TS the CW+Instructor+More
You have worked in a multitude of realms in the entertainment industry, what is next for you? Is there more you want to explore?
I wouldn't say a multitude, yet I have worked on two great clients. The first is Spartacus: Season 1: Gods of the Arena. All social media: personas, posts, previews, episode teasers, swag and fan interaction. Cool beans. Second, Inside the Vault [ITV]: engaging original TV and Web series that explores what excites, inspires and drives today’s man. Collaborated on the show opening, rich media ads, website teaser splash page, email blasts, promo scripts, voiceover episode snippets, episode trailer scripts, persona development and print ads. I'd love to dive into writing movie and show trailers, along with creating in-theater posters, promotions, and the list continues.
What was the first project you worked on professionally, and how did you land it?
My first project was at my first agency, Elias-Savion, back in 1998. I found the job post after researching Pittsburgh ad agencies. I visited their site and sent my resume through the careers page. I was hired after two interviews, with a starting salary of $23,000. The first project I worked on was for the Greater Pittsburgh Convention & Visitors Bureau. It was a printed newsletter called Connections. My first foray into long copy. The 2+ years I worked there I learned how to create said long copy, short copy, headlines, taglines, copy for the early days of the web (remember Flash?), PR, strategy, research, and the list continues. E/S is the only agency I had to wear slacks and a tie. The place looked like a law firm, decked out in marble.
What was your very first Creative job? How have you grown since then?
The first gig where I became the creative I envisioned, with more autonomy and the go ahead to draw outside the lines/take creative risks, was at an agency in Chicago called Liquid Thread, under the Leo Burnett umbrella. I got to work on agency branding, Delta Faucet, Hornitos Tequila, Inside the Vault (GM TV/Web series), Star Wars LEGO, Starz (Spartacus: Season 1, Gods of the Arena) and Tres Generaciones. I had all of the ways and means I describe above—my journey into a higher level of creativity and creation. I haven't looked back.
What are some of the golden rules you follow as a surefire method to deliver a compelling project?
Great question. I consider myself a good active listener. So, I pay attention to what someone is sharing with me. Three things I do to accomplish this are opening my ears and eyes and closing my mouth, when I'm being presented with the creative brief. I was actually telling an industry friend this very thing today. Love the creative brief—copywriter's best friend. So, I devour the brief right side up, left side down—one word at a time. This is the key to launching into the brainstorming/concepting part of the project.
One way I do this is to sequester myself in a space (indoor or outdoor), often with music piped into my headphones, and do a brain dump. No-holds-barred ideas and lines, what have you. Zero editing. If it's available I'll also integrate answers from a stakeholder interview I've done, asking questions about the business: mission, products & services and the emotional connection this person has to their business and customers. Once I'm at a good point, I start to write copy, headlines, taglines, CTAs–what have you.
If I'm working solo, cool, though I much more enjoy teaming with an art director, sharing and nutting out our ideas together. Delivering blow-your-socks-off copy decks, art direction mockups, team-created storyboards, etc., and then delivering on the wicked good deliverables after presentation and approval. All are part and parcel of a surefire, compelling project.
What was it like to work with Mynd Management?
It was a cool experience. I essentially got to be the CD with Mynd Property Management, working with the Account Director, CEO and President. I basically had carte blanche to bring my vision to life in the copy for their new website. Can't beat that, no-sir-ee-bob. I especially love my tagline: Typical property management has just left the building. They did too.
Could you please share with us a little about your background and family?
Background. Check. Family. Check. I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, the youngest of three kids. Back then I learned not to like fish when I was a young'un of just four years. As the story went... my brother, nine at the time, said to me, after I took a bite of tuna, "Toddy, you're going to throw up." Fast forward to present time, and I'm still appalled at the taste. Now I remember it with a chuckle. Only fish I like—Dover Sole. Makes no sense. Anyway, he's a doctor in Pittsburgh. Onto my sis, who lives in Buffalo Grove, just outside of Chicago. She's also a doc. Both are dedicated to their family and work. We're all pretty close.
My parents, now gone, were like fire and water. Yet they loved each other and raised three great kids, if I may say so myself. I also had cool grandparents. Especially my mom's father, Izzy. They called me his shadow since he took me everywhere. For ice cream, to go bowling, out for lunch. We were like blood brothers. As for my personal background, I went to Kent State for advertising. Graduated. Six. Years. Later.
Notice I like to write a lot of one. Word. Sentences. Moving ahead, I also went to Chicago Portfolio School, where I earned a Certificate of Copywriting in '02. Great experience. My hobbies include hiking, camping, cooking, reading, biking, swimming, most kinds of music... and I really enjoy, well, practice meditation. Daily.
I also lead a meditation group. These bring me much joy. And peace. When I'm not rushing around doing other things. It helps me slow down, quiet the mind, and remember what is most important. Family. Friends. Connection. Authenticity. Kindness. Humor. I could go on and on.
