Show, Don’t Tell: A “Help Provided” Prose Poem Campaign

Show, Don’t Tell: A “Help Provided” Prose Poem Campaign

In my desire to “Show, Don’t Tell,” and to chronicle the prelude to my third career act, I’ve been writing prose poems about my career, the communications industry, and some of the philosophies that guide me.

I published more than a dozen of these prose poems on LinkedIn. Now, I’m offering eight of the poems in one package here.


According to the Poetry Foundation, a prose poem is a prose composition, while not broken into verse lines, that demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.

Poetry Is A Clear Point of Difference

As someone who writes ads and marketing copy for clients, I like the idea that poetry and art can be used to inform commerce. I also like the idea that poetry can be a point of difference for me in my search for meaningful work.

When looking for work, you’re looking for people. In my case, I am seeking to connect with business and community leaders who need help communicating their marketplace value.

There are marketers in the world today who believe they can simply state their offer and win—no personality, charm, creativity, or strategic planning necessary. I’m not looking for these marketers and they’re not looking for me.

I’m a good fit for marketers committed to pursuing a clear point of difference in the marketplace. A clear point of difference starts with the product or service and moves from there to how people inside and outside the company talk about (and think about) the product or service.

To make a brand culturally relevant today, and to give people something to talk and think about, we often infuse brand communications with arts and culture. Lowbrow. Highbrow. It’s all up for grabs.

When I work with clients on a brand communications problem, I reach back to my training like everyone else. I was trained to read and write poems, stories, essays, and news.

Today, I believe in the use of poetry and poetic frameworks to advance the objectives of a business, cause, or political campaign. To get an idea to stick and to get people to share it, there has to be a short powerful punch of words.

To tap one legendary line, “Where’s the beef?” … it is not poetry. It’s advertising that benefits from poetic construction.


The person who runs the Communication Arts Twitter account likes to promote my writing. I am grateful. CA is the creative industry’s standard bearer, and each Tweet sent from @CommArts is seen by a segment of the magazine’s 81,300 followers.

It’s an honor when anyone pays attention to my writing. Given that it’s CA who follows my updates and helps to promote my thinking, I feel particularly grateful for the recognition.

Faux Cowboy Seeks To Lasso Our Public Lands

Extraction. American industrialists posses a voracious appetite for it. In fact, their hunger for more precious metals, oil, and coal is so great, they want to find these untapped riches in our National Monuments.

Thankfully, REI is taking a strong leadership role in the resistance, and actively encouraging its members to step up and help protect our natural heritage.

Our country’s public lands define who we are. These are the places where we work, where we play and where we connect to our shared history. Now is the time to stand up for these places—places that help us live a life outdoors.

Right now, the Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary Ryan Zinke, is undertaking an unprecedented review of 27 national monuments established by presidents from both parties since 1996, including the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Craters of the Moon in Idaho, and Bears Ears in Utah. More than 11 million acres of national public land are at stake.

The Department of the Interior wants to hear from you. And we want to make it easy for you to speak up.

REI’s business is at stake. Taking 11 million acres of public land off the table isn’t just a violation of everything sacred and good, it’s a direct threat to the outdoor recreation industry and the travel and tourism industry. It’s good to see REI fight back. Too many companies hesitate when faced with tough social and political issues. No one wants to offend customers. At the same time, brand managers know they can’t be all things to all people, especially today.

In February, both REI and Patagonia supported pulling out of a major outdoor trade show in Salt Lake City in response to a resolution from Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert that advised President Donald Trump to overturn Bears Ears as a national monument. Companies like Patagonia and REI are powerful enough to make Utah pay the price for their public official’s backwards ideas. But will it be enough to move the needle and restore common sense throughout the land? No, but it’s a start.

It’s such an odd moment in America. Don and his wrecking crew are busy doing damage to our institutions and traditions. Meanwhile, American brands fight the good fight. Bring all the skepticism you want, but REI and Patagonia aren’t playing marketing games here. This is real, and it’s also a showcase for the power of PR and brand activism. When a movement is backed by an active and loyal community of customers and fueled by an activist company or group of companies, it can be a powerful force for good. Companies haven’t usurped the role of non-profits, nor will they. This increased activism is an added layer of pressure, and an effective one.

The Mixed Up Men Behind The Obfuscator In Chief

When I was 18 years old, I walked into the offices of The College Reporter in Lancaster, PA and soon thereafter my work as a reporter commenced.

My time as a college journalist was difficult but educational. The administration threatened to sue me and frat boys banned me from their parties and wanted to kick my ass. Their anger and outlandish behavior drove me to dig deeper and write better news stories. That’s how journalists operate. They seek the truth in the face of massive resistance and obstruction, no matter what. It can be a highly adversarial occupation—so much so that dozens of journalists are murdered each year.

