Advertising Week… unemployment still weaker

Where's Kool-Aid Man? I didn't pay all this money to meet a mustard bottle and a bald guy. (courtesy of www.realtimeadvertisingweek.com)

Where's Kool-Aid Man? I didn't pay all this money to meet a mustard bottle and a bald guy. (courtesy of www.realtimeadvertisingweek.com)

Many of the daily emails I receive are useless. They may even be less than useless, costing me two seconds to delete, two seconds I could have spent scratching myself or staring off into space. The nextNY newsletter is actually worth the time. The first of the week gives a huge list of technology events happening in and around New York. I always peruse it in search of the solution to all my problems;  “How To Grow and Care For Your Own Money Tree,” for example, would be ideal. Last week I found something not nearly that good, but maybe worth $25 and a few hours of my time.

Advertising Week is North America’s premier gathering of cutting edge communications leaders,” according to their marketers and copywriters. Is that vague (and, therefore, ironic) enough for you? The event could just as easily be a gathering of teenagers with really fast thumbs on the latest Sidekick, or maybe knife owners who talk a lot. The wordsmiths go on to describe the event as, “…a hybrid of thought leadership and special event programming, uniting clients, creatives, media and inspiring figures…” They didn’t work in “next generation” or “turnkey,” so I only sort of understand what they’re getting at. I’ll try to summarize Ad Week myself, having attended and all. Media people sit in auditoriums, listening to more important media people talk in platitudes on stage, and plan out their networking strategies. Near constant lip service is paid to social causes, though networking and open bar parties are the main draw.

I attended last year as an employee of my previous company and managed to learn a few things and meet a few people. My schedule is a little more open this year, so I bought a $25 student pass with a borrowed .edu email address and filled my days with sessions. Some of the programming included…

  • The New Media Mix: Connecting the Dots in a Multi-Screen Environment
  • The Future in 4D: Brands, Communities, Content & Technology
  • The New Mad Men: How Familiar Agencies Are Writing a New Business Model for a New Ad World
  • Social Networking 2.0: Brands Get in the Game

The sessions took place at The Times Center in the heart of Times Square (read, on a side street within eyeshot of the Port Authority Bus Station) and the Paley Center for Media a little further uptown. The Times Center – part of the new New York Times building – is a state-of-the-art auditorium where performances, lectures, readings and fancy parties are held. They may use it as a meat locker on off days, given how cold they keep it; the New York Times needs to make money any way they can. The Paley Center is more like a movie theater, before anybody spills soda and buttery popcorn on the floor. It’s comfortable in a padded, high-use, industrial sort of way. The two venues aren’t close enough together to make it from one to the other between sessions. So I stopped trying. As it turned out, no one gave a crap what I’d registered for and what I attended. I came and went as I pleased.

Despite the grand names of the sessions – complete with colons and qualifying descriptions, as if working titles for nonfiction hardback rejects – not much substance was offered. I’m media savvy, though not expert, even with my much-celebrated, prize-worthy blog to end all blogs. But I didn’t take away much more than a few free magazines and some pilfered cookies. Presenters tended to generalize and not back up their ideas. Everybody was friends; no one really disagreed with anybody. The real goal was to get a little publicity for their company, while using up as many plastic water bottles as possible. I did learn that AOL still exists, or at least an entity by that name still sponsors conferences. And the ten-year-old trend of oddly capitalizing a company’s name is alive and well, as is the shunning of spaces. What were once cutting-edge ideas, even bleeding-edge, are now childproof-scissors edge. Okay, class, today we’re going to brand our startup. Everyone cut your construction paper. Be sure to follow the lines… exactly, so nobody can tell them apart.

I found myself drifting off during sessions; cool air and a comfortable seat will do that. How might I re-brand myself, were I a company? Maybe I could go by normelrod, or normElrod, or even nOrmelrOd. The third one has potential. It’s like my name is looking at you, making eye contact, so you know I’m serious about doing business. Stare into my eyes… you’re getting sleepy. I’m going to count to three. And when I snap my fingers, you will give me a job. If I were a conference session rather than a company, what would I be called? A couple of the finalists were…

  • Norm Elrod: Connecting the Dots Between Education and Unemployment
  • The New Mad Man: How an Employable Person Goes Postal in a Jobless Recovery

Some company ran a contest that preoccupied me for the better part of an afternoon. Entrants filled in words for “(blank) moves (blank) forward” on a sign and were photographed holding it up. The pictures ran in a long slide-show loop on the wall as advertising. One randomly chosen entrant won $3.27 or a gift certificate to Chipotle or something else not worth the price of their dignity. Entries tended to be along the lines of “hard work moves my company forward.” I didn’t enter, but kept coming up with possible responses. “Bran moves my bowels forward,” was one of my favorites. “Bad corporate management moves my last day forward,” was another. But the winner was, “stupid advertising moves the competition forward.”

I eventually started wondering why the people on stage were there and I was in the audience and, more generally, why some people have jobs and some don’t. There are many possible reasons… skill, luck, timing, hard work, fate. All of them and many others probably figure in somehow. No one reason can fully capture it. My daydreams didn’t provide an answer, nor did most of the people talking at me in generalities. A few of them were indeed very impressive people. But all of them could’ve been me, later on in life or after a sex change. I suppose if I had the answers, I wouldn’t be asking the questions. I’d be up on a stage talking, or writing a book. Or maybe I’d be picking large, ripe bills off my money tree.

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5 Comments

  1. Dalilama wrote:

    I love how you chose the odd caPital’S name that has a spelling error in it Mr. ElOd… 😉

    And to comment on the end of your article, maybe if you had the answers, instead of writing a book, you’d blog about it…

    Friday, October 2, 2009 at 10:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Norm wrote:

    I fixed the misspelling. But I feel a little stupid now.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 10:34 pm | Permalink
  3. I’ve subscribed to your blog and have been reading it for the past month or so, you always manage to make me bust a gut laughing and improve my outlook!!! I have added your blog as a link on mine (on job search too, though I don’t have the talent for humor that you do)

    Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 9:18 pm | Permalink
  4. Norm wrote:

    Thank you, Anita. I’m glad my posts are more than therapy for myself. I’m just trying to stay sane through all this. Though some might argue that I lost it a long ago. Keep your hopes up. Both of us will find work one of these days.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Permalink
  5. NOT underemployed wrote:

    Norm,

    I have gone on COUNTLESS job interviews… some driving over 3 hours… averaging about 2.5 a month. Monthly meails to friends, phoncalls, social netwokring you name it ive done it. At the end of the day what yielded results was my harrassing old friends within my industry and FINALLY right time right place sort of magical thing happenend… keep at it. Rely on networking. Its the only way.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Permalink