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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

This little site is designed to introduce him and his thoughts to the world. (Whether the world appreciates the intro is another matter.) If you'd like to chat, then you can guess what the boxes below are for.



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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler



    what does Twitter actually mean to you?

    Like so many of the cognoscenti, I've spent the last year or so grappling with Twitter. Yes, simply to understand what it does (and I'm still learning what you can accomplish with it) but more importantly to understand how I could usefully engage with it.

    In other words, what the hell did Twitter mean to me?

    In the interests of full disclosure, I set up an RSS feed a couple of years ago, and shut it down that same morning. I watched content I'd identified as being interesting to me pile up in the reader, link after link after link, and the sense of obligation I felt was so overwhelming that it caused me serious anxiety. I already have an inbox; I don't need another one. Yes, I know there is no actual obligation, but lists aren't something I like to have hanging over me. And that's what RSS felt like.

    So I know that I have a certain way of apprehending information, a way that I need to engage with it. That's not going to change, no matter what the application is called.

    Anyway, getting involved with Twitter I dutifully followed people who were interesting, especially lots of marketing people whose wisdom I needed to, um, learn from. Except I didn't expect the explosion in my feed – I couldn't keep up. After a few weeks I purged the people whose only tweets were retweets or links to their blog content (if I was interested, I'd bookmark the damn blog) or who tweeted so insanely often that I began to doubt that they were actually professionally employed (sorry, Jeff Blair) not so much because of their content but because they were drowning out the tweeting of other voices I wanted to hear.

    Twitter started feeling like a big-ass RSS feed.

    Another thing I noticed was that a lot of marketing people seem to go to the same conferences and naturally be excited about the same interesting things at the same time.

    This is understandable and hey, it is after all about something interesting. But when you see five or six people tweet or retweet something within minutes of each other, for me the impression of a herd mentality is so strong that I balk. If everyone's excited, my natural tendency is to be skeptical.

    So, for those reasons I felt compelled to edit many of people I was following, and many marketing folks. I've discovered that I need a breadth of voices of Twitter, even within this marketing thing of ours, so that I'm consistently being exposed to as much as possible.

    Ebert is a machine, as is Bruce Arthur, but they don't drown out Douma, Nick Kristof, Lousie Clements, Ann Handley, Steveoftheweb or Jinnean Barnard.

    Following fewer voices with more interesting perspectives, as opposed to following everyone I've ever clicked on, has been very useful for me.


    one of "those guys" who kind of, well, created TV as we know it

    The hat in the air.

    The curling wave.

    The tunnel full of doors slamming shut.

    Three of the most iconic title sequences in television history. One of the most classic original (and lowest budget) horror movies ever made. And a pantload of episodes of a whole lot of shows over the last 30 years.

    The common link between Hawaii Five-O, Mary Tyler Moore, Get Smart, Carnival of Souls, Baywatch, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Police Squad!, Falcon Crest, the Six Million Dollar Man, SWAT, Rockford Files, Mannix, and Mission:Impossible is a pretty much unknown Iranian-American director and cinematographer named Reza Badiyi. (Interview here.) I only tweaked to his name recently watching Carnival of Souls, and saw that unusual and yet somehow familiar name. A quick Google and I knew why it was familiar; he was credited with "title visualization" on the Mary Tyler Moore show.

    According to Mary Tyler Moore herself (and IMDB), he's the one who came up with her throwing her hat in the air. That's the icon of the show – the moment that captures her original goofy delight in being free in the big city. It's the one credit shot that never changed through the run of the show.

    And it seems Badiyi shot the wave curl for the Hawaii Five-O credits, and designed the credits. You watch that minute-long bit of film and the energy and excitement is palpable; it gave the show something the actual episodes didn't really have.

    I mean, those two things alone should get him into some sort of Hall of Fame.

    And then the directing career, which goes on for over 40 years and is so broad and varied that I think it means that we've all seen at least one show he's directed – he's directed more prime-time US TV than anyone else.

    But Badiyi's work on Carnival of Souls as assistant director to me gives his career a whole other meaning. Carnival of Souls was made on a miniscule budget in middle America by a bunch of people who never again made another movie. And it's deeply, originally creepy – not aggressively scary like Dawn of the Dead or 28 Days Later, just relentless.

    I love the fact that one of "those guys" snuck up on us and had a low-key but pervasive influence on our culture.


    we were a little arrogant about social media... once

    Let's jump in the tardis and punch the destination buttons for, say, 2006, shall we?

    Let's navigate through the mists of that year to one of the first few meetings in which we ever talked with clients about social media.

    Now let's get in close... no, closer... okay, now take a good hard look at our faces during that discussion. What would you call that look on our faces, in one word?


    Yes, it was yet another moment where the agency weasels were oh so way ahead of the curve, bringing our backward clients into the new millennium.

    Now, let's zoom in further and look at the Powerpoint deck we're showing off. What's that logo on the first page? It's a funny looking word... MySpace?

