The time has come to say good-bye

Strategy bids farewell to beloved columnist John Burghardt after 11 years of wise and witty columns

‘Adios, farewell, bye-bye, my chiquita…’

– Dumb pseudo folk song

Somewhere in this issue, I’m not exactly sure where, you’re going to read all about the terrific future of Strategy. How it’s going to change from a newspaper to a magazine, from bi-weekly to monthly, from rag paper to glossy.

Yeah, well, I don’t do glossy. I do rumpled. And I’m leery of this metamorphosis stuff. I might get lost on the way from caterpillar to butterfly and turn into a jellyfish or something. So I’m going to view this as a great opportunity to say goodbye.

I’ve been knocking out these columns for a long, long time. (FROM THE COUCH: How long was it, Johnny?) Well, I go back so far that I remember when, if you were writing a radio commercial and you wanted to make sure the listener knew it was funny, you called the main character Harry. Now, of course, you call him Bob. That’s a key change in the industry, the kind you’ve come to depend on me to illuminate.

But enough is enough. If I can clear my brain of the Strategy assignment, I’ll have one less excuse to avoid working on my musical, or my Neil Simon pastiche. And I can spend more time on building my new tourism advertising company. And my golf handicap is down four strokes already this year, I want to continue that trend.

So g’bye, hey. It’s been fun. And in my last shout from this ‘bully pulpit’(U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt), I want to address three different audiences on three subjects I find very important:

1. To the younger generation

Study marketing. You’re the ones who are going to get our tottering industry back on its feet.

You’re the only ones who can, because the interactive world is here to stay, and you’re the people who get it. You were born into it, it’s your mother tongue. Guys like me can struggle and pick up a little cyberspeak and fake the rest, but it’s in your blood. And interactive is the marketing tool of the future, but the answers haven’t been found yet.

They will be, just as they were with the machines themselves. For years, the old school was buried in punch cards and Fortran and worried about how to be ‘user friendly,’ then Steven Jobs invented the mouse. And a kid named Bill Gates saw more clearly than anyone else that if one hardware is going to talk to another hardware, they’d better use the same software.

The same thing is going to happen in marketing somehow, somewhere, some day. You young guys know the language that will provide the solutions. Just make sure you learn to understand the problems.

2. To the ICA

The advertising agency association should make a concerted effort to ban the spec pitch. Agencies created it, and it’s a monster.

We bemoan the lack of respect, the lack of partnership, which agencies enjoy today, and yet we continue to engage in a practice that actively diminishes our product and our profession. We do all the following, and seem to be proud of it:

* We proclaim the huge value of our work, then give it away.

* We preach the importance of strategy and planning and targeting, then we reach into a vacuum, pull out a bunch of cute ideas, throw them at the prospective client, and hope.

* We deficit-spend, in terms of both time and money, in freebie work for phantoms, while our existing clients pay the costs. (They tend not to like this.)

* We substitute servility for service.

And of course, in so doing, we teach our clients what they can get away with demanding. I was recently offered the opportunity to pitch a piece of new business, and the client clearly spelled out that I was to provide not one, but three gratis creative concepts for his brand, and I would have a full 20 minutes in which to present them and justify my thinking. I declined. A whole bunch of others didn’t. Which is why the client was able to ask it in the first place.

It’s nonsense. It’s demeaning. It can only stop if agencies agree to stop it.

3. To Strategy readers

Thanks for your attention for 11 years. Keep reading Base, he’s a hoot.

John Burghardt has been president of a $35-million advertising agency, written films for the Shah of Iran, brought home a Cannes Gold Lion, and godfathered the Cookie Monster with Jim Henson. Not considering himself a Type A personality but acting like one, he is currently involved in two New York State theatre projects, a children’s multimedia concept, and a new tourism communications firm known as Geo*dentity. He also returns phone calls and e-mails, at 416 693-5072 and, respectively.