The Factory Tour
An Interview with Dan Goldgeier
A Seattle-based senior copywriter, columnist for TalentZoo, writer for AdPulp and Author of “View From the Cheap Seats” Dan Goldgeier is also the self-proclaimed best ad industry columnist today. He makes it clear the latter was a facetious claim to make a point but after interviewing him I’m inclined to believe his original statement.
Q: Freelance vs. Full-time do you have a preference?
Dan: Being a freelancer is what I imagine being a substitute teacher would be like. You get called in at the last minute, you do the work, get done, get paid, and avoid getting too many tomatoes thrown at you from the back of class. Freelancing for the past 3 years since I moved to Seattle has given me the opportunity to work on a range of assignments and media, which has been great experience. I’ve learned to be fast and tackle clients in any business category. But I do miss the ability to contribute to the long-term strategic direction of clients.
Pete: big agency or small?
Dan:I’ve spent most of my time at small agencies and that’s how I learned to be versatile. Small shops don’t often say ‘no’ to client requests. So a client CEO’s holiday party speech, a bill stuffer, an email, those types of assignments go hand-in-hand with bigger campaigns. I’ve found that big agencies are trickier to navigate. You can do well in them and get high-profile assignments with big budgets, but if you’re not careful you could get stuck as the fourth-string quarterback in a sense, doing work that never gets noticed. I think every creative should experience working in both types of shops at some point in their careers.
Q: Partners & Napier — What was it like being the only writer?
Dan: As the only writer I was relied upon to do it all. So pretty much everything that the agency produced had my influence. But it was also tricky because I missed having someone down the hall I could bounce ideas or headlines off of. Some art directors can be good at that but it’s not quite the same. And as the only writer I got used to always being on call, even on vacation. I wrote headlines when I was in Costa Rica because it was an urgent request. I always felt I needed to check my email and stay connected to the office.
Q: Do you find copywriting for the web and online video the same or different?
Dan: Those are two different things. Copywriting for the web, in general, demands the copywriters must be clear, not necessarily clever the way great print headlines often are. Headlines (or email subject lines or anything like that) need to be clear and able to work out of context because they’re often transposed to other sites as clickbait.
Shorter paragraphs, broken up more frequently, also work well on the web.
Online video is another form of broadcast, albeit with smaller budgets usually. There, you have to simply tell the story and whenever you can, use the visual medium as effectively as possible. And videos need to work quickly too—I click away from videos that don’t command my attention within seconds.
Q: You’ve worked in a number of different markets. Have you adapted your style?
Dan: Oh, absolutely. I’ve worked in southern markets where the clients (and agency management in many cases) were conservative (small ‘c’) and their cultural mores were different; I had to be extra careful when taking creative chances. I worked in Cleveland where the attitude was blue-collar and hard-working, but provincial in a lot of ways. Out here in Seattle, the work is much more tech-oriented, but it still feels like the city sometimes plays second fiddle to San Francisco from a creative standpoint. There are a lot of agencies doing great work here, but the spotlight doesn’t shine brightly on this market.
Peter:In addition to working in various markets you’ve also taught advertising in two very different venues can you tell us about the differences?
Dan:The main difference is that the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle isn’t a full-time, two-year structured program like The Portfolio Center, Creative Circus, or some other ad schools. So the students are less committed to pursuing advertising as a career path and I have a very limited chance to really drill into them where the creative “bar” is. Still, I enjoy seeing them make progress as they learn how to start concepting good ideas.
Q: In a 2002 post you asked Luke Sullivan to help you lower the advertising crap ratio which at the time you listed at 90% — what do you think that number is today?
Dan:It’s still up there, percentage-wise. Most advertising is wallpaper or background noise, despite everyone’s best intentions. There’s simply too much advertising, all over the place, and of course we all end up ignoring most of it.
Q: Best and worst headlines you’ve ever written?
Dan:The best ones:
For a local rugby club: “Admission is free. It’s the other team that pays the price.”
