An Interview with Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier, author of "View from the Cheap Seats"
Dan Goldgeier, author of “View from the Cheap Seats”

Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been the author of a semi-regularly appearing column for TalentZoo.com  about the advertising business called “View From The Cheap Seats”. After more than 150 essays – which covered everything from clients to interviews to technology to being inebriated during an interview – he collected his favorites in 2011, and published them in book form – which we reviewed here. Dan graciously agreed to discuss the book, the column, and advertising a little deeper with us.

criteria

Agency Review:

There’s a tremendous range of topics in the essays – both on Talent Zoo and in the book. You write about clients, creative, careers, agencies-coming-and-going. What was your criteria for selecting the essays you included in the collection? What was your criteria for leaving some out? Which were the ones on the fence that made it in and which were the ones that didn’t, and why?

Goldgeier:

I compiled all of them – I’ve written over 150 columns since 2002 – and put them into three categories: The ones that were truly timeless subjects and didn’t reference current events; ones that were on important topics but might have fleetingly mentioned a news item; and ones that were clearly referencing a long-forgotten news item or an aspect of the agency business that’s clearly changed. I kept in all the ones in the first category; a few of the ones in the second; and discarded the third. I’ve written a lot about topics like stereotypes, office politics, client-agency relationships, and other aspects of the business that are still relevant years later.

Agency Review:

That makes sense, but every writer I’ve ever met (and that includes myself) has had some things that they’d written that they loved that no one else did – could be a turn of phrase or even a whole essay – that they hated to kill. And yet sometimes they kill them anyway – to make the overall piece better. Were there any examples like that in this collection – something you included even though it broke all your “rules”, or something you killed that you loved, because it didn’t fit?

Goldgeier:

I didn’t do a lot of rewriting of the old columns. There were easily 60 or so columns that I’ve written that didn’t make the book since they didn’t feel relevant or timely. For the ones I kept, I smoothed out a few passages here and there. But the way I approached the book, I left the columns mostly as is – and in chronological order. So you can see the evolution of the industry itself, the topics I chose, and even the changes in my writing style. If I do a second edition of the book, I’d likely take out the dates and organize the columns by subject matter.

peers

Agency Review:

The “Cheap Seats” column has a well-deserved reputation for insight, acumen and relevance. Its why I turned to it regularly in “Talent Zoo” and its evident in the recently published volume. But what columnists and writers do you look to for those same qualities? Who do you read for thoughtful analysis, insight – or even just gossip – about the industry, and why?

Goldgeier:

I love people with a strong POV and who relate good stories about their own careers or others. George Tannenbaum’s “Ad Aged” blog, Dave Trott’s blog, Bob Hoffman’s “Ad Contrarian,” all do a very good job of taking specific incidents and expanding them to make  larger points. I keep up with a ton of other ad-related blogs and sites as well – AgencySpy does the gossip pretty well, and Jim Edwards on BusinessInsider seems to bring a unique take on industry news.

Agency Review:

Do you think these writers would have had a similar outlet in other eras, and if not, do you think the fact that they do changes the advertising industry in some way?

Goldgeier:

By “other eras” I assume we’re talking about the era before the Internet. I really doubt the guys I mentioned would’ve had a consistent outlet that they do today because of blogging. Maybe an occasional op-ed in Adweek or Advertising Age, but I really think blogging and columns like mine have leveled the playing field, giving a voice and a worldwide platform to people who have valid POVs even if they’re not David Ogilvy or Jeff Goodby-level famous. Anyone who thinks my opinion isn’t valid simply because I’m not some so-called agency “rock star” is full of crap.

difference

Agency Review:

A lot has changed since you started writing “Cheap Seats” in 2002. Or has it? What’s different now? What do we take for granted now – about business, about work, about culture, about advertising – that would have been inconceivable a decade ago. Indeed, if you could, what would you like to have told the guy who started the column in 2002 about what’s coming? What wouldn’t he believe if you told him?

Goldgeier:

Oh, a lot’s different now. There’s been an explosion in people expressing their views the way I do. I didn’t know what a blog was back in 2002 – Steve Hall was doing AdRants and Ask Wappling was doing AdRag, but the idea of “blogging” didn’t come into vogue until a year or two later. If I were go to back in time, I think a daily or near-daily commentary on the business, easily updated the way blogs are, might have been a more interesting way to go. Social media has also amplified everyone’s opinion, giving anyone access to immediate, worldwide distribution that disappears in a flash. My columns used to stay up on the Talent Zoo home page for 3 weeks. Now they’re up for a day, and forgotten the next day.

 I also started writing my column anonymously as “Danny G” for fear I’d never get hired again by taking on controversial subjects. That lasted until 2004 when the New York Times outed me in the aftermath of the “Advertising Week” column I wrote, which blew up into a big controversy. I probably would go back and say it’s OK to lose the pseudonym. These days, more people write provocative things under their real names, and it’s become generally accepted.

