Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Bill Bernbach story.

Almost 30 years ago I went to work for a Hall of Famer, Ron Rosenfeld, who co-ran a hot mid-sized shop in New York. Ron was, perhaps, the most awarded copywriter of the 60s. Reputedly the first copywriter to earn $100k.

I got to work with him, closely, and I expected pure, unalloyed genius to come flowing from his orifices.

Instead, what I heard was 80% drivel, 15% passable, 5% good.

About the same as you'd get from any copywriter or art director.

Sometimes you'd get from him 100% drivel.

Over the 20 months I stayed at this agency, I got friendly with an old-timer who sat in the office next to mine. One night, late, I asked the old-timer what had happened to Ron. Why was he so, well, mediocre?

The answer I got was this:

When Ron worked for Bill Bernbach, he would write 100 lines. Bernbach would circle the three stellar ones and say, "sell those."

Ron, at this point in his career, didn't have the strength or will to write 100 lines anymore. He just wrote three.

He got bad because he stopped working as hard as he needed to.

A lesson to remember.

6 comments:

Dave Trott said...

Bill Bernbach used to say it was his job to go through Helmut Krone's wastepaper basket.
That was a lesson I learned from John Webster, "It ain't who says it, it's who spots it."

Anonymous said...

Jesus Geo, are you really in your 60s. Appreciate the lessons but that's the " gone world" to be sure

geo said...

anonymous, my post wasn't about the 60s. It involved characters from the 60s, yes. But was really about hard-work.

Dave Trot said...

George, did you write that silly Anonymous comment yourself just to wind people up?
I think you could have done it more convincingly.

geo said...

Hi, Dave.

Anonymous isn't completely wrong. I wish the Scalis, Allys and DDBs were still around.

But I write only as me, and an 84-year-old retired Rabbi called Slappy Tannenbaum.

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