For a homebuilder: “Renting is like smoking. The sooner you quit, the better off you are.”
For the American Jazz Museum: “When you drink all day and night, you forget stuff. No wonder they learned to improvise.”
I’ll lose my copywriting license if I bring up the worst ones.
Q: In your book you talked about keeping up with technology and constantly upgrading your skills. So lets put you to the fire: what have you done since publishing the book to keep yourself current?
Dan: Well, I taught myself to do some videography and Final Cut Pro editing. I’ve learned a bit of WordPress as well, and understand the back-end analytics of digital efforts. I work quite hard to maintain a regular social media presence on a number of different sites, which keeps me up-to-date on how brands are using social media and also connected with other ad folks. I’ve been thinking of learning some basic coding, but I really need to keep focusing on getting better as a writer and a more well-rounded professional. And taking the time to enjoy life if there’s any time left over, because that fuels creativity as well.
Q: Has your perspective changed from when you were a junior writer to today?
Dan: One thing I’ve learned since I was first starting out is that everyone in advertising is human, fallible, often times full of crap, and capable of screwing up as much as succeeding.
Q: Your infamous advertising week controversy: have you guys made up?
Think you’ll attend next years?
Dan:I wrote a column poking fun at the idea of an “Advertising Week” when it was first announced, and some mid-level exec at the 4A’s didn’t like it and tried to punish the folks at Talent Zoo for publishing it. That was 10 years ago. I went to a 4A’s Account Planning conference a couple of years later, so I guess they were happy to take my money. I still haven’t gone. It’s usually the same week as some UN meeting so the hotel rooms in New York City are all ridiculously overpriced. Maybe I’ll go this year, though. I’d love to rent a Joe Camel costume and walk in the Parade of America’s Favorite Advertising Characters.
Peter: That would certainly generate some interesting tweets. While we’re on the subject which has required a thicker skin being a copywriter or a blogger?
Dan: Being a copywriter, definitely, advertising is a subjective business, clients rightfully expect results, and no two days are ever alike. Blogging is fun. I try to stay away from personally insulting people and arbitrarily criticizing ad campaigns. I write about topics that are universally relatable to everyone in advertising, and that usually gets positive responses.
Q: First thing that comes to mind when I say these two words: Art Director.
Q: Any new Buzzwords you’re looking to launch?
Dan: No, but I’m sad that “conceptiwrap” hasn’t caught on. That’s the conversation you have with your partner after you bat around shitty ideas for two hours and then wrap it up by saying, “I think we’ve got a good start “ to make yourself feel better. I still have a conceptiwrap after every time I get together with an art director.
Q: What are you working on these days?
Dan: An insurance company, a cruise line, and a local bank re-branding. Good work in tricky categories. It gives me a chance to tackle a bit of everything: Radio, print, video, digital, even some things like greeting cards and other non-traditional things our clients need.
Peter: Any new books in the works?
Dan: I’ve got an idea percolating, but nothing definite.
Q: Favorite part of the written word?
Dan: Verbs. Powerful advertising demands verbs. Too many clients focus on the adjectives.
Q: In one of your post you called yourself “The Best Industry Columnist” so:
Are their other writers you read or admire?
Dan: Well, I was being facetious about that claim. That column discussed the tendency of too many marketers to rely on mindless superlatives or puffery instead of real ideas. That said, there are a lot of great folks writing about advertising. George Tannenbaum, Dave Trott, The Sell! Sell! Blog, Bob Hoffman, and a bunch of others all have great perspectives on the business. Suzanne Pope’s “Ad Teachings” blog offers some of best analysis of creative work out there. And I’d highly recommend John Barry’s “The Advertising Concept Book” to anyone starting out in the business.
Q: Any parting words of advice to leave us with?
Dan: “Always take the factory tour, but never drink the Kool-Aid when you’re there”.
As a creative with a wide passion base I’m always on the lookout for people I can learn from and pass on those key insights to my followers. If you are a thought leader, trendsetter or just have an interesting viewpoint please contact me to be part of this interview series.