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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.”

The Factory Tour/interviews The Factory Tour/interviews

I’ll lose my copy­writ­ing license if I bring up the worst ones.

Peter: Touche.

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.

Dan: Partner

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.