Image Use, Demand Letters, and the Flu

I got two things yesterday I really didn’t want: a demand letter and the flu.

First, I must address my absence – I took the summer off to read, research and learn. I’ll write about that later.

Back to the demand letter and the flu...

Traveling has its upside. I get to work with terrific clients. In person. Love it.

Traveling has its downside. Close proximity to thousands of people in crowded airports and planes, time zone changes, long days – all can lead to a bug.

I’ll get over it.

But the demand letter is something else.

What did I do? The claim is that I used an image I did not buy.

I do not steal. The image in question was pulled from a public domain site. Hmmm. Maybe not so public domain? Had this firm purchased the image after I posted it? Free advice: watch out for public domain.

This law firm is well known (on the Web). After doing a little research online, I found that my demand letter was from a firm that has sent thousands of these letters out on behalf of their client, and has been doing so for years. I'm hardly the first to get one of these demand letters.

Why does this always happen on a Saturday?!

I won’t use the name of the law firm, nor the name of the company they represent. Why? Because they also scan the web for any instance of their name and, and as those who’ve answered this firm’s demands state (yeah, I know everything posted on the Web is true), it becomes personal very quickly.

They want the image removed, and for me to pay them $825.

I have removed the image and contacted a lawyer to make sure this is legit. Yeah, I really regard this as serious. Being Saturday, I hope to hear back Monday. I really don’t want this to drag on.

Now I have a couple days where I can do nothing but worry that I am accused of being a thief; and sweat with a 102-degree fever, a throat so sore I can’t swallow water, and chills that seem impossible to possess in the middle of the desert.

Good artists copy great artists steal.

Picasso said that. It says so on BrainyQuote.

Brilliant artists are inspired.

I said that. I checked on Google, and there are no results for the quote. You may use it. For free.

Sincerely, this is a huge matter to me. I am an artist. I was a graphic designer and illustrator way back when. My work was used, without permission, more than once. I didn’t have the resources of a law firm to demand payment. It hurt. I could have used the money.

And trust me on this: I do believe in paying an artist for their work. Most are struggling to make the rent. I get it. They deserve to be paid.

I have worked in the capacity to purchase either directly or through an image farm, an artist’s work. Payment made, rights on file, expiration flagged.

To be accused of stealing is horrible.

I guess this can serve as a cautionary tale. Never assume you have the right to do anything, even though you’ve jumped through all the hoops. You’re just a presort-mail-demand-letter* away from a legal issue.

*As an aside, I usually toss presort mail. It’s usually junk.

My Hometown And A Presidential Visit

I have lived in Las Vegas nearly 11 years. But way back when, I spent most of my life in Portland, Oregon. I grew up in Multnomah, and spent most of my adult life living near the Nike world campus. Well, it wasn’t a campus when I moved to Cedar Mill. About that time, Nike was just getting unstuck from the waffle iron. I digress.

Anyway, I read today that the President, Mr. Obama, is in Portland, then he’s going to visit the Nike World Campus, and there’s this huge trade deal in the works, and Nike is looking to bring some jobs back to this country – and so on. Interesting if you’re into international trade and tariffs, labor issues in foreign countries and so on.

And it’s interesting because this is happening in my old ’hood.

So, the Prez is in town and I read this piece on OregonLive warning folks of what to expect with regard to traffic delays and so on. The type of reporting that’s helpful. The writer, Joseph Rose, even took the time to explain why the Leader of the Free World doesn’t travel by helicopter, which would make it way easier for everyone to get around.

So, like with any story that isn’t really political (it’s about avoiding traffic delays), the visit revolves around the President and trade, therefore politics will come to play – and I always read the comments.

Why? Because if you want to understand the sentiment of a group (who are willing to speak out and take the time to do so in writing), read their comments.

Lots of opinion to go around. But there was one nugget in there: These visits can be really expensive for the local communities, especially when the President travels during busy commute times. Why not drive the city streets earlier or later? Or better yet, why not have the business leaders travel to DC and save everyone – the local taxpayers and the workers (who have to make major adjustments to leave early, get home or to their next job or pick up the kids late) a ton of cash?