The truth hurts. In fact, truth sears the flesh of fascists. According to The New York Times, senior liar to the president, Steve Bannon, gave the press a tongue-lashing this week:

“The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States. That’s why you have no power,” he added. “You were humiliated.”

This is the criticism of a savvy media manipulator who ran Breitbart, a hate site far right of Fox News, until Don officially added him to his team last summer.

Could it be that am I too far removed from the Heartland of my birth to now understand the dynamic at work in America? Am I humiliated, as Bannon claims? No, I am embarrassed for the country, a sentiment shared by media pros from coast to coast.

Steve Bannon holds his false staff in a sea of snakes. His divining rod is no good.

Many Americans are in the dark. At the same time, we are in the Age of Radical Transparency, which means it’s nearly impossible to hide the truth. For all the recent talk of fake news and how it threw the election, it’s important to realize that Bannon’s fakes are not at all convincing. MIT Media Lab professor, Ethan Zuckerman, reports:

Preliminary analysis conducted by the Media Cloud team at MIT and Harvard suggests that while fake news stories spread during the 2016 US election, they were hardly the most influential media in the dialog. In tracking 1.4 million news stories shared on Facebook from over 10,000 news sites, the most influential fake news site we found ranked 163rd in our list of most shared sources. Yes, fake news happens, but its impact and visibility comes mostly from mainstream news reporting about fake news.

Bannon has also gone on record as a Leninist who seeks to dismantle all American institutions. Will Bannon’s venomous lies topple the press and the way we govern in this “free country”? I am doubtful. The fact is Bannon’s lies that flow from Don’s mouth on a daily basis are mostly noise, and now that the press is calling a lie a lie, and getting their backbone back, the fight is on for real. “The Steve and Don Show” might be the greatest reality TV program ever made, but like all reality TV programs, it’s a highly produced show that can and will be cancelled.

In related news, last Christmas President Obama quietly signed into law the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, a bill introduced by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT). “Our enemies are using foreign propaganda and disinformation against us and our allies, and so far the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel,” Portman said.

Perhaps we need another law to protects us from the propaganda emanating from the White House and Republican “leaders” on Capitol Hill. In the meantime, I will rely on journalists to dig, learn and reveal on our behalf. We the people have our own role to play as readers who subscribe to our nation’s best newspapers and magazines, as citizen journalists, as neighbors, friends and colleagues. Lies do die out, but right now in America the lies must be killed.

The Magic of Don: How He Hides His Crimes Out In The Open

Did Donny the Dangler employ a brilliant communications strategy to win the White House? According to Roger L. Martin, a business professor at the University of Toronto, he did, and the sooner we understand how it works, the more effectively we can combat him.

What he was doing was creating with precise and relentless consistency an entirely new category in the minds of voters: the politically incorrect candidate. He has since monopolized that new category.

By creating the new category and playing his role to the max, the audience became riveted and eventually moved to support the anti-candidate. The logic Democrats tried to use that you would not hire a bus driver to fly a plane, ultimately wasn’t the kind of logic enough Americans were willing to buy. Is it because Americans are dumb-asses? It is all too easy to see it that way, but the good professor warns against it.

Clinton ran an exceedingly competent campaign, with lots of experienced managers, an abundance of planning, high levels of investment, and careful attention to best practices. However, the strategy was underwhelming. She sold customers what she desired them to want: a product that was compelling to her and her management team.

This is such an astute reading of the 2016 election. Russian hacking didn’t rob Hillary of the White House. She lost in a contest with rules that she didn’t fully understand. She kept insisting, as Democrats do, that better policies matter most. Of course, they do matter in the day-to-day reality of governing. But running for office is not governing. Running for office is a battle for attention, adoration, and ultimately long-term brand preference.

I don’t blame Hillary for not wanting to see herself as a product. No one wants to degrade their own humanity in order to win, except the demagogue who did just that to win. Lessons learned. Now what do we do to expedite the impeachment of the ass clown in charge? What strategy do we the people employ to fight the growth of fascism in our own land? Number one, STOP listening to what he says or Tweets. When literally every word he utters is calculated to distract, it’s time to turn away from the noise of Don and the talking heads altogether. Instead, we must watch what he does, and organize our resistance there. The longer we focus on his or anyone’s personality, the less room we make for the issues.

Don can talk shit all day and he does. Who cares? The issues that I care about are on the line: civil rights, gun control, healthcare, the environment, the economy, and the constant drumbeats of both terror and war. I don’t have time to hear what he or his minions have to say on matters. They are corrupt, anti-American and blind to the needs of our modern society. It’s good to understand the other side’s wants in any conflict, but what do you do once you comprehend that their wants are outrageous and dangerous? Do you listen and try to find common ground? Or do you go out and organize the people of this nation into an informed and motivated force for freedom?

