Today’s Lesson from Pat Kelly: Ideas Are Like Balloons, Let Them Go…

Four point seven million years ago, when I was a baby copywriter in NYC, I was lucky enough to take a TV writing class from Pat Kelly at the School of Visual Arts. Thank goodness I kept copious notes. This hippy spouted wisdom like Old Faithful spouts water — or steam, or whatever it spouts.

I am thinking of Kelly because last night I was lucky enough to hang out at one of his alma maters, The Leo Burnett Agency. The thought of this bearded beatnick facing St. Leo himself in a creative review board is enough to give me pause. But I am really thinking about Pat (author of, most famously, the original genius iconic Federal Express Campaign) because the evening was devoted to IDEAS. A panel of Creative Circus grads who work at Leo were talking about ideas and the business today.

When these nine or so men and women, and their instructor Dan Balser, were talking about ideas, The Leo Burnett Agency did not seem like any kind of dinosaur to me. On the contrary, it seemed to soar. Good visuals. Strong concepts. Rule-breaking. Failing better. Fun. Risk. Responsibility. Zaniness. As far as I could see, those values are still being cherished over on Wacker Drive. 

I don’t know about the organization, but as for the people and their brains (and guts) ideas were the star. Which brings me back to Kelly, finally.

I remember sitting in his classroom, angry and fuming and working like a banshee on some ads for his class, and for my job up at Fort Ogilvy at 2 East 48th Street, clutching my fledgling ideas to my breast  in a fury. And Pat, in his calm, easy-going, possibly medicinally altered fashion, saying — “hey, ideas are like balloons. Just let them go. You’ll always come up with more.”

And I remember thinking — damn! how can this guy who has come up with so many of the most amazing ideas EVER be so casual about them!!!??? That doesn’t make sense??!!

And I remember how long it took me to work that generous way of idea making thinking into my work habits (I’m still doing it.)

Because the irony of both believing in the flow of ideas, as well as the preciousness of the great idea was on full display.

Somewhere Leo, and Pat, are smiling. Together.

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Oreo — Double-Stuffed With Good Ideas

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Those clever Oreo creatives! They get the best ad during the Super Bowl for FREE! (Remember when they tweeted during the blackout!) They are killing it in social media. And then, they delight my Monday addled eyes with a splash of fun and color in the oldest media form known to mankind (next to carving ads in stones). Art direction! Copywriting! Media planning! Bold thinking! They blast a full page ad in the … newspaper! It’s different. It’s fun. It’s bold. It doesn’t matter what it says. What it says is, “We’re Oreo, we’re here, we’re proud, say it loud!” And it made me think an Oreo might just go well with coffee at breakfast.

You might say it’s a wake-up call.

Ricketts Wrigley Field — A Modest Proposal

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or on the South Side of Chicago, you no doubt have heard about how the owners of the Chicago Cubs baseball club want to take the most beautiful inner city ballpark in the country (yes, that includes that park in Boston) and dwarf it with a television screen the size of a Boeing 747. It is upsetting to the baseball purists, the neighbors, just about everybody — except, I think, advertisers. Ricketts sees dollar signs. And that is only fair. It’s his park, he can do with it as he pleases. He who pays the piper calls the ads.

But if you take a look at the Cubs, a team that manages to pull in the crowds without winning, I think Ricketts is missing a huge opportunity. Get rid of the team altogether! Get rid of the stadium. Just put up the largest flat screen television on earth and SHOW ADS FOR CAR DEALERS ON IT!!! Why stop with that parcel of land on Addison and Clark Street? Take over the entire north side of Chicago. I could see a Bob Rohrman ad extending from the Lincoln Park lagoon to Waukegan. Make that screen so big astronauts can see it from space!

Maybe they can even show some movies about baseball teams that win on it.

Today’s Ad Game — Spinning Plates for Fun and Profit

I was talking with a young, talented producer at a major (Big 5) international ad agency last night. You would kill to have this 24 year old (24 YEAR OLD!!!) on your staff. As a way of checking in on that state of things, I asked him to describe his typical day.

Fasten your seat belts.

He gets in two hours before the “creatives.” He starts to answer the almost 200 e-mails he’s got in his in box from the past NIGHT! He starts to chart on the eight or nine projects he’s working on. (Not like in the good old days, he says, a year and half ago when he started, when he could work on one project at a time.)

What kind of projects? I ask.

A couple of radio productions, a few websites in various stages of design and wireframe, some web banners, putting some reels together for a big new business pitch, re-cutting some old TV spots, bidding out some new ones.

Does this kid have time to eat? Much less take a “bio break?”

The reasons are clear. The agency, which shall not be named, has shrunk. More work is being piled on. Even the once untouchable art directors and copywriters are supposed to be able to play almost any position on the field — from radio to TV to web to print to promotions.

He did mention they do have some kind of bar, or some way to get drinks in the afternoon, around 4.

They need it.

(Although, to be fair, it does remind me of my days when I was running my own shop after I left the cocoon of major agency-dom.)

More on this topic later…I’m exhausted just remembering it…