Sunday, September 1, 2013

Missing the Old Days

Summer is winding down, my daughter (only child) is now at college, and I find myself feeling quite nostalgic for my college days. I did not even love where I went to college but no matter . . . knowing about all the experiences my daughter will be experiencing over the next four years makes me yearn for that simpler time (that, at the time, did not always feel so simple!).

Then my thoughts turn to my early days in advertising, as an aspiring and then junior copywriter. Ah . . . typing on an IBM Selectric II; brainstorming with my art director in our offices, cracking each other up with awful headlines and ad concepts until we got a few we liked, then layouts drawn with black marker on big pads of paper; art directors with heads buried in lucigraphs as they resized images, and waiting three days to get a proof back because it had to be typeset and the PMT (photo mechanical transfer) had to be created (remember veloxes?). Graphic artists knew how to paste up type and the typesetting machine we got at McDonald & Little took up the whole break room!

Video and audio tape. 7-1/2 ips. 3/4", 1" or 2" for broadcast -- all these numbers meant something at one point. You could hold your work in your hands. You schlepped a portfolio around with your print work and your reels.

Today it is quite different in so many ways, from the way we work to how the work is produced. Now we talk about MP3s and podcasts, and send links to websites written or digital portfolios. Spots are edited on desktops, ad layouts are done in minutes, changes nearly instantaneous. My skills have expanded and my work assignments broadened to meet the demands of today's clients and technology.

But the work is different for me in other ways as a freelance copywriter. I'm a journeyman, I go where I'm needed and generally work on my own, separately from the art director or designer until we meet up later on to align our designs, copy, or concepts. It's a backwards process but seems to be the way these days. Sometimes we end up at the starting line together -- a more cohesive way to produce good creative. But not always. And I don't always see the final version of work I've done--assignments often disappear into the vapor or I forget to ask because I'm on to the next project.

As nostalgia for the "good old days" seeps into my consciousness, I miss:
  •  Sitting in each other's offices with pads and pens and ideas bouncing around the room. 
  • Working very late and sleeping on my creative director's couch because the meeting was early the next morning. 
  • The sound of the keyboards in writers' offices.
  • The presentation meetings with our group head and creative director, getting them to sign off on our ideas to present to the client. 
  • Working with great voice talent to create radio spots or going on shoots for TV commercials.
  •  Storyboards for commercials rendered rough in the office, then returned with the artistic flourishes of the storyboard artist. 
  • Acting out radio scripts for other creatives before sharing with the client. 
  • And humoring the account guys who wanted creative to follow "the research" (nice try, guys). 
Good times.

My former group head sent me a slide last year of me and a Charlie Chaplin impersonator from a shoot we did for a bank commercial a million years ago. Two framed animation cels (hand-drawn and hand-painted) from a Cookie Crisp commercial I wrote still adorn the wall above my office. Treasured memories.

Ad agencies were not public relations agencies and the lines had not yet blurred as they are today between advertising, marketing, and PR. There was no internet yet nor social networks. The day I was leaving my job at McCaffrey & McCall, some new "computerized typewriters" were being delivered to the secretaries--the first personal computers the agency was investing in. Exotic.

The unfettered creativity, the mistakes, the bloopers, the great lines and sizzling copy (the ones that the clients didn't buy and the ones they did), the jingles, the learning curve, and the feeling that all was right with the world. That was then, this is now--byline articles and blog posts, website copy, press releases, collateral material, and yes, even the occasional ad or TV or radio spot. And I'm so happy to be a part of it still!