Agency Review:

That’s interesting, because for me it connects to a larger issue of a trend of a type of transparency that I think is being driven by social media and blogs – whether people recognize it or not. Or said another way, the immediate broadcast aspect of twitter and facebook and youtube turn people into international celebrities, or laughingstocks, instantly – and this is a completely new phenomenon. But the question is, have we reached the end of a line? Are we as transparent and instant as we can be? Or is the evolution of this that we now have a generation of consumers who are used to living their lives this new public way – which makes them fundamentally different from preceding generations?

Goldgeier:

Ha! I wrote a column about transparency in marketing, which is in the book. That’s more about corporations, though. For individuals, I think people are wrestling with how public they want their thoughts and feelings to be. Facebook, Twitter and even services like Instagram are used by people to look for jobs, or used by employers to find out more about prospective employees. It’s completely blurred our separation of personal and professional lives. Yes, it seems to come more naturally to younger folks, but as time goes on, more are more experienced professionals are becoming comfortable with it. Particularly in advertising, where we all seem to be marketing ourselves constantly. Putting yourself out there for public scrutiny, even if you do or say something foolish, seems to give you more credibility.

oops

Agency Review:

As you complied the book and were looking over a decade’s-worth of essays, what did you realized you’d missed? Was there a cultural trend or creative juggernaut, that, for reasons explicable or otherwise, you realized you never wrote about, never saw coming, and that, when you looked over your essays, made you say “how did I not write about THAT?”

Goldgeier:

I don’t really think I’ve missed much. I’ve taken on most of the topics that are central to the advertising  industry or agency life in some form or another. I often read other people’s writings and say, “Yeah, I wrote about that 5 or 6 years ago.”

Agency Review:

Okay, then let me take this a different way – what were you out ahead of that others weren’t that you’re really proud of. Something perhaps that you might even have gotten a lot of flack for at that time, but that now you look back on and say “yeah, I’ve been listening to Tito Puente for years and I think he’s great”. (Sorry – obligatory “Stripes” reference…)

Goldgeier:

I think I’ve been out front of a few of the hot button issues that get people in advertising really riled up – the overemphasis on award shows, the notion of creative directors or famous CMOs as “rock stars,” the silly buzzwords that get thrown around by us or our clients. I rarely take aim at specific people or agencies, but there was a column I wrote about the WK12 program at Wieden + Kennedy that I thought would piss off some folks. Because when the program was first announced, it sounded to me like indentured servitude to go pay an ad agency $12,000 for the privilege of working there for a year. And over the years, I’ve gotten a few emails from former participants in the program who told me, “You had it exactly right.”

future

Agency Review:

Writing “Cheap Seats” for the past decade has given you the opportunity to pay close attention to the changes in the industry since 2002. But let’s look forward: what do you think the next decade holds for advertising? What trends do you think will dominate, what innovations do you think will appear, what revolutions do you think will foment. For clients, for agencies and for the folks in the trenches?

Goldgeier:

Nobody can accurately predict the future of advertising. We’re all just guessing at it. But I do think, with the pace of change in technology, business, and life in general, more people will become comfortable being contract/freelance workers and moving from gig to gig rapidly. Even on the client side, it’s happening that way. And agencies are learning to keep their staffs lean, because each project depending on the media/tactic, requires a unique set of skills to get it done. They’re more apt to call in specialists when they’re needed.

The problem is, it destabilizes business to the point where nothing long-term is ever planned and everything becomes a fire drill.

I don’t see any one medium dying off, although daily printed newspapers aren’t probably going to last—you might see most papers print maybe 3-4 days a week.

We’ll see some amazing technological innovations – I think 3D printing will be huge for both the ad industry and for consumers in general. And we’ll see more “Minority Report”-style touchscreen innovations everywhere we live, travel and shop.

And while the technology changes, people’s mindsets don’t. Humans will always have the same emotional pushbuttons – the need for love, fear, security, acceptance – that savvy marketers will find ways to appeal to.

Agency Review:

I’d like to go back to your observation about agencies and clients running lean and relying on specialized skills, while at the same time destabilizing business because I think you’re really on to something there. I hadn’t articulated it that way, but I have seen it too, and I think that history shows us that when we have situations like this, new organisms/organizations arise. Perhaps more boutique shops, more small agencies, or instead of thinking in terms of “size” maybe it’s a different kind of culture. Have you seen this happening?

Goldgeier:

Oh absolutely. Agencies today – old, new, big, and small – are experimenting with new ways of staffing and new ways to get clients and revenue. There are some like Deutsch LA that have divisions trying to “invent” their own products. There are new boutiques that run solely on freelance or as-needed help, and other agencies trying desperately to wrestle back the services management consultants provide now. There’s no one model that’s perfect. But with profit margins thinner than ever, I have two cardinal rules about ideas, ad concepts or agency models: Somebody’s gotta pay for it. And someone’s gotta profit from it. Otherwise, it won’t be done or it won’t last long.

You can read our review of Dan’s book here, or order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here), or learn more about Dan here.

Illustration of Dan Goldgeier by Mike Caplanis

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