There he is, a former six-figure "Mad Man" sleeping at night in front of a Bank of America branch in Manhattan to show his solidarity with the Occupy Movement and showing up regularly over the past seven months at his task of painting his near-famous cardboard protest signs at various Occupation sites in the city -- then manning his laptop to consult with advertising clients.
Why and how these circumstances came about for this man and its lessons serves as a survival tale, a source of inspiration, and an education in applying corporate skills to help bring about societal change for all of us... whether we are revolutionaries or bystanders.
The person at hand is David Everett-Carlson, a native of New York and alumni of some of the top ad agencies in the world, including Leo Burnett, The Richards Group, his own award-winning firm in Seoul, Korea, and a career in mass communications, branding and international marketing which has taken him from New York to Asia, Europe, and back again.
All these details and more were mined from a series of conversations I held with David, with each conversation increased my respect for this Madison Avenue-Turned-Activist gentleman. David has arrived at some marketing realizations: The 5 Things Madison Avenue Could Learn from OWS, and The 3 Tips That Madison Avenue has for Occupy.
What Madison Avenue can Learn from #OWS
1. Passion. "Occupiers are involved from the heart and gut in something they truly believe in. Too many Mad Ave execs use the client's laundry powder, smoke the client's cigarettes and sing the agency's song, but keep their passion in a desk drawer of sorts -- a novel, a gallery show, a B&B in the Hamptons -- but definitely something that's not their job."
This gesture pales in comparison to the 24/7 enthusiasm of the Occupier. For the Occupier, their client is the American people. With that, all passions, and both their personal and their professional lives become rolled into the job. They are not only the advocate and the agency, but the client as well.
"There are few pros who can pull that off, although Nike's agency comes close," David opines.
2. Action. "Once you experience true passion, you are compelled to act on it -- sometimes you fall in love with it,"" David believes. Occupiers are participating in Direct Action every day, whether it be to occupy a park, take back a foreclosed home, sleep on a sidewalk, go on a march, or speak directly to people on the street.
Advertising campaigns rarely have contingencies to just do things as the come up -- there are too many approvals and documentation needs. Occupiers are the "do it now, ask questions later" sort. "I like that," says Everitt-Carlson. "Within this reality, passion for action is experiential -- not just intellectual."
3. Commitment. "Not just 'doing what it takes,' but doing it under circumstances in which you are already cast as a failure.
"Get a job you f*#$*g hippies" are heard every day by the Occupiers," David reports. In the face of this, and worse (weather, documented police brutality, Faux News reports), since the beginning they still manage to stay largely on message week-in and week-out.
(With verifiably true heroes and heroines manning the front lines of the Occupy Movement, how is it that the mainstream -- and especially the right-wing media and politician -- only find drug addicts or social deviants to feature?)
4. Permission to Fail - Big Time. "Just because you are sleeping outside a BofA branch is no guarantee that you will bring this giant to its knees."
With a creativity Madison Avenue would envy, OWS people continually invent new ways to promote the agenda and vex the establishment. "Show up and prevent a foreclosure. Print colorful signs and post them, march with them, or offer them up on the sidewalk. Invent something, try it out, watch it fall short -- or watch it go viral, and then try something new again," David advises.
With over 100 working groups the machinations of OWS are sometimes difficult to fathom -- call it the '100 monkeys at 100 typewriters' business model. But it works.
"No social movement in history has ever had its impact felt so quickly -- no message disseminated so thoroughly throughout the globe as Occupy," David declares. "Advertising agencies would be much better off encouraging failures for their clients rather than trying to prevent them -- open management as opposed to restrictive."
5. Client Relations. The OWS client is the famed 99% -- and they are tough to please.
David feels that Occupy is first and foremost a "lobbyist for the masses" with the government as the middleman between big business and citizens. As such, it needed to organize itself to have both a public face (marches and occupations) and a private campaign (direct action with legislators, city councils, police officials).
As David sees it, if agencies saw their consumers to be their real clients, they'd be more on target with their message -- and more effective. If the government is a middleman to Occupy, then the client should be the middleman to agencies. In both cases, the general public is the beneficiary.
Now, about those tips that Madison Avenue can Provide OWS
1.Targeting and Editing. "OWS needs to deliver specific messages to specific audiences," David says. "Campaign finance reform" is a good example. At an agency, you will come up with 100 ideas to sell an idea. The trick is to understand the audience and to pare those ideas down to five great ones -- then execute the hell out of them."
2. Reach and Frequency. "How many people can you hit, and how often?"
This classic model will work for Occupy as surely as it does for Madison Avenue. "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, Tell 'em, and then Tell 'em what you told 'em."
It took Occupy some time to get on point with the 99%, but once they did it was a matter of reach and frequency. "Now," David continues, "It's time to build on that message and get it out there, over and over and over again."
3. Stop thinking about the problem. "Rather," David advises, "think about the solutions... Einstein advocated 'imagining' solutions -- Ad agencies tend to be 'big idea'-oriented, sometimes a little 'pie in the sky' -- but that's a good thing -- something Occupy could learn from."
As I was interviewing this man, I couldn't help but think to myself, "I wonder if there is an agency smart enough to hire this guy? Talk about providing your clients with a verified 'Guerilla Marketer!'"
David Everitt-Carlson can be found on LinkedIn, or by way of his columns at The Morton Report on OpEd News or Cowbird.