There’s A Time For Campfire Songs; This Isn’t The Time

Don Trump the pussy grabber is President-Elect of the United States. How did this happen, and what do we do now?

My friend Charlie Quirk—an Aussie who works as a brand strategist in San Francisco—made a good post this morning dealing with the “How” question. Here’s an except:

Trump made concrete claims that are easy to understand. Politicians of both sides equivocate and use weasel words way too often. They obscure what needs to be clarified and confuse us needlessly. We can’t besmirch people who support Trump as knuckle draggers. He communicated clearly, dogmatically and very often untruthfully. But his clarity was the secret sauce here. Like Bill Clinton’s ‘it’s the economy stupid’ did so effectively in ’92. He used clarity to cut through and mobilize. He did it in an offensive, appalling, misogynistic way, but he did it. And that’s scary stuff.

Can we admit that Don had a better strategy to win? It was based on utter filth and lies, but he knew that truth didn’t matter to American voters. Being a TV star matters, and to be the star, you play your part. Don played it, and us, perfectly.

On the other side, Hillary’s people were out-of-touch and overconfident. They figured they could “go high when Don went low.” But that only works for the magical Obamas. This election was a knife fight. Sadly, the politically correct, hapless Dems decided to fold their weapons and rise above, instead of cutting him and the GOP on the hour with charges of fraud, rape, and total insanity. They played it safe and they lost.

During the debates, especially the first debate, I lost it because it was obvious to me that Hillary didn’t understand the rules of the new TV game. She thought she was in a debate because that’s the tradition. But it was never a debate in the classic sense.

The Dems didn’t want to admit that few in the viewing audience gave a crap about the right answer. We the people desire a character that makes bold claims and loud advances. Hillary couldn’t see herself as a character. Don lives inside a comic strip. Hillary also has too much intelligence and grace to get down in the slime pit with a mad dog, but there are times when the battle calls for this kind of decisive action. When you’re facing a fascist dictator wannabe for President, it is one of those times.

Moving forward, the Dems will need to rethink everything, including how they “walk their talk.” In today’s media-soaked faux reality, the messaging needs to cut through. When Joe Biden said he’d take Don out back, that’s the folky stuff that connects with people, in this case, men.

Flipping Ageism and Ad Agency B.S. The Bird

In the advertising agency business, it’s best to get out before you get old. Or so goes the common wisdom. Naturally, there are many notable exceptions. David Ogilvy was 39 when he wrote his first ad, and he spent the next 25 years of his life actively involved in the making of advertising.

One could argue that it’s a job for young people, due to the late nights, immense workload and high pressure situations that come with landing and keeping multi-million dollar clients.

Joanthan Cude of McKinney believes one must become and then remain “resilient” to survive in advertising.

As I began ruminating on life and advertising, I couldn’t help but think about how, as one ages from 25 to 50, advertising becomes a steep pyramid, and people fall off in droves. It’s not necessarily because their talent dims or because they lose their ability to think critically or because they can no longer connect with young consumers. It’s because, for all the psychic highs an agency career can bestow, it comes with a tremendous amount of wear and frustration. Much of your best thinking and a lot of blood, sweat and tears end up on the proverbial cutting-room floor.

Cude doesn’t mention ageism in his article, or the fact that if you’re over 40 and working in an ad agency, you better be working from a corner office or your days are numbered. Instead, he puts the blame squarely on the people who fail to be resilient. Of course, that POV is a failure in itself. Let me rephrase resilience. Let’s call it shit-sandwich eating, because that’s a lot closer to reality. Some totally sane, resilient people simply opt out, not because they’re beaten down by the ad game. Some people find or create a better game for themselves, which is the ultimate act of resilience.

Also, let’s examine a few cogent facts here. Agency attrition has nothing to do with older people not knowing how to relate, or sell, to younger people. Younger people are clearly not the demo. According to Media Post, Americans older than 50 have double the discretionary spending power of any other age group. The average head of household is 52. The average new car buyer is 56. The average Mac user is 54.

In short, the market for goods and services is dominated by people who are over 50, but the people charged with serving up the marketing strategies, the creative ideas and all the rest that helps drive the economy forward are much younger, sometimes decades younger.

What if young people work in advertising because they don’t know any better? Seriously. It’s easy to be swayed by a decent salary and beautiful workspace, plus the chance to see your work on TV or in print. Put another way, what if young people are the only people agency owners and managers can convince to work there?

When we moved to Oregon, I was 43. I half-heartedly looked for an agency job here. Given the tattered economy and my own disgruntlement with the agency business model, I needed a new answer. For a time, I thought I’d need to leave advertising and start over. Then I saw what I needed to do. I needed to separate what I love about the work, from what I detest about the toxic agencies where it is created. From this initial spark, Bonehook was born.