As of now, I've been in the advertising biz nearly 26 years. It's had its valleys and peaks. Tough moments. And rewarding ones. I can definitely say I'm very proud of what I do for a living. And I'm excited—plug approaching—to now be working with Laetro. So that's my personal side in a nutshell.
Please share some of your most valuable lessons from your years of experience.
Let's see–lessons. I've learned some invaluable things. Like how to listen with an open mind when someone is criticizing my work. How to make it work with folks who have a different work style from mine. Why it's important to be flexible. Ways to approach someone with ideas that push the strategy, advocating for myself. Being kind, no agenda. Saying thank you. Saying congrats. Saying I appreciate your support. More lessons? That my soft skills are equally as important as my copywriting talent. That after almost 26 years, I still don't know squat about everything there is to know about this industry. In other words, being humble. And probably biggest of all, which I recently realized: I'm a damn good copywriter and strategist. People have told me this. Now I take it. To. Heart. Okay, no more one-word sentences.
As creative professionals, a large chunk of our process is finding inspiration for our work. How do you come up with new ideas for your projects?
This one I will keep pithy. Here’s the number one way I come up with sweet ideas for projects. Read the creative brief, let it sink in. Then I go outside—unless it's cold as a witches you know what—and take a nice stroll. Silently. Absorbing my surroundings, the smells, the sounds, the scenery. I might wear headphones with instrumental-only music, like classical guitar. Now I let my mind have a mind of its own. Listening to my noggin for inspiration, ideas, nuggets, whatever comes 'a knockin. Words, pictures., what have you. Whatever floats in. Then I grab a pen (or pencil, old school) and notepad. And start writing. Anything. No edits. None. Just write. The start of body copy. Some headlines and taglines. Subheads and CTAs. If I'm teamed up with an AD—who I'd invite to walk with me—we'd sit down and share our ideas. This is only one approach I use. There are others, Yet I don't want this to turn into a rant, if you will. So there. Tada. The. End.
How do you think quality, storytelling, and great teamwork come together on a project?
Great question. I'm going to keep this on point also. Quality, storytelling, teamwork. The three musketeers. Quality takes the form of a number of project elements. These are my thoughts: 1) The creative brief must shine for the project to shine. 2) Stakeholder interviews are crucial, maybe as much as the brief. 3) The team must be on the same page with regard to everything from strategy to the types of deliverables (budget must not be an obstacle here).
Next, storytelling. Oh my. This is a biggie. Copy. Art. Design. Filming. Photography, Animation. Editing. The list continues. When the big idea shares a single poignant theme across all of these expertise—and beyond—storytelling is in the proverbial bag. Storytelling must ab-so-lute-ly engage, inspire, convert and bubble up brand loyalty. For the long term.
Teamwork, you wonder? Well, I believe transforming the big idea into something tangible doesn't happen without teamwork. I may sometimes write autonomously... yet the AD or GD, or both, at a certain point, have to be involved. I prefer this partnership. And you must, must have a strategist, planner, project manager, photographer, web and video folks, and so on, to bring it all together. If one element—or rather, human—is missing, you won't get the quality storytelling you deserve, and your client deserves.
How many years of experience do you have? With that many years of experience in the industry, what words of wisdom would you like to give to young Creatives?
I have 25+ years of experience, with a nice mix of agencies led by Critical Mass, Digitas, DraftFCB, Energy BBDO, FCB Chicago, gyro, Havas, Leo Burnett and Point B. I've written for 43 industries/verticals. And I've penned copy for everything from strategy, naming and taglines to print ads, website content, email and video scripts. Wisdom? You want stinking wisdom? Just kidding. I have some.
Here 'tis. Learn what active listening is and practice it with your team and clients. Cultivate strong emotional intelligence (this will make you invaluable beyond your gifts). Practice soft skills, even though some in the industry don't put much stock in them. Be assertive—don't be hesitant to push the envelope by coming up with ideas that some might view as too ballsy, Keep an open mind on feedback, especially when it ain't pretty. Be on time, or early. Call or email if you're running behind. Ask your supervisor about their management style, their hobbies, their day. Give without expecting anything in return. Meet deadlines, and if you won't be able to, let that person/people know ahead of time, being completely honest with them. Read, watch, listen. Whatever you can get your eyes, ears and hands on. And not just industry stuff. Give yourself time to breathe. At work. Step outside (mind you, not to fight). Be proud of yourself. Every day. And remember. Make work fun. Because it's a part of your lifeblood, your soul. Constantly learn about the craft. What motivates you. Be bold. Ask for a raise even if it's not that time. Ask for time off, in advance. Ask to be in the new business pitch. Ask if they like your work. Like your attitude. Your enthusiasm. Ask questions. Take notes. Take it one moment at a time. Because that's all there is. It's a fun business. You are made for it. And for heaven's sake, have fun. Peace. I'm out. For now.