Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Eight Things I Learned from Someone You Should Learn From.

Early on in my career, I went to work for a mid-sized agency that was led by two advertising Hall-of-Famers, Ron Rosenfeld--who at one time was the youngest copywriter ever elected--and Len Sirowitz, an art director who did many of my favorite ads when he was a star at DDB.

For whatever reason, I left that agency for a better agency. Again, that agency was run by two advertising Hall-of-Famers. Mike Tesch--who was the ECD of the place (when that was the top creative title) and Amil Gargano, whose name was on the door and who was the conscience of the agency.

Eventually, I made my way to Ogilvy where I got to work with Steve Hayden, Chris Wall, Steve Simpson and, though she's not a 'creative,' Shelly Lazarus. While there, I also shot a good bit with Joe Pytka and Errol Morris.

When I started at Ogilvy I got tossed into a maelstrom named Brian Collins. In fact, when we first worked together, I very nearly got into a fracas--a genuine Pier Six Brawl--with Brian's account partner. You know those veins at your temples? Mine almost exploded.

The thing about working with the names I dropped above is simple. You observe them like an ornithologist spotting a rare migratory yellow-bellied pupick. You work with them, sure. But if you're really on top of things, when you head back to your desk, you take notes about what you learned. Some of those things are techniques. More often, they're approaches, or behaviors or ways at getting to problems, or most often of all, gaining the confidence to believe in yourself so you can be yourself.

When you write a blog with the <er> perspicacity that I write this blog, you're always on the look out for annuities. Not an annuity like a financial instrument that pays you monthly, but a creative annuity that you can keep coming back to. 

I've been lucky enough to work, still, with many of the names I listed above. I've been lucky enough to have Chinese food with them, or a beer, or kibbitz by phone or e. I'm lucky enough to count a lot of these people as my friends.

In the interest of annuity-izing some of these relationships, I thought I'd write down in this 83,000 readers/week-space some of what I learned from some of these people. Some of this is self-aggrandizement on my part. Swagger that comes from having worked with a veritable Pantheon.

Like the time I wrote a commercial for Gorton's original-style fish sticks and I got Federico Fellini to shoot it (he was $11 million over budget and 22 weeks late.) Or when I was working on the El Pollo Cubano restaurant chain and I persuaded Fidel Castro to help us promote a sandwich I named after him, the Fidel O' Fish. Or more recently, shooting a 150-minute film on the origin story of Peeps marshmallow treats with "Peep" Davidson.

Working with these luminaries is like hanging out with the Bloomsbury Group or drinking 19 dry martinis at the Algonquin. But writing down my learnings is more than just ego gratification on my part.

It's an attempt at a corrective to an industry gone awry. An industry that trains no more, that treats the past like it's as stinky as yesterday's Bouillabaisse, and has forgotten the truths that made it a) a great way to make a living and b) the greatest driver of brand value and capital appreciation in the history of the world. Phew.

All that to say, here are eight things I learned from having worked with, for, alongside and at loggerheads with Brian Collins for more than a quarter of a century. [Working with Brian includes working with Katya, Lee, Nick Ace and his wonderful crew. All of whom are, always, relentlessly on brief.]

I marked down just eight things I learned, though I just as easily could write 18 or even 81. But Collins has helped teach me economy, too.

The things I've learned from Collins have helped GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company grow more, get bigger, do better work and have bigger, better clients than I ever imagined I'd have when I got tossed out on my keister at the Ancient Mariner age of 62.

I happen to think the things I've learned from Collins could help any agency in the world that wants to do good work and treat people well. And make money. Any agency in the world that wants to help clients, respect itself and its people and be different. And make money.

If I were a little smarter and had better art-direction skills, I'd put three black dots equidistant from top to bottom alongside the left hand margin of my eight things list. That would be my semiotic way of saying, "This shit is smart. You should save it."

I bet the people at Collins would like that "design" idea.

But I leave it to you to do what you want with it.

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