Bonehook is now the anti-agency. I’m a critic and a practitioner of advertising, and my company is a reflection of me. The agency business is bloated, antiquated and a great waster of the client’s time and money. We start from this premise and ask prospective clients if they’d like the traditional treatment, or if they’d prefer a better way.

Next Time Someone Asks, “What Do You Do?” Employ This 4-Point Response

“What do you do?” It’s the age-old question that is always lurking, waiting to be asked at the next industry conference, cocktail party, and/or random encounter on an airplane.

In one way, the question is innocent and a genuine attempt to understand more about you. On the other hand, it’s a moment of truth where judgements will be levied, no matter how conscious the parties involved. Personally, I prefer the question, “What are you working on?” It’s not nearly as loaded. Yet, I can only control what I can control, which is to say I will continue face the question, “What do you do?”

Author and mentalist Tim David, writing in Harvard Business Review, outlines a four-point approach that is both disarming and effective.

When asked, “What do you do?” Mr. David suggests that you reply with:

  • A verbal slap
  • Ask a problem question
  • Go for the head nod
  • End with a curiosity statement

Let’s examine his approach more carefully:


From studying his example, I’ve managed to work out my own version of an effective reply.

What do you do?

Verbal Slap: I was an archery coach, but I couldn’t take all the traveling by van.

Ask a problem question: You know how company’s tend to annoy you with all their commercials?

Go for the head nod: You’re annoyed because the company doesn’t understand you, and they “talk down” to you.

Curiosity statement: I help companies annoy you less by getting them to hone in on genuine stories, and by using narrative techniques perfected around the campfire for millennia.

Media Literacy 101: Be Sold, But Not Fooled


I met Faris Yakob of Genius Steals at a conference hosted by Henry Jenkins at MIT a number of years ago. I recall being pleased that he was familiar with AdPulp. And it was fun to rap with someone I’d only known from afar at the time.

This morning, I learned that Faris wrote an opinion piece on content marketing for Campaign’s new U.S. site.

He notes that people are getting lost in semantics whilst searching for the definitive definition of the marketing practice. Here, let’s have a brief look:

One of the most often voiced is that content is not appropriately labelled — that its intent to commercially persuade the audience is veiled, which disrupts the church-and-state boundaries of editorial and advertising, and erodes the trust of the consumer in the publication, and indeed, in content overall.

One of the first things you would learn, if not the first thing, in a media literacy class is that no piece of content is objective. Everything comes with a point of view and looks to persuade you of that point of view, explicitly or otherwise.

No piece of content is objective, or neutral. I love that Faris is beating this particular drum. Journalists are not saints doing the work of a higher power. They tell news stories to make their publishers money. Just like copywriters in service to brands.

The promise of content marketing is simple. Brands who mine a substantive topical vein can connect in a real way with people by becoming the ultimate source, or the source with the best reporting, photography, videography and so on. Brand marketers have deep pockets for such coverage. Media companies do not, which means there is a vacuum that brands can fill for their benefit and the benefit of all.

Advertising’s Impact Isn’t Lessened By Its Commercial Nature

“I got so I simply gagged every time I sat before my desk to write an ad.” -Hart Crane

I smile when “real writers” criticize their time making advertising. There’s a nostalgic quality to the criticism that lessens its impact and renders it charming. What makes me gag is the media garbage train, which includes everything from “The Housewives of Your Stupid City” to the masquerade of cable news and the onslaught of verbal nonsense clogging up our social streams and RSS feeds. So, Crane and I agree that we have a major problem and that we don’t want to contribute to it.

But unlike Hart Crane, when I sit down to write an ad, I am invigorated, not nauseated. The making of an ad is my chance to make things known and make them right, by a small degree for sure, but right nonetheless. What do I mean by “making things right” in an ad? I mean telling the truth about the company, in new and surprising ways. The fact is there are tens of thousands American companies making great products and providing terrific services. These companies have lots of authentic stories to tell, because happy customers like to share their favorite brand experiences. These companies also have the opportunity to contribute to the culture, and many of them do.

Making advertising the right way takes belief in, and loyalty to, a different path, and a steep, lonely path it can be. There is a ton of advertising that continues to mask unhealthy corporate agendas. And there’s a ton of relatively innocent advertising that is poorly constructed, from strategy through to execution. Here’s the rub though, low standards industry-wide and decades of bad practices can be overcome, one ad at a time. It may sound like a quixotic pursuit, and perhaps it is. So be it—take me to your windmills.

Personally, I find ethics in media and in business a fascinating topic. Media is incredibly powerful, and the potential for misuse extraordinarily high. Media can contribute to the demise, or to the coming together, of people. That’s why, for better or worse, I’m in it to win it.