Colaboratory Final Thoughts

So it’s already a couple weeks since the Portland Advertising Federation’s Colaboratory program finished out. Hm. The time slips by.

I’m struck after the whole thing by how much it influenced in six short (or long?) weeks my whole outlook on my career. In many ways I took away more from Colaboratory than I did in a full two terms of college. This isn’t to denigrate OSU, but rather compliment Colaboratory for being perhaps more than it set out to be. If Colaboratory is a reflection of the Portland it wanted to portray, it succeeded. It wanted to show Portland as a place where people take the box they’re thinking in and invert it, turn it 180, cut the tape and then refold the box into a cardboard airplane. They’re friendlier. They are both serious and able to have fun. They really like food. Celebrate Portland delis, great Mexican, pizza and beer. Oh yeah. Forget COFFEE (that comes with the Northwest package). I did learn that agencies are definitely not made from the same cookie cutter. My final experience with Asterix proved that. Designer Ilona Wall with her great long distance relationship with the San Franciscan staff of Asterix put a real spin on my concept of what an agency can be and how it functions. I cannot lie, I had a great time at Asterix: I love close-knit agencies, which is what Asterix felt like despite it all.

My desk in Asterix's now closed Portland location.

My desk next to Ilona's

The last day of Colaboratory really sticks with me. My team, Kiwi Agency, managed to get a little sleep the night before presentation to Sameunderneath. We had spent every evening with each other for seven days (except the previous Sunday, where we worked independently). The whole thing had a flavor reminiscent of a Collaborative class I had at OSU but it was somehow more intense, and not just because it was for a great Portland company. It was the community that was there every step of the way. No professor or mentor at OSU was ever as involved in a project as the Colaboratory community was in such a hands-off way. Although class is no internship, I think academics could learn something from the Colaboratory process.

Sometimes my group took pictures of flowers

Vo & Kim working hard on taking flower photos

Of course, it could have just been the team I was in. UBER thanks to Mary McPherson, Bryan Davidson, Kim Karalekas, and Christine Vo for being UBERawesome. The greatest attention deficit team to have ever graced Portland! Seriously though, we got some quality work done. No one who is genuinely ADD could have pulled that off. Right? Right. Ryan Christensen may not have picked our group as the “winner” but our work is packed with serious chocolate-chip kudos.

UBER thanks to CMD Agency, Livengood | Nowack, and Asterix, as well as all the agencies that were involved in Colaboratory. Friends forever.


The Original Colaboratory Pancake House

Keep Portland Weird. That’s the catchphrase I’ve heard bandied about on T-shirts and Portland’s print media over the past few weeks. I wish it sounded more original; there are other cities that make use of same statement, including Oregon’s own Eugene. There are plenty of “original” people here, so naturally I expect a certain amount of Portland specific things from these “Portorigines.”

The Colaboratory internship program certainly fits the bill as something borne of Portorigines. It takes courage or at least a little proclivity for experimentation to be willing to start something like this and to participate within it. I was reading the Willamette Weekly last week and came across a feature on “Spinnaface,” a Portland hip-pop figure dressed head to toe in black with a shiny chrome spinning hubcap (or “spinna”) affixed to his face. “How will I recognize him?” Asked the reporter to Spinnaface’s manager, and the answer was “He’s Spinnaface. He has a spinna for a face.” I think this is kind of like my experience in COLABORATORY. When asked what I’m doing for it, or what my experience has been like, I feel like making a similar statement. “I’m in the Portland Ad Federation’s Co-LABORATORY. I’m being paid to get experimented on by the advertising community.”

Of course, I’d wink at the end and say “don’t worry. It’s like being experimented on by the French Pastry Community.” It’s tasty fun. Some pastries may not be my favorite but they’re all loaded with butter so how bad could it be? Don’t let my analogy be lost upon you.  This past week I’ve been working at CMD Agency, and while it’s a wholly different experience than my one at Livengood | Nowack, it serves up its own dish of adventurous flavors. I’m admittedly unused to the size of this pastry. I feel like I’ve nibbled at its edges all week and don’t know how to open my mouth up large enough to take a bite without straining my muscles. Art Directors Matthew Ryf and Thorin Nielson  gave me some interesting internal jobs to work on but they were swamped by a pile of tight deadlines so I was left to myself for lengthy spans of time.

CMD comes across to me as a giant piano wire, taut and capable of producing music whenever it is tapped by a client, but it sometimes strains upon its passions, always risking going out of tune. Looking at CMD’s work I would admit that if it does go out of tune, it must not very often. They’re very attentive to the process of getting things done and doing it well. I appreciate this sensitivity and the people there seem at large a generous group both with their minds and through their collaboration. I imagine if I were here longer, the recipe for survival is part fearlessness and part passion for excellence and self-improvement.

Designer Leticia Kleinberg at CMD has been an inspiration for achieving my goals. When I said (not despairingly) that there is always someone “younger and better” than me out there as far as graphic design goes, she replied “yes, but there is only one Luke.” It’s not like I haven’t heard that before, but I give Leticia a bucket of kudos for reminding me that my career is more than my portfolio. Speaking of Kudos: I offer a whole jumbo margarita of kudos to Livengood | Nowack and the entire cast of fantastic characters that make up that agency. A special thanks to Megan Clark for mentoring me during the 7 days I was there, to Colette Krol for her extremely helpful comments on my project for Sameunderneath, Rick Dalbey for giving his time to offer me an informational interview and some context on the Portland advertising world, and Jennifer Mele for her great positivity.
I didn’t want to leave them. Having sat in on their meetings of upcoming and current jobs, I could hardly stand it that I wasn’t going to be there to help them. I was just barely getting the hang of the job and how one approaches a project of any size. I really like éclairs, and L|N is a substantial éclair of quality work and genuine people. They showed me that “Mad Men” really is a relic of the 60s. Only true masters of advertising could convince an advertising skeptic like myself that I need advertising in my life. Wicked! Wicked! Wicked!

