Notes on the death of Paul Tilley | Bleader

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Notes on the death of Paul Tilley

Posted By on 02.27.08 at 12:17 PM

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1. Gawker asks: "Did Ad Agency Blog Drive Ad Exec to Suicide?" Other than "no," I should probably explain. The anonymous blogger agencyspy called out Tilley for writing an annoying corporate e-mail and made fun of him. In comments some other anonymous people made further criticisms of his abilities; Michael Miner has more. While I hate to throw cold water on a circle of morbid self-regard, nothing anyone wrote on an anonymous insider blog was as severe as a September 29, 2006 article by the Sun-Times's Lewis Lazare, written just after Tilley assumed the managing director of creative position at DDB. You can read the cached article here, though I've excerpted it below in case the cache disappears.

In short: agencyspy made fun of him for writing a memo, and some anonymous people beefed at him. Lewis Lazare, on the other hand, wrote an article in a major newspaper saying that "some of the agency's best creatives" and in particular one creative team have so little faith in him that his promotion was "the final straw" for the agency.

It sucks when critics don't like you, but it is absolutely terrifying to contemplate the idea that your most talented colleagues secretly hate you. It's even worse to imagine those people telling a columnist that you suck, worse still to see that written up in your local paper in a not-blind blind item that has enough clues to let you figure out who hates you while still protecting their public anonymity.

To be clear, this is more about the bloggers than the Sun-Times column. The column wasn't particularly hard to find; it was slightly harder to find a free copy, but not that hard. I know blogs are cool, or the total opposite, but daily newspapers still have the inside track on a lot of things, for better or worse, and sometimes they're not as different as people think.

2. It does raise the question, though: does it matter, as a matter of public record, if an ad agency exec is incompetent? If a president, mayor, or alderman is bad at his or her job, it matters a lot and I feel like I have a right to know. If a local team's GM or manager is incompetent, it probably doesn't really matter, but it matters to me regardless, and I feel like part of the social contract we sign as sports fans allows us to pester them about matters such as "will Jerry Owens be a leadoff hitter?" and if the answer is yes, to make fun of them.

It doesn't matter to me if an ad agency exec is good or not, at least not enough to read about it under normal circumstances and certainly not enough that I don't feel uncomfortable reading the savage opinions of anonymous sources on the matter, but a lot of other people don't care what Ozzie Guillen does with Jerry Owens. I don't have an answer here.

3. Reading comments at Gawker, Chicagoist, and Agency Spy, not to mention just talking to ad people and reading things and watching things, it seems like loathing is endemic in the industry--self-loathing, loathing of colleagues, loathing of ad people by outsiders, etc. That's why I can't watch Mad Men; I can't watch a show about people who hate themselves and each other. I'd much rather watch inferior shows like Law & Order or House, which aren't very good, really, but at root are about people who like what they do. Call me mawkish but I like to reinforce the idea that there are reasons to leave the house.

Loathing ad people for what they do is hypocritical, and given the way the economy is evolving, it will just continue to be more so. What you're reading is supported by ad money. If you found this using Google, you found it using one of the truly epic engineering accomplishments of our time, which is wholly supported by ad money, ditto if you used Google Reader or were sent this via Gmail. And if you're reading this you're probably reading the Tribune or the New York Times for free, too, because of ad money. Wired has a very popular article right now about our glorious future in which everything will be free, because of ad money.

Advertising preys on our vanity, but it also taxes it; it's the engine that drives the information economy, and we can use the inefficiency of the market (why are there John McCain ads on the Reader site? hell if I know) to support honorable works. Somewhere someone who doesn't care about the forgotten cities of eastern Russia is buying something I don't want, and they're paying a very small premium that allows me to read a couple thousand words of excellent journalism. If there's something wrong with the system, as a professional and amateur beneficiary I'm just as responsible.

4. Another reason to not loathe the business: having an enormous, well-paying industry that explores human desire in its purest form has taught us a lot about people. That's why a lot of great writers--Don DeLillo, William Gaddis, even Mark Twain--were ad men. Gaddis was actually a great ad man, and the advertising parts of The Rush for Second Place are just as interesting as the rest of it.

5. Sayeth Edward Bernays, one of the industry's great innovators:

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."

Creepy? Maybe. But I'm glad I have some understanding of how it works.

Footnote: As promised, an excerpt from the September 26, 2006 Sun-Times column mentioned above:

"Now comes the fallout. In the wake of the news Monday that Paul Tilley has been promoted to managing director, creative, the word from inside DDB/Chicago is -- as many feared -- not heartening.

"Sources say that some of the agency's best creatives have called the decision to put Tilley in the top creative post the equivalent of 'the last straw.' They are angry because Tilley is perceived by many to lack the skills -- and talent -- to be the strong creative leader the agency so desperately needs at this moment. Ominously, the displeasure is said to be strongest among various members of the Anheuser-Busch creative teams, who, for better or worse, have been the heart and soul of the agency for a long time."

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