What is the cost to the city and its citizens for these visits?

I couldn’t venture a guess, but a lot of people are happy to have the Commander in Chief come to their town for a visit. Just don’t disrupt their lives. As the commenter said, “You work for us, we don't work for you....have some respect for your electorate. Wow, coming from an Oregonian.

I have to say thank you to the commenter on that story. Opinion on trade, or the President is one thing, but to actually make a logical recommendation? (Well, I think it’s logical) It’s what an open forum is about.

Opine, but also make suggestions for improvement.

As Tip O'Neill said "All politics is local". Sure is.

I promise I'll get back to advertising, organizational and project management, and software - 'cause that's what you all love so much. 

Not Everyone Is Cut Out To Manage Implementation

Introducing new systems and software is hard. Not for the faint-of-heart, thin-skinned or hot-headed.

It takes a full understanding of the parameters, cooperative effort, and a constant drive to slog through details and overcome roadblocks. Then it takes sharing everything you have gathered and the ability to address every single issue the naysayers toss your way.

Perseverance. Diplomacy. Empathy.

I always tell my clients to listen to the complaint department. It often comes down to: who is my biggest obstacle? You have to address their issues or they will hinder any good forward progress in a thick cloud of doubt. If you ignore their issues, these individuals will derail anything that represents success. It isn’t hard to do. They just have to say: this sucks / it’s too hard / it’s ugly / it’s not like what we had before (which they hated).

Knowledge is power.

So when it comes to finding new systems, whether it’s the way you’re organizing your company, or simply run your ad department, start with asking what people need. Then ask what they want. Ask what they’ve seen in other systems or other places they’ve worked. Everyone has a favorite. They will always tell you what doesn’t work. That’s huge.

Then start dissecting. Some requests relate directly to the tools (or lack thereof) they use. Some relate to how they’re using tools (may not be using fully). Another area relates to process – what are the steps and does anyone really know what they are? Map them in detail. Last, it comes down to people. Are the issues related to their attitude about the tools, the company or a colleague? This takes you into an area most never (want to) tread, but if you don’t evaluate requests or complaints with the filter of skills, drive and attitude, you’ll never be able to truly get to the bottom of their issues. What’s preventing them from being productive, and far less annoyed with their daily duties?

Again, it all comes down to Process, Tools and People.

In order to survive implementation, you must constantly take the pulse of the team, make yourself completely available, keep meticulous records and updates (and share them), and always be ready to fend off the hordes. Diplomatically.

Reasons Behind Yesterday’s Post

I hit publish, then posted to LinkedIn and Twitter. It took a while, then I had a couple responses. I don’t have a huge following, but nonetheless, there are were a few who did respond.

I said: “I’m just a blogger and certainly don’t have the street cred to have an “official opinion” worth publishing. But that’s what is so cool about the Web. Any hack like me can write about anything. As long as I don’t lie, and break other rules that could land me in the slammer or in debtors’ prison, I can speak my piece.”

It’s true. Millions of blogs and I admit that I, like anyone, can write about anything at any time. (I got called-out on that hack comment)

However, I write about things that I care about. 

I care about the people doing the work. I care about the tools they are given to get their jobs done every day. I care about the fact that employees are repeatedly subjected to the way management deals with problems by invoking their remedies without actually listening to their staff, and asking the simple question, “what exactly do you do and how do you do it”.

So, yeah. I called-out management.

I’m in the business of helping agencies and marketing departments organize (or reorganize), and it always involves implementing new software and/or process to manage their day-to-day work.

But in the process of digging deeper, there is always a reason an agency is looking to software or other tools to organize: Things are out of control.

A new system will make everything better.

I know, with absolute certainty, this is not the case.

I know that you can achieve better efficiencies, collaboration and profitability with good tools. In that, I’m a true believer.

But I also know that there are always underlying issues why things are out of control.

When I’m invited in to peel-back the layers of processes, rules, charts, forms, and systems a client is currently using to manage work (and there are usually dozens) – I always find a certain level of dysfunction that lead to all those issues.

Systems are broken, conflicts in process abound, workarounds emerge, everyone becomes overloaded, while valuable information is scattered across desktops, servers, email, and cloud systems.

