Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Mentors, mentoring and more mentors.

I’ve survived, somehow, almost 35 years in the advertising business. It’s not unusual, during a slow or a sad moment, to wonder how. Or for that matter, why.

Late last night, long after I was in the embrace of Morpheus, I got an email, a one-line note, from my first boss in the business.  He wrote:

Marshall Karp was the first guy in the ad business who took a chance on me. I had visited 40 agencies with my student portfolio and while I got a fair number of warm responses, no one pulled the trigger and hired me.

Marshall did.

He saw something in me and was willing to take a chance.

Somehow, through the years, we’ve stayed in touch. He prods me now and again to give up the advertising business—to turn my typing skills to more exalted work, like writing a book, or a movie or even, focusing more time on my latest project, “The Hebrew Home for the Aged, Infirm and Cranky Joke Book.”

But, I persist.

Marshall was the ECD (back when that title was equivalent to today’s CCO) of an agency called Marschalk. That became Lowe Marschalk. That became Lowe Marschalk SMS. And about 19 more permutations until it reached its all but unrecognizable state today.

He left the agency about a year or so after he hired me. He had written a play that had earned some acclaim and that got him a job in Hollywood where he wrote “one feature and many TV shows.”

Marshall also started a digital agency before there were digital agencies, selling it to a holding company way back when dinosaurs roamed 2nd Avenue, in 2000. He “started thinking about writing one book before he died.” That’s led to 11 books in all, five flying solo and six #1 best-sellers he’s “co-authored” with James Patterson.

You can find Marshall’s website here and you’ll learn a lot more about him. Especially, the important and mellifluous and thinking way he writes.

Marshall writes with caring, precision, wit and warmth. All qualities our industry could—today or any day—use more of. Someone, maybe David Ogilvy, wrote a long time ago that you can’t bore people into buying your product. Well, guess what, you can’t shout them into buying your product either. Though most commercials and ads seem to try.

But enough of Marshall. This blog is about me, remember, and how I’ve lasted in this business for more than a third of a century.

What I realized via Marshall’s note, is how extraordinarily lucky I’ve been.

To have had, from the time when I was very young, a mentor. Someone who kicked me in the ass, someone who respected me, someone who expected more from me than I expected from myself.

Maybe it’s simpler than that.

Maybe it’s just having someone who actually reads what you write. Positively. But critically.

There ain’t a lot of that going around in our current era: Dark Ages 2.0. Most people are too rushed. Too harried. Too timesheeted or too billable. Too too to give too much of themselves.

It takes a lot of work, frankly. And it sure as shooting isn’t going to make you rich. Unfortunately, agencies seem more interested in extracting value from people than in adding value to their careers.

But like I said, I’ve been lucky throughout the seasons. Ed Butler over at Ally & Gargano was my mentor. Steve Hayden during my first stint at Ogilvy. And the surpassing Brian Collins at the eponymous Collins was always more than willing to push me along with a swift kick from his expensive leather brogues.

Even today, friends like Rob Schwartz, Rich Siegel, Dave Trott, Allen Kay and, of course, Marshall Karp seem to give a shit.

It’s a small thing, giving a shit. But it makes a difference.

Just now a new hire came over to the table that sits adjacent to my small slab of indistinguished desk. (You can tell I’m important here because I have a $29 table next to me and four chairs where I can talk to people.)

This new guy is a young writer. Someone must have told him to seek me out and he did.

I’m not entirely positive I have the wherewithal to be much of a mentor. I’m a little gruff and imposing for one thing. And most often, I’m entirely too busy and put upon.

But like I said, this young man came over and we had a chat. We spent an hour talking together. In that hour, I gave him about 32 terabytes of data. MP4s of old commercials and films and, even, lectures from ad luminaries that I had collected through the years. I sent him pdfs I had acquired of old advertising annuals. And books. Armloads of books.

If he follows up with me, or if anyone else does for that matter, I’ll do it again.

It’s the least I can do for all that was done for me.

Right, Marshall?


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