Saturday, December 31, 2005

Communal workspaces.

Influx Insights – via Ad Pulp – points to a new trend towards communal tables in restaraunts. They also mention the work bench approach that some companies in the UK have embraced, including some of that country's leading agencies.

Here at Black Lab Five, our office space is basically one large room. Meetings take place at the conference table while other people work on projects. The phones are answered by whomever is closest. Instead of emailing something, we actually talk to each other.

I would love to say that our open plan was due to some high brow workplace design ethic, but the reality is that we were a startup and the space was dirt cheap. But being forced to embrace the open plan has actually led me to believe in its value.

Previously, I believed that offices and private spaces were essential to the creative process. Now I've come to think they are simply barriers that slow down the exchange of information and ideas. In fact, after initially positioning our desks as far away as possible in our space, we recently decided to push them together and truly embrace the workbench concept. So far, we've been amazed by how much more quickly things happen when we don't have to get our asses out of a chair, out a door, down a hall and through another door.

Oh, sure, there are challenges. When you call for an appointment with your physician, for instance, the nurse often asks where the pain is emanating from – and the answer is not always "the ankle." An especially gassy inhabitant can cause the morale of the entire operation to dip. And certain web sites with sudden bursts of audio can be instantly incriminating.

Small fees, however, in return for enhanced communications.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Sometimes words do matter.

Watch a committee try to ascertain whether the word "innovative" should be replaced by "breakthrough" and advertising can seem pretty damn self-involved. All the inane wordsmithing makes one start to wonder if any piece of language matters anymore.

So it was nice to be reminded, while in a pub in the land of the Queen's English, that the right words can really make a difference – innovative and breakthrough excluded.

You see, after a few pints of English ale, I didn't excuse myself to go to the Men's Room or The Restroom or The John. I went to The Gents.

And The Gents, it seemed to me, introduced some sense of decorum. Aim precisely, wash up thoroughly and be brisk about the whole thing. Be a gent – not a guy using The John.

A small victory for craft.

Monday, December 26, 2005

An English Christmas.

I'm spending the holidays with my sister's family outside of London. A bit damp and cold, of course, but completely charming.

One thing I've noticed over the course of my visits during the 15-plus years that my sister has lived in the U.K. is how dramatically English food has evolved and improved. Any jokes about it are now wildly off the mark. This afternoon, for instance, I had an incredible parsnip and chestnut soup in the local pub, washed down with my usual Fuller's London Pride.

This pub was a bit of a step up, but definitely a pub. Nary a can of soggy peas to be seen, and definitely nothing on the menu akin to a Bennigan's fried mozzarella stick.

Even basic foodstuffs in the large supermarkets have packaging that feels premium. It seems as though even the biggest food companies are driven to tout freshness and a commitment to common sense agriculture.

I'm not sure when The Tipping Point occurred, but at some point it seems this entire country stopped accepting crap food.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

We want to blog. No, wait. Blogs scare the crap out of us.

I realize that large public companies are forced to worry about all kinds of things that can suddenly trip them up. If it's not Sarbanes-Oxley, it's some nut bag claiming they found half a finger in their burger. With the media attention these stories generate, it's easy to understand why so many executives don't sleep well even when their stock is on a nice, steady climb.

So with more corporations considering blogs as a communications tool, it's hardly suprising that others are ready to step forward and deliver a healthy dose of paranoia about the instant publishing world. In fact, PR outfit Burson-Marsteller has created a guide for corporations and how they can handle blogging without getting their hands scorched.

Trouble is, the guide basically wrings anything positive right out of the whole blogging business. Their process sounds about as much fun for a corporation as a phone call from Elliott Spitzer.

Frankly, I wonder why a company would want to expend a bunch of energy unleashing everybody in the organization as a blogger on the corporation's behalf. The modern workforce is too fluid for that to make sense to me.

Instead, I think large companies should work very hard at a blog that is a great representation of ______, Inc. on the web. It's a challenge to do it without turning it into marketing talk, but it can be done. And it can still include many voices from within the company.

Most of the bad press about corporations and blogs has occured when a company cans someone who says things like, "Black Lab Five sucks. I hate working there. And Dean Gemmell is a complete tool." Well, guess what? If you talk crap about your company – online, on the phone, in a bar – it might come back to bite you. That's always been true. I think the story of the poor, maligned blogger disciplined by an employer is old news.

