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.