Keep Portland Wicked. Maybe not. But somehow Portland is casting a shadow on cities much larger than itself. Could I really get an experience like this anywhere else in the states? I’m not so sure. Maybe I could get more epic, all-encompassing experiences in NYC or from other large culture centers, but I imagine they would suffer from the natural subversion that Portland possesses. Who wants mainstream anymore… or at least mainstream as it was defined in the age of punk? If mainstream is going to look like Portland then give it to me—but right now there aren’t a lot of places that have as unique a set of people that actually get things done.

My collaborative group, similarly, is comprised of a group of people who are driven but not sterile, and interested in quirkiness without being objectors to pragmatism. Our working style has been freeform but almost paradoxically moves forward with itself in a fairly surefire way. Our biggest challenge has been to integrate our individual talents, skills and perspectives. In the past I have worked primarily with only designers and the client. Here the ingredients have been structured in a way that is unfamiliar to me. I have a new respect for copywriters and a sense of appreciation for account managers and planners. There is a bigger sense of roundedness to this collaboration than I’ve had in the past. Luckily, we’ve had the confidence to trust that each can hold one’s own as well as give up enough ownership over our personal skillsets to allow for some slurring of roles when we need it. Last Wednesday offered us our first dose of disagreement within the group but we muscled our way through it on, I believe, the merits of our strong wills and mutual desire to create a successful campaign. Our disagreements were on what target audiences deserve the most attention, and in the same breath, what it means for Sameunderneath to rightly claim the word “authentic.” It’s a tricky road to travel. I think it makes it a little harder given the fact that Sameunderneath is saintly compared to most companies; it raises the stakes and complicates approach. People in this foggy realm of social responsibility are ten times more critical than those of the mainstream, (from personal observation) and as such they can sometimes make angels look like the devil if they get P.O.ed. It’s unfair and doesn’t make our job any easier. Reaching an agreement, we realized, was possible only when we stuck to the guns of the client and we play their champion. It’s the best you can do. Even in Portland, reality is bigger than weirdness.

Not that they never mix. In actual reality I have seen a number of indecipherable things, including a parking garage filled with a disarray of washing machines (the next day they were all gone) and a man in the Pearl Whole Foods who made a “sandwich” out of what looked like two stiff, square books (or tiles with writing on them), a liberal layer of Skippy peanut butter (SKIPPY) and five gourmet marshmallows. He made the deli shrink wrap it.

Put that on your plate and eat it.

Colaboratory Week One “Thought Survey”

Some might approach a relation of this experience a day at a time, or even at the beginning. But I can’t guarantee that the story related to you in that manner and in that order contains the characteristics of a plot that rises in intensity steadily until a final conclusion. Because of this, week one might as well start at the end as much as the beginning.

Kiwi Copywriter Extraordinaire

Kiwi Copywriter Extraordinaire

It’s 5PM, Friday the 11th of July. My first full-day team meeting has concluded and my colleague Bryan Davidson (of our self-named agency “Kiwi”) has offered to give me a ride back to the house I’m staying at in Southeast Portland. I plunk into his moody Fiat convertible and beats from Ratatat come oozing out of the car’s speakers as they meet the late afternoon sun. As we cruise down Martin Luther King Boulevard I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel after what has been a whirlwind week. Was I overwhelmed? Friday morning Ascentium copywriter Mason West suggested (not without a smack of pleasure) that if our teams Lattice and Kiwi weren’t suffering we might not be working hard enough. The week started off the same, after Ryan Christensen gave the rundown about his company, SameUnderneath, for our collaborative project. People supposed that we were overwhelmed and certainly the information was and is overwhelming. But I didn’t feel it. All week I didn’t feel it. Where were my usual nerves? My gripping fear of working against the clock to prevent impending, nearly inevitable failure? Why the hell was I… oh god… enjoying myself?

Something else, surely, was afoot.
Thursday, the 10th around 2:30PM.
I’m sitting at my desk at Livengood Nowack, working up a lather trying to get some comps ready to send up to Rick Dalbey, their illustrious Creative Director who surely plots my destruction (see below).

Lunch Tuesday July 08

Lunch Tuesday July 08

I’m about a half hour behind when I had hoped to have the comps completed and I am silently cursing myself to work faster given that I wouldn’t be able to take care of it on Friday due to my Kiwi meeting. I’m humming along on my fourth cup of tea and listening to Frank Sinatra over my headphones trying to spirit myself to deliver the product. I know now that this feeling of tension in my body is not a sensation of being overwhelmed. This is having fun.

I laughed on my first day at Livengood when Rick told me he would get me right to work on some wee coupon designs. It wasn’t that I thought he was joshing me but that maybe they were actually going to give me something to work on right away. I hadn’t expected that. Coupon or not. This is the first time when I realized something else. I gotta start “expecting.” No no, not that kind. My very first day at Colaboratory and I tell a group of Colab organizers that I had “low expectations” for the program, which was not exactly accurate, nor particularly complementary. Instead I meant to say that I did not know what to expect since everything seemed so “whisper-whisper hearsay” with what we’d actually be doing in what order. Questions I had E-mailed went unanswered the month before, and I had started to believe that they didn’t even know what was going to happen. I learn on Monday that was the point, we make it happen. Given this realization I knew I had to restructure the way I was approaching what I wanted with the internship. It’s not just a stepping stone to a full time job, but a way of vaulting myself over barriers of perceived limitations. So as I ride in the Fiat back to my house on Friday I realize that I’m starting to see ladders in place of pits, and this feeling I’m having is not that of being overwhelmed but a sense of destination.