We find solutions and fix or replace current systems; but we also have to allow the staff to unload, de-compress and adopt the new systems. This isn’t simple, easy or fast.

So when I read that the CEO of Zappos is fast-forwarding a new organizational structure – then I read about that structure (there’s still a structure to a no-managers approach) – I thought, what’s going on there and why so extreme?

As I have worked in several companies, and with hundreds of clients over the years, I have experienced dozens of organizational management methods. Each touts its own version of harmony, efficiency, profitability and eventually, utopia. It’s hard on everyone to navigate those twists, turns and meet the often vague management expectations.

However, it takes more than a system to fix an agency (or a company) that is not functioning optimally. It takes evaluating what’s broken and why. We have to fix the small stuff too. If not, it lingers and derails even the biggest and best efforts to induce a new system.

So Holacracy is the organizational model at Zappos. And it looks like they’ve been moving that direction with mixed adoption for a while. Now, as Mr. Hseih put it, “we are going to take a "rip the bandaid" approach to accelerate progress towards becoming a Teal organization.”

Forcing remedies doesn’t necessarily heal an organization. I do not believe this will work as expected and deliver the cooperation and efficiencies as stated.

For all the good folks at Zappos, I hope they realize the improvements that are promised.

Rather than a hack, I’m just a skeptic with a blog.

Holacracy Schmolacracy - Please Pass The Kool-Aid

I have to wonder why no one is saying this is scary, this is cultish, and this is crap.

Teal Organization? Get it for $6.99!

Teal Organization? Get it for $6.99!

If this wasn’t so disturbing, I’d just ignore it. But I woke up this morning to this Washington Post article, then went on to read Zappos CEO, Tony Hseih’s, manifesto to his employees, captured by FastCompany (which I quoted extensively here) with the lovely title of ZAPPOS CEO TONY HSIEH: ADOPT HOLACRACY OR LEAVE.

I’m just a blogger and certainly don’t have the street cred to have an “official opinion” worth publishing. But that’s what is so cool about the Web. Any hack like me can write about anything. As long as I don’t lie, and break other rules that could land me in the slammer or in debtors’ prison, I can speak my piece. You just can’t make up shit like this.

At least I’m not messing with people’s heads.

I have churned about this post all day long. I had to put it off until late in the day because, oh wait, I had work to do. And since I’m self-employed, I guess I do fall into that self-directed team category. However I am the owner, only employee and pretty much run my organization with Teal in mind. (more on that later)

The thing that bothers me the most is that Mr. Hseih is seriously f*king with peoples’ lives. Around 1500 of them. Most of us spend most of our awake hours at our jobs. If the current group of employees, and even more so, managers don’t get 100% on board, then they are G. O. N. E.

I’m sure there are many Self-Directed Employees who are very, very happy there, because evidently they’re showing up for work and shipping shoes out every day, or something like that. But they're required to espouse Holacracy too. Anyone who doesn't accept it and all of its mystical jargon is welcome to leave.

Of course rules, expectations and consequences exist in any company. Break the rules, get a pink slip. But there is such a dense strata of nuanced cult (I said the c-word) in this structure, which requires absolute compliance, it’s downright scary.

These managers, who soon must choose to either buy-in completely (to quote Mr. Hseih’s notice: “simply abiding by the rules of Holacracy does not equal self-management or self-organization”); or leave, are faced with the daunting moral choice of total acquiescence to the latest in snake-oil management fad, or go through the Exit Gauntlet for severance pay that is quoted here:

  • Be an employee in good standing
  • Watch video of talk by the author of Reinventing Organizations
  • Read Reinventing Organizations by 4/15/15 (here is a private link for Zappos employees only to download a digital copy) or email a statement of non-intention to read to Arun and Hollie
  • Give notice of your intention to leave anytime during the month of April 2015 if you intend to take the offer (exact last day of work TBD)
  • Ensure a smooth transition of your prior responsibilities and accountabilities (as approved by Arun please note that if you are working on a critical project, a longer transition time might be required)

So, on the chance that a manager chooses to stay (and not run as fast as possible from this madness): Again from the Leader’s Dissertation: All former managers who remain in good standing will still keep their salary through the end of 2015 even though their day-to-day work that formerly involved more traditional management will need to change. A new circle called Reinventing Yourself has been created to help guide former managers to new roles that might be a good match for their passions, skills, and experience.” [emphasis mine]

And what does “in good standing” mean? One can only imagine the de-programming and therapy folks will need if they choose to stay but just don’t cut it and get canned.

