortment of quirky notions.
For example, I think the government should force people to subscribe to at least 3 magazines, because too many people in America stop learning things after the age of 30 or so. Whenever the IRS sends you your tax packet, they’d include one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse forms with about 800 magazines to choose from, and you’d pick three. I don’t know if this notion would be considered right wing or left wing; I guess that would depend on which magazines people chose.
What magazines would you choose?
“America's Test Kitchen,” “American Heritage,” and “Art News.” They are all good magazines, and since they all start with “A” they’d be easy to find on the list.
Tell me a bit of marketing research you’ve seen that you found interesting.
I was doing some work for a fitness center and I had access to a bunch of industry research. I distinctly remember two facts that jumped out at me. First, 70% of people said that it was important for the gym they joined to have a swimming pool. Second, in the average gym only 3% of the members ever use the pool.
Some very valuable things can be inferred from those two facts, both about people and exercise.
Do you have any life dreams that you’ve not yet realized?
Yes, several. I want to have a book published, and to produce an independent film. But lately I’ve been thinking about building a house with my own two hands. Plato said that every man should build his own house, and I can sort of see his point. Building something makes you use your mind and body simultaneously. Designing a house makes you think about how you live and spend your time, and what is really of value to you. It gives you deeper roots in the community, and leaves your own small mark on the world. But perhaps most importantly, I think it would make you care more about the place where you live, on just about every level.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the house thing lately, because the older you grow the heavier those three-quarter inch plywood sheets get. I’m not kidding. Those things are bears.
What kind of house would you build?
I’m still undecided on that. I’ve thought about building one that looks like a wooden railroad station from the 1880’s.
Also, I have sketches of the house that Van Gogh and Gauguin shared in France; it wouldn’t be that hard to duplicate. In addition to building a house, I’d also like to build a small shop for writing and drawing and tinkering. I saw a slave cabin that was built for one of Andrew Jackson’s slaves. It’s a good size and an even better metaphor, and it would be easy to build. It’s pretty basic. I also have a picture of the house where Elvis was born, but it's not very interesting.
What regrets do you have?
My biggest regret is that the future didn’t turn out the way that science fiction writers envisioned it in the 1930’s. Where are all the flying cars? Where are the jet-rocket backpacks? I don’t see them anywhere. Sure, if you really shop around you can buy a small helicopter for about $25K, which is a pretty good price when you think about it. But it’s not the same.
Seriously, why don’t you do jingles?
I guess if I had a valued client who needed one, I’d give it a try. But the fact is, I’ve never been given that particular type of project and I think it’s very, very dangerous to put a jingle assignment in the hands of someone who isn’t used to doing them. You might end up with something like this:
Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts.
If you dare wear short shorts, Nair for short shorts.
I mean, if I have to, I’ll take one for the team and write a jingle. But it’s a road I’d rather not go down.
You studied literature. Do you have any insightful observations about famous poems?
Here’s one. I believe that everyone who has ever read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has totally misinterpreted it. Most people think it’s about a person who chooses a less-traveled path and turns out better or wiser for it. But it’s not. It’s a hoax. Just take a look at what it really says:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Did you catch it? There was no road less traveled. They both were worn “really about the same” (line 10). They were both equally covered in leaves (line 11-12). The narrator isn’t taking the path less traveled, because there isn’t one. They are identical. He is simply choosing a random path, and stating that one day he’ll romanticize about his life and “tell with a sigh” (line 16) that he took the path less traveled by, and that this somehow made a difference. In short, he’ll embellish. Or, more bluntly, he’ll lie.
The poem isn’t about being a rugged individualist and plotting your own destiny or going your own way. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s about the futility of thinking that the paths we choose really matter. We are who we are, one path is just as good as another, and any claim otherwise is self-delusional. The lone hyphen in the poem (line 18) is a stroke of genius; in that brief pause and stammer, we can feel the author hesitating, almost sense him being taken aback by the disturbing suspicion that the decisions he made in his life didn’t matter. But that’s a pretty tough notion to accept. So instead, he stops himself and concocts his story.
As final evidence, take one last look and I’ll show you something that is so obvious that a third grader should be able to spot it: The poem is supposed to be about the road the author took, right? Now look at the title: The Road Not Taken. He’s not even sure what road he is talking about. It doesn’t matter.
In short, the poem is striking down the western notion of the importance of control over one’s destiny, and replacing it with a more Zen-like view that our choices are relatively meaningless. We are who we are, in spite of the paths we choose, and regardless of where our roads lead us. The speaker suspects this, but can’t bring himself to admit it. In the end, he comforts himself by clinging to the claim that his choices, somehow, made a difference, a difference that he himself does not bother to explain.
I can’t completely agree with what Frost is saying here, but that’s what the poem is really about. Hope I didn’t burst any bubbles. And if it’s any consolation, I believe that every now and then life leads us to a juncture where it truly does matter which path we choose. A lot. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Anyway, I think I need to stop answering questions for now. My inbox is piling up a bit and I really need to get some work done. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
If you have any additional questions, please send them my way. I’ll try to add them to my Frequently Asked Questions, even if I’ve only been asked once. Because if there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that with some things once is plenty frequent enough.
Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. Here’s the partial industry/client list that I promised you earlier. And don’t forget to check out the portfolio section of my site if you haven’t already. I think you’ll like it.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas
Harris Methodist Health Systems
Aurion Natural Gas
Bank of America
First Rate Financial Services
HDVest Financial Services
Lovell Public Relations
Affliliated Food Stores
Over 15 regional / metropolitan hospitals
Over a dozen regional homebuilders and developments
About a half-dozen car dealerships and dealership groups
About a dozen local and regional banks, S&Ls, and credit unions
And seriously, the list keeps getting longer every week.
Consumer Package Goods
High-Tech / IT
Entertainment / Gaming
Restaurant / Foodservice
Real Estate / Construction
Casinos and Gaming
Plus a handful of other niche industries that range from robotic lawnmowers to diesel fuel additives to laboratory cages. Seriously, try to stump me. I dare ya.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my website. If so, you’ll probably enjoy working with me. But there’s only one way to find out. Drop me a line at email@example.com or call me at 214-597-0980. Seriously, this isn’t one of those “obligatory signoff paragraphs” that they put at the end of a website; I really would like you to call or write. It’d be awesome.