Companies don't need every employee to be a mouthpiece. Keep the company as the voice. Just make sure it's honest and transparent.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The morality cops are still on the beat.

Everyone's favorite geriatric senator from Alaska, Ted Stevens, wants to control what we watch. Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC, wants to control what we watch. Michael Copps, FCC commisioner and, to prove that I can be a bi-partisan critic, a Democrat, wants to control what we watch. I'm sure this group would be fantastic company at a dinner.

The good news is they can't control content. That ship has sailed. With every cable merger they try to hold up, another medium springs up.

The bad news is they're not about to stop trying.

I agree that there is some genuinely disturbing content on television, on the radio and on the internet. I just don't believe that government can – or should – stop it. It's wasted effort at a time when our country faces far more vexing issues.

Of course, the real question that never gets tackled in this debate is what the definitions of "obscene" or "pornographic" will involve. For some reason, I'm sure Senator Stevens is more concerned about the dalliances on a dopey show like Desparate Housewives than in the numbing violence of, say, another showing of Terminator 2.

Monday, December 12, 2005

First Annual PDF Awards now accepting PayPal.

Well, we thought it was kind of cool to keep the show low-tech, but all kinds of people wanted to submit their entry fees online. So you can now pay for your entries in the First Annual PDF awards with PayPal.

Still no shrimp wrapped in bacon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Announcing the PDF Awards Show.

Here I am at the end of the year, once again knee deep in an onslaught of crappy award show entries. Rather than continue to complain about them, I'm going to offer an alternative. Call it a positive solution.

So it gives me great pleasure to announce the Call for Entries for the First Annual PDF Awards. Finally, a stripped down awards show that matches the tenor of the times. Instead of wasting time and resources on award show preparation, you can spend the month of January actually focused on new projects.

Here's how the First Annual PDF Awards will work.

Any agency, company or individual is allowed to submit up to three pieces of work that was produced any time between January 1st, 2005 and December 31st, 2005. No agency, company or individual is allowed to submit more than three entries.

The cost to enter each piece of work is $5. That's right. Five bucks.

Do not send any printed pieces or pricy Beta dubs. No shiny paper mounted on fancy board either.

Email a PDF, an MP3, a web link or a Quicktime (or whatever you need to do to show us the work – the PDF title is kind of a symbolic thing) with the creative credits to:

If it's a really big file, mail a disc to: Black Lab Five, 427 E. Michigan Avenue, Suite 5, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. The deadline for entries is January 31st, 2006. Extensions? Probably not. After all, you only need to pull together an electronic file and five bucks.

Send a check made out to Black Lab Five, Inc. to the above address. (Your check, of course, will be in the amount of 5, 10 or 15 dollars, depending upon how many entries you submit. No tipping, please. We're professionals, thank you very much.)

There will be 20 PDF Award winners in 2006. There will be no ranking of those 20 – all will share equal honor as a member of the elite group of 20.

There are no categories. Zero. No campaigns that feature a gazillion different pieces such as a smart-ass window sticker that was never actually applied to any bank branch door. No opportunity to win something like Best Direct Mail (Black and White), Perishable Foods. Quite simply, entries can be any piece of communication – a :30 spot, a blog, an e-commerce site, a print ad, a billboard, a direct mail piece (even a Black and White one), a press release, an album cover. Whatever.

The three leaders of Black Lab Five are the judges. Yes, we are human so I'm sure we're biased. (You can read more of my blog if you want to try and read into my thinking and how I'll judge. But I will warn you that I'm a riddle wrapped in an enigma surrounded by a conundrum.) At least our bias is out there for everyone to examine – no mystery about who is judging in this show. Indeed, the judging will be extremely arbitrary – just like every other damn awards show already out there. Furthermore, we will not enter any of our own work in the prestigious PDF awards. That would be, well, sort of dumb.

We will announce the winners online on February 20, 2006, and post the work on this crummy blog site we developed. (If you're a winner and we haven't received your check for five bucks by February 20th, well, we can't really make you a winner. Let's try to avoid that scenario.)

There will be no expensive annual available for purchase. There will be no former SNL actors handing out gold statuettes. There will be no party with drinks and shrimp wrapped in bacon, tasty as they are. If you want a party, go out and buy some good beer, invite some friends over and look at the work on the web site.

Five bucks per entry. No more than three entries. Electronic files only. A chance to be named one of the 20 best pieces of communication in 2006.