Yeah, what then?

Well, there’s the rub that is Las Vegas. We are finally getting out of staggering unemployment. And no matter what the media tells you, we still have thousands of unemployed folks who just don’t look for work anymore, and thousands more who are severely underemployed.

No one wants to face that. A job is like a gift in this economy. But the decree is out there. You gotta really embrace Holacracy or go. This is truly sad.

Now, the fact that my opinion will have no effect on the outcome of the social experiment that is Holacracy At Zappos, I’ll just outline a couple of the most disturbing ideas I’ve read. As if I hadn’t already hinted at them. . .

A. Reliance on Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. It always starts with some idea that is supported by some sort of science. To be fair I haven’t read the book, I’ve read about the book (okay, it’s an article by Mr. Laloux himself, Misperceptions of Self-Management). Which Mr. Hseih included in the tome to his, uh, self-directed peeps. Working toward a Teal Organization.

What is a Teal Organization? Here’s a starter for you:
1.      Self-management: driven by peer relationships
2.      Wholeness: involving the whole person at work
3.      Evolutionary purpose: let the organization adapt and grow, not be drive

Sounds yummy doesn't it? Then we have this. . .

B. Creating Peer Pressure. (This is my personal favorite.) In his dictate from the bridge (based on a skype call he had with Mr. Laloux): He suggested simply asking employees for their ideas on how to create the peer pressure and to give them the antibody analogy/framework and encourage employees to figure out the antibody systems themselves rather than try to design it from the top down”

C. Requiring input on everything to Glass Frog including this quoted text [emphasis mine]:

  • What’s the right method for implementing the advice process as described in Reinventing Organizations?
  • How is the contribution of each employee assessed and what are the compensation framework/processes in this new world of no managers?
  • What is not currently captured in Glass Frog that we should make sure is captured?
  • Should we update our purpose statement, and if so, what should our new purpose statement be?
  • In light of these changes, should we delay and/or modify the next zPrize competition? (Prize-based competition is an example of another tool that can help accelerate self-organization.)
  • What are the peer-pressure "antibody" systems we want to implement for the different types of job functions?
  • What is the right conflict-resolution set of processes for Zappos?
  • How do we support employee development and growth as a Teal organization?
  • How do we ensure that we continue to meet our financial and Super Cloud commitments to Amazon for 2015 and beyond?

Okay, I can buy into getting all client-related info in one place to share. But this is personal. This is about performance. This is about antibody systems. For someone my age, this just seems so familiar and just plain wrong. 

Then there’s this nugget quoted from a website about the book:
One of Laloux’s conclusions is on the necessary conditions for success with the Teal model. It comes down to only two factors:

  • The CEO must drive the change
  • The Board must believe in the change and support the CEO

Wait, I thought there was no hierarchy.

So the CEO is the leader, everyone else is self-directed, equal, responsible and must have the proper antibodies to survive.

I get it. But why would any CEO experiment with their hard-working employees?

Front Loading vs Backfilling

One thing I know for sure, no one likes to take all that time to put all those details in writing before starting a project.

Yep, the client needs this NOW!!! and we have to get going – and I’m too busy!

We’ll work it out as we go.

Moments later, way late and even way more over budget, the client then decides to make changes because it’s just not what they, uh, expected.

Okay, listen up kids, Gramma’s gonna tell a story.

Back in the old days we had to plan ahead. Things took more time, were more expensive, and changes and corrections really twisted a schedule and budget.

Sometimes there actually weren’t enough hours in a day. Imagine that. We had to plan.

Things didn’t happen until we did a comp, first in pencil, then in color (marker), to get client approval so we could create our masterpiece.

