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November 24, 2010
'Romper Room' or Frat House? Sophomoric Behavior in the Creative Department Is Nothing New

The other day I overheard a copywriter of a certain age kvetching about some of the younger staff working beside her in the creative department. It wasn’t my place, but I suppose it could have been. The lady was upset -- so much so, she’d taken the matter up with HR. Apparently, the young hooligans in the creative department loved to punk one another and regularly launched objects and f-bombs over the cubicle walls. The distraught copywriter told how, for fun, the rascals threw salt at her, yelling: “You’ve been assaulted! You’ve been assaulted!” For what it’s worth, I give the gag a C-, and I don’t find it very offensive either -- unless, of course, you’re allergic to salt.

Be that as it may, the person complaining about the prank was genuinely upset. The matter got me thinking. While I am closer in age to the upset copywriter, I also remember, back in the day, being a total jackass in the creative trenches at Leo Burnett. And I wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot. I don’t know how much creative energy we expended coming up with pranks and smartass crap, but if we billed hours against it, pranks and smartass crap probably would have been our biggest client.

Of all the stupid s--- I did, one thing stands out.

Get in the hot tub time machine! It happened pre-Internet, in the days of memos, dictionaries, and copier machines. One day, I happened upon an innocuous memo written by an account person whom I sort of knew. Didn’t matter the person. But the memo she’d written was an absolute gem of bad writing and crappy ideas. Words were misspelled. Sentences made no sense. It was as if this MBA hadn’t taken a single English class.

Anyway, delightful child that I was, I decided to edit her memo and post the marked-up copy on the bulletin board by the coffee and vending machines. Soon, other creatives began adding their own edits and comments. Within a week, the memo had become a shrine to bad writing and a cause célèbre in the agency.

You know where this is going: Me in HR’s office apologizing to one distraught AE, as well as to both our superiors. We moved on. Nobody got fired. But to this day I still think the writer of that god-awful memo had no business working at Leo Burnett. I also think I was total a------ for humiliating her, especially so publicly.

Hearing a woman complain about similar antics had me on two sides of the issue as well. “Buck up,” I wanted to tell her. As well as “I’m sorry.”

In a past column on my blog, Gods of Advertising, I likened most creative departments to "Romper Room," full up with youngsters coming up with stuff productive and otherwise. Others have called creative departments frat houses. Either way, what is it about creatives that make us -- at times -- so juvenile? Even with all manner of corporate rules and protocol we sometimes can’t help ourselves. We are silly. Obviously there is a line not to be crossed -- racial and sexual insults are unacceptable. Putting a rubber cockroach in the candy dish at reception? I say go for it.

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Chairman of Euro RSCG Worldwide Chicago, Steffan Postaer is responsible for its overall creative leadership and quality of the creative product. He’s received several prestigious awards, including a Kelly Award, Best of Show, Gold and Silver awards at the One Show, the Addys and a Cannes Gold Lion. Steffan has a novel about god and advertising and posts regularly on his blog, Gods of Advertising. Follow him on Twitter.

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