    Yeah, considering we had no idea how social media were going to evolve, we were pretty arrogant. (How much time did you spend pushing kooky Facebook apps in 2007? Yeah, me too.) We were asking clients to spend money with no sense of what they were actually going to get out of it. And clients for a long time have put up with the idea that our vague references to "awareness" and "engagement" were good enough to open up their wallets.

    Now, let's rev up that tardis again and return to 2010. Let's zoom in to a meeting room and take a good look at the faces of the agency weasels doing a social media presentation. How would you sum up the look on their face?


    Clients are demanding to know how their investment in social media is actually going to pay off. And getting flustered and continuing to say "um, engagement" while we turn red and start sweating is no longer enough to keep them at bay.

    Agencies actually have to be able to predict what the ROI on a social media spend is going to be, in much the way that they have to make a business case for their direct response or promotions campaigns. It's a huge challenge, and not many people seem to be sharing details about what works and what doesn't.

    Four years after our initial arrogance, clients are now the ones herding us into the new millennium, sometimes peaceably, sometimes not. But they're undeniably in charge. And if your agency doesn't come up with real business reasons for your clients to be doing social media marketing, the Daleks are sure to be just around the corner.


    managing badly to manage better

    I've been reflecting on the fact that my August post about bad management is still one of the most popular entries on this here little endeavour. And my very first post on the subject is also still getting hits. Funny how some topics are perennial favourites...

    And so, in the spirit of giving people what they want, let's go drop another bucket in the very deep well of managerial ineptitude.

    There was the senior manager who hovered by his door every day at about five to five, scoping anyone who dared to stop working and start chatting, let alone leave, before his or her full complement of hours was entered into the corporate ledger.

    Naturally, he was also a hawk around 8:30. His judgement was, "If you come late, you're stealing from the company." Now, I think he actually said those exact words out loud in front of people. I may be wrong, I may have contorted my memory based on my feelings about him, but there's also a reason we thought it.

    He got out of people exactly what he asked. A workforce that appeared at 8:30, and which vanished at 5:01. A workforce which stretched out work to fit whatever time was left in the day. A workforce which complained incessantly – about everything: lack of change, change, bosses, each other – but which enjoyed complaining, which literally had no other discourse about work.

    A workplace which was essentially Dickensian in its philosophy, its attitudes and its outputs.

    It's just so obvious that the more tightly you manage, the more the people working for you think, "What's the point?" and surrender mental responsibility to you. Okay, I do. The worst jobs I've had have been the ones with the least amount of responsibility; not necessarily the least interesting or manual, but which involved the least amount of trust.

    On the flip side there was the creative director who actually assumed that I would learn and grow by doing the work. She would give direction and feedback, sometimes loosely, sometimes very loosely, but she always worked under the assumption that I would do the work – that I would think about, push it, try new things, and get to the place where the work needed to be.

    The process was painful. Being intensely busy, she had limited time, meaning that you were always waiting for her, sometimes well into the evening. And I wrote and rewrote and rerewrote a lot. Sometimes I wished she'd just tell me what the answer was. Maddeningly, she never did, and I laboured for far more hours than I'd care to remember.

    There were times when I absolutely fucking hated it.

    But it was one of the best times of my life.

    The assumption that I could do the work, that I could make it better, that I myself could be better, gave me a bedrock of confidence upon which I've built a career.

    As a CD, I find myself pretty rarely giving people that much trust. I try, but inevitably there's a tight deadline or twitchy client, and I tend to become more prescriptive after a couple of rounds of feedback. Now, the folks who've worked for me are probably shaking their heads at this paragraph, or pounding their keyboards, or tweeting about what an ass I am, but I do grapple with this and I'm not always happy with my reactions.

    Somewhere in my notes from a Northrop Frye class on the Bible and literature I remember jotting down this pearl of wisdom from the great man: to answer a question is to consolidate the mental level on which the question is asked.

    Maybe I need to stop having answers.


    I'm not dead yet

    Based on a recent post, my site traffic should now be rivalling Facebook's, thanks to my recent prolonged absence. (Apologies for that. You know, work.) For some reason, however, that seems not to be the case, so my faith in regular posting has been restored.

    Besides, I prefer to have some semblance of a coherent thought before I sit down to peck away at this thing; otherwise, I'd be on Twitter more. (Okay, not quite fair – but it's not like Twitter allows you to wedge more than half a thought into that damn field.)

    So, this is more of a quick housekeeping post to declare my return to the long-form digital life. And in honour of the recommencement of the hubbub, a sign of rebirth:


    I don't remember seeing Northrop Frye's session at the 2010 DMA

    (image: FryeBlog)Well, at least bronze is shiny.

    And as much as other shiny colours might have been nicer to receive on Tuesday night, really, you don't get into response marketing if you want to win awards. You're dedicated to getting a response out of people, to motivating them to act; there are techniques and processes that you have to use to help that happen. And if an outstanding response rate happens to lead to an award, that's gravy...