Along the way, our artist did a keyline* to determine how much space for copy we had, and just how big the photo should be. We also looked at the photo under a loupe, noted imperfections for air-brush retouching, then noted croplines* on the tissue overlay.

We actually had to use a typewriter to write copy, know how many characters would add up to the proper number of lines and how many inches of type we would get (based on a specific column width). Edits to length were made BEFORE we sent it out. Once perfected, we sent that typed copy, via bike messenger, to a typesetter with instructions on font, kerning and leading; waited a couple days then got it back. It was proofed. It was perfect. Then we did pasteup*.

We met our deadlines.

So now we have so many lightning-fast conveniences that everything takes forever to get done.

Why? No planning, no front loading.

Not that long ago as a PM in an agency, I can’t tell you how many projects I kicked-back to the AEs because I needed some really basic shit. No front loading. No doubt about it, I was not their favorite person. Um…

But because there was such unimaginable urgency, I got to spend MY time asking questions like: what is this? When do you want it? How much is in the budget?

Answers were: It’s only a couple changes to what they did last week. Client needs it by 2pm!!! (it’s noon). I don’t have a budget.

First, only a couple changes, really? Then why didn’t you write them in the job order.

Second, thank you for telling the client – without asking – that we could meet that deadline.

Third, would the client truly spend the money it will take us to pull everyone off their projects to make your magic happen?

In the process to get all those urgent things done, the back-filling happens. We get the parameters of a job via text, email or phone (if anyone actually uses a phone to make a call). Or my personal favorite - having an AE stand over the designers' shoulder and art direct. Ugh!

We negotiate the deadline because what the client wanted was far from the “original” request and it keeps evolving; and we have to keep people late and ply them with pizza and beer to make the revised deadline of 9 am tomorrow. And of course, budget be damned.

I watch my clients and colleagues mired in this state of constant chaos. Staying late, trying to figure out what’s been done and where to go, while keeping everything else on track. Oh wait, we don’t even know what other deadlines we’re missing. Um…

It’s due to a culture (I said the C-word) of backfilling. It’s become a culture of chaos because front loading isn’t required.

That’s why managing an agency has devolved (yes technology has allowed us to do just that) into a complete lack of planning.

Everything today is so . . . instant that we are allowed to only react to what’s in front of us at this very moment.

The excitement in advertising used to be in the spot-on strategy, amazing creative and working late because there were so many ideas to explore – because you knew where you were going.

Working long hours trying to catch-up is not exhilarating. It’s a waste.

And as a side note: this is what happens when I’m absent from blogging for a long time. I write a bloody tome. I promise to be more concise.

Plan ahead.

*Word did not recognize these words. Sigh. 


The hardest part of my job is stepping back when a client makes a decision against my recommendations. After all, I’m hired to make recommendations.

This pretty much says to me, “thanks but no thanks”.

I make informed recommendations based upon deep evaluations and assessments, fit, and applied experience.

I work in a very narrow niche – specifically agency/marketing operations. I work outside of the creative sphere: in the business of the day-to-day. What makes an agency tick, and what makes them bomb.

This is the space where creative groups make money, spend money and lose money – where employees are engaged and how their engagement affects the bottom line – whether that’s profit or delivering correctly, on time.

So, imagine my surprise when my client doesn’t listen to me.

I am never surprised.


Because when it comes down to introducing change, applying structure, and getting a group, department or entire firm on board – using a new tool or system means you – the client – made a decision and that equates to accepting some level or version of responsibility.

Working with many clients over the years, I have learned that decision-making is a tricky process.

No one wants to make a bad decision.

No one ever got fired for buying IBM.

Decisions are made at many levels. Whether it’s senior level guys making blanket decisions “because they’ve had enough”, the need to make a quick or cheap decision, or the worst – an agenda-based decision – decisions will be made.

Then everyone else lives with the consequences.

I make recommendations based on input from the people doing the work. They know far better than the C-suite, accounting or (God forbid) IT – on what it takes to get work done.

I know what I’m recommending and why. It’s a big responsibility, and one I never take lightly. I always have supporting documentation on my recommendations.

So make that decision. And never make it personal.