Monday, July 29, 2013

My meeting with Maurice Levy.

Years ago when I was an SVP, Group Creative Director on the HP business at Publicis & Hal Riney, I had occasion to meet Maurice Levy.

Hal Riney had been the agency of the 80s and 90s and their iconic building along the Embarcadero in San Francisco stood as a "city on a hill." They did great work that built great brands--that differentiated them and built a soul and personality for them. Saturn. Alamo. Gallo. Bartles & Jaymes.

At the top of the building in a beautiful serif face was a sign that read "Hal Riney." By the time I got there in 2004 they had appended to it "Publicis &".

That appendage seemed to me like adding something to the name of Mickey Mantle. As if when CBS owned the Yankees they mandated that the slugger be called CBS and Mantle. Or Stoneham Mays. Or Yawkey Williams.

One guy knows the game. Is a maestro, the   g e n i u s  of the diamond. The one people pay to see. The other is a genius of the ledger. A man who can add rows of numbers and make them lie.

CBS Mantle.
Stoneham Mays.
Yawkey Williams.
Publicis Riney.

In short, a sacrilege. An affront. An abomination.

Like paying $200 for opera tickets--to something by Verdi or Rossini or Wagner--something godlike, and getting an ad on that ticket that says "brought to you by Bank of America."

Brought to you by me and my labor and decision to attend. All you did, Bank of Fucking America was bring down the world's economy one $17,000 'executive commode' at a time.

In any event I was running the HP business at Publicis & Hal Riney and doing it fairly alone. There were few account people, and none at a senior level to help me fight the fight.

I am a yeoman and took the business on my broad shoulders and made an impact and progress. But it wasn't enough. Maurice and a henchman came in and we were introduced.

He is a wall-eyed little man in a nice suit with a meringue of salt-and-pepper hair. He came up to my shoulders. We chatted and he said, "You are poonching above your weight. We have gotten you help so you no longer will have to poonch above your weight."

I thought about the French army, Europe's largest in 1940 surrendering to the Nazi's in 41 days. I wish he knew more about poonching above his weight. A lot of Levy's would have been saved along the way.

A few days later a new account guy arrived. A guy I knew from Ogilvy and IBM to help my punches tell. But frankly, it was too little too late and I blew out of Publicis & Hal Riney in just seven months.

I think the world has become an immensely bureaucratized place.

When our armed forces prepares for a mission they do something called "moving the metal mountain."

It is slow. Ungainly. Complex. Wasteful. Enormously expensive and it consumes everything in its wake.

This is our world. Omnipublicom or whatever advertising's newest behemoth--I propose Fucktardipubliom--will not be about a Hal Riney or Maurice or Charles, or Mantle or Mays. It will be about optimization, globalization, standardization and massification.

Individualism, that which brought us to the business in the first place, will be a casualty once again and we will continue regurgitating processed cheese food.


Bukes said...

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes down.

Anonymous said...

Some men just want to watch the world burn. Like Maurice.

Tim said...

I cling to the hope, however small, that somewhere out there is a 5th grader who will grow up to be the next Bill Bernbach.

Anonymous said...

Another way to look at it is to compare Levy's ascent to Sorrell's. THe net result is size and revenue over all but stylistically worlds apart.