Insist on fun.

On Friday night, I was honored to receive the Osborn Award for Creativity from the Advertising Club of Buffalo. Within that world, it's a pretty big deal, and has been awarded in the past to people I admire a lot. It also required me to wear a tie and give a speech, which follows.


It seems we make these movies . . . and sometimes . . . they're considered filthy or something by some people . . . but I don’t think that's true. These films we make can be better . . .

(Note: This fragment is from a speech given by the character Dirk Diggler in the movie "Boogie Nights." I started with it to amuse Brian Grunert.)


I’m Pete Reiling and I’m available for freelance work.

A while back, I had to come up with my personal creative philosophy for a pitch. I picked the word “surprise.” I think that’s what good work does, and that it’s that moment of surprise that makes the difference between someone receiving a message and remembering it.

This evening proves the wisdom of that philosophy. When I found out I was joining some of the people I admire most as a recipient of this award, I was very surprised. And I will certainly remember this.

I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some amazing people in the last decade or so.  At the start I was lucky to know Ann Casady and Greg Meadows, both of whom more than lived up to their reputations as teachers, mentors, and friends.

And there was Paul Kessler. And Rich Gilbert. And David Moore. And Mike Telesco. And everyone who toiled at the now defunct Wolf Group Buffalo. That place was a boot camp, and during my 8 years there - 8 Wolf years being equal to around 18 Human months  - I learned enough to move on to Crowley Webb. Crowley Webb was, in my mind, THE place to work in Buffalo.

Right from the start, I fully accepted the gospel of Saints John and Joe into my heart. Their combination of incredibly high creative standards and unassuming decency are now, hopefully, part of my DNA. 

And Crowley is where I met Jackie Warner. And Keith Crippen. And Steve Kull. And Kelly Gambino. And Mike Gluck. I was in awe of them all, and each of them was remarkably patient and helpful.

It’s also where I worked for Dave Buck and Jeff Pappalardo. From the beginning they encouraged me to try all kinds of things and let me blur the traditional lines that define roles in an agency.  If I tried to list the things I learned from those guys, this speech would be as long as it probably seems.

But I do want to mention one thing I learned from Jeff. Early on in my time at Crowley, I made a stupid mistake on a project that was under a very tight deadline. Jeff kept his cool and, as usual, everything ended up being fine. Once the dust had settled, I went to Jeff and thanked him for not having freaked out on me. He looked genuinely puzzled and said, “What good would that have done?”

Now that may seem obvious, but it was a new idea to me. Since then, I’ve tried to emulate his calm, reasonable, and kind approach. My sons, who are here tonight, will tell you I haven’t always been entirely successful. But I’m grateful for Jeff's example.

I started at Crowley the same day as Matt Low, who was a fresh-out-of school copywriter with a goofy haircut. Or maybe I should say a goofier one. Over the years we did some of our best work together and engaged in endless conversations that, if overheard, would have gotten us arrested and/or institutionalized. And he’s turned out to be one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

And speaking of friends, Crowley is also where I met Kathy Kastan, who, if you ask me, should be up here talking to you right now. Over the last 20 years she has quietly made and guided some of the best creative in our market, thanks to incredible instincts and a world-class bullshit filter. And she’s done it while being one of the nicest people in human history. 

Crowley is where I first had the opportunity to collaborate with people like Eric Frick and Rhea Anna and Mike Gelen and Warren Stanek, all of whom always get what I'm trying to do and always find ways to make it better. It was also through Crowley that I got to know Laurie Wolfe, another one of those friends you make a few times in your life, if you're lucky.

A nice thing about agencies is that when you start feeling burned-out and jaded, which is inevitable, younger, brighter people somehow show up at just the right time to revitalize and inspire you and remind you what you liked about your job in the first place. Lots of people, including Stina Hodge, Lillian Selby, and Jon Gerlach have done that for me over the years. So I’d like to say thanks, kids.

It seems funny to win a prize for doing a job that already feels like a prize. I think we sometimes forget how lucky we are to play with words and pictures for a living, the same things we did as little kids, and the same things a lot of do even when we’re not getting paid. 

Now this may sound like heresy coming from a twelve-year veteran of Crowley Webb, the "Hard Work Works Hard" agency, but I think hard work is maybe a little overrated. I think in our profession we’re at our best when we’re playing.

There’s a corny, but true, saying about working in creative - “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.’ To take it a step further, “If you’re not having fun, you’re probably not making very good stuff."

I'll bet everyone in this room can look at a piece of creative and sense, instinctively, if the people who made it were having fun, or if they were totally miserable, or if they were just punching the clock. It’s like the end product somehow captures a little bit of the people who make it and then passes that along to the audience. 

So engaging ads are made by people who are engaged. And Interesting TV spots by people who are interested. And funny radio commercials are made by people who spend a lot of time laughing. I believe it.

Sometimes it's hard to approach our jobs this way. You can blame our market. Or an account person. Or an oppressive work environment. Or anxiety about making mistakes. Or bad schedules. Or clients.

And these things may be even be true. But to blame them for our states of mind and the quality of the work we do is, ultimately, a cop out. 

To do good creative, we’ve got to have fun. I don’t think fun is a byproduct of our best work – I think it’s the source. Look at Brian Grunert, yet another amazing friend I’ve made. I’ve seen the way he approaches his work, and the results he’s achieved over the years are pretty convincing evidence of my theory.

So insist on having fun. Insist on taking chances. Insist on joy every day. We owe it to our clients, we owe it to our work, and we owe it to ourselves.

Any fun I’ve had and any good work I’ve done is thanks to the people I mentioned tonight, and many others. But I owe the most to my family. My boys, Max and Joe, and my wife, Melissa, who is the best person I’ve ever known. I want to thank her for her belief, encouragement, and support over the years. But since I don’t want to abuse the support thing, I promised her I’d mention my website at least three times to this captive audience of potential clients and collaborators.,,

That's it. Thank you again. Have fun.


I also had the opportunity to fill a page of the ADDY show book. I did so with crude little drawings of some of my favorite people in the world.