    I know that'll sound like post-facto rationalization, but I really am fascinated by the process of direct response. The most interesting session I went to at this year's DMA was by Bryan Eisenberg on "21 Secrets of Top-Converting Websites." Yes, it's a goofy direct response tactic, that title, but so what? The room was full; it worked. While so much direct response seems to focus on execution, on the tactics of making things happen, those tactics are actually a reflection of the psychology of the process of affecting someone's behaviour.

    You can't worry so much about the words as words, as language, or in some kind of faux literary way (i.e., the jokey headline). You have to think about the way the words can go together to have the most effect in the human world, the greatest emotional impact.

    Northrop Frye's last book was a follow-up to The Great Code, called Words With Power. I'm not putting DM on the same plane as the Bible; that would be ridiculous. But it is at least slightly amusing that they both force you to think about the way that words can in fact have power.


    ego to san francisco

    At the end of the weekend I'm heading to the 2010 DMA Conference, this year being held in San Francisco. It's the world's biggest hoedown of direct marketing geeks, clients, agency types and bitter creatives, capped on Tuesday evening by the ECHO Awards, the Oscars of response.

    I hope to find some nuggets in the deluge of conference sessions; given the global attendance, there's got to be people there with something interesting to say. There's so much confusion, fear, rethinking, innovation and experimentation in our business right now; it's an ever-embiggening crisatunity from which to learn. 

    However, on a more personal level, I'm focused on a few short hours of the whole thing, because the DRTV spot we did last fall is a finalist for a Gold award. And no, we didn't create it to win awards. You can't, not in a category where every dollar you raise actually has an impact on people who have virtually nothing. (Well, I suppose you could, but if that person is you I don't want to meet you.) We simply tried to be smart and innovative in an undifferentiated category, as a means of increasing our effectiveness. It's all about the clicks and calls, and we did pretty well at that.

    Yes, it's an honour just to be nominated; it's a thrill just to make the playoffs. And knowing that we've won at least a Bronze is similarly great, as it rewards the strong combination of strategy, creative and results we were able to put together for that spot. But a Gold would reflect the amazing dedication and commitment of a big group of people who made it happen.

    But, damn it, I have an ego and I also want to win for purely selfish reasons. And if that makes me history's greatest monster, so be it.


    um, a question for my interweb friends

    Why is it that my site traffic drops in the 24 hours immediately following my posts, and increases as the gap between posts increases?

    I'm starting to get a complex...


    and don't tug on *that* either

    A long time ago I wrote about the fact that writing is like composing; change one word and you can change everything. Even if most people can't articulate why the words feel like they mean something different, even if they can't actually see that there is a difference, it's enough that I know and feel that there's a difference, and I'm going to try my damnedest to articulate that change so you understand it.

    I forget sometimes that the same is true visually. When it comes to the web (as everything else) there are rules of design and alignments and cues that actually matter; it sounds goofy to say, but those details are the difference between creating something that users know is trustworthy, and something that just doesn't feel quite right. And that's not a feeling you ever want users to have.

    When those details are working right, you actually don't notice them; you're simply using and enjoying the site as you want. You're focusing on what you want to do.

    When they're not right, when they haven't been considered, or have been forgotten in the clench of compressed timelines and budgets, you become conscious of the process of using the site, and vaguely critical of it. You've been taken out of yourself and what you want to do.

    And you unravel everything that you've been trying to do.



    a habit I have not been able to kick

    When I was a lad of a junior copywriter, I found myself chained to a cubicle in an open concept office with my back to an intersection of two aisles, and over the wall in front of me, a table at which every buyer in the company would approve or, more vocally, disapprove of the work we were doing.

    Now, this situation occured before the Internet (as if such a thing is possible) so I didn't have to worry about my boss seeing my Facebook page or anything. But it drove me nuts to attempt any work in that position. For some reason, I can't stand people seeing my work before I'm ready for them to see it. I don't want to share the process of how I get to wherever I'm going. Okay, honestly, I don't want to jinx the thing.

    (It was actually easier to write on a bench in the middle of the Eaton Centre. Which I did occasionally.)

    On top of that, all the sound that comes from sitting in the middle of a floor of a hundred people simply didn't help me get consistently in the creative groove.

    Thus I turned to headphones and a Walkman.

    With CFNY (or 102.1, or The Edge, or whatever they're called) blaring the alternative hits of the early and mid '90s, I was able to create a space in which I could focus. I could hear the music without actually listening to it; it provided welcome drive and energy, and handily blocked out external distractions.

    This weird totally illusory space in my head turned out to be the perfect place in which to get things done.

    And if I got startled by people standing behind me, amusing themselves for minutes on end, or tapping me on the shoulder and watching me jump, so be it. It was the price that had to be paid.

    Later, when I got an office at Wunderman, I thought I could at least unplug, close the door and crank the tunes a bit. But after a few hours of being unable to get down to work, I realized that I physically needed the headphones in order to get the necessary focus. (Which might be why the headphone-free writing portion of this video is so bad.) I had trained my brain to need the enclosure. I was hooked.

    Still am. No matter where I am, no matter how much privacy I have, I still need to be wearing headphones and be listening to poppy nonsense music – ideally that of the '80s and '90s – in order to get anything done.