Monday, June 12, 2023

Arms and the Man.

When I was very young in the business, I worked at Ally & Gargano, a once-great agency that was no longer great. 

The agency, like Caesar's Gaul, was divided into three parts. There was a "women's part," according to the order of the day, that had women's package-goods products like tampons and Jergens emollients. That work was handled by a small coterie of senior women who would do their work efficiently and who would seldom leave their precinct on the eighteenth floor. 

There there was a group of 50-year-old men who had had great careers in the 1970s and 1980s. They had won a lot of awards at great places like Doyle Dane and Della Femina, and now, in the early 90s, were hired by Hall-of-Famer Mike Tesch to try to handle the few accounts Ally had left without embarrassing themselves or the agency too badly. 

These were the guys who did about 98-percent of the non-women's TV in the agency. And while they didn't want to do bad work, they put a premium on collecting their large paychecks and leaving in time to catch the 5:47 train to White Plains.

Third, and last by far, there was a small group of people in their early 30s. Women and men who had five-to-seven years' experience and who joined Ally hoping to learn from or witness the genius of Amil Gargano who was still at the helm, or Mike Tesch who was the Executive Creative Director, when that title was the highest creative title there was. 

I was in this group--along with half a dozen others--and we were usually given print accounts to handle, or Dunkin' Donuts' :15-second promotional spots where you'd announce a give-away, a thermal coffee mug, yours for $1.99, when you bought a dozen donuts.

Nominally, this was a great job. 

You got a ton of experience producing things, and you got to rub shoulders and learn from some talented people. I was at Ally for five years and wound up producing about 100 print ads and 25 TV spots a year.

My big break, however, the thing that got me promoted to Senior Vice President and Group Creative Head at the premature age of just 33, came from my right arm.

When the folks in the second group, the 50+ men were out in LA shooting a spot for Clamato or Motts Apple Sauce, their print assignments would come due. 

The way Ally was run was smart.

You were given an account. It was up to you to do the work. It was your responsibility. It was yours to run.

I was on The Bank of New York account--at the time, the largest retail bank in the tri-state area. In five years on the business, I never once asked for help.

But the guys shooting on the west coast were too drunk, high or entitled to have the same attitude. They were shooting TV and when print came due, they'd complain to the head of production, Tony, that they were too busy.

Tony would ask the 30-somethings in group three to help. We were all angry about it and resentful. But we shut up and paid our dues.

These old fat guys were living the life shooting and we were left behind in New York. They were making 80s salaries while we were just trying to make it. They were leaving at five while we had five things going on at once.

But I raised my hand anyway.

Why the fuck not.

One year, I think it was 1992, I literally did every print ad in the agency. Every print ad.

When 1993 came along, and a pitch or a big assignment, for one of the few times in my life I spoke up without rancor. 

"I deserve this." I said."I did everything for Charlie and Harvey. And Silvio and Jim. It's my turn now." And Tony agreed with me.

Some of my peers in group three didn't. But they weren't there and willing to do the work that I had been willing to do. So they said I was an ass-kiss or political because I got chances, money and promotions they didn't.

That's ok.

The work I did in those years was ok, too. 

Not Chiat\Day or Ammirati or Scali, but ok.

But now it's thirty years later. And clients come to me because they're stuck.

Often, they're stuck--and their agencies are stuck, too. Their agencies, like the lard-asses in group two, described above, can't or won't crack the code. When the client scribbles out three paragraphs and says "we need manifestos on their areas," they push back. They say, "we need a proper brief and two weeks' time."

So these clients come to me.

Because I raise my hand.

I'm back in 24 hours.

Or even twelve.

With three manifestos and three times seventeen ads per manifesto. Fifty-one ads in all. No, really, fifty-one ads in twelve hours and I had three other clients at the same time.

I dunno.

Life isn't a golf course, to me. It's not a leisurely stroll. 

I see it more as a battlefield. 

There's little time for overthinking.

You're usually better off overdoing. Overworking. Overtrying.

That's what I do.

I raise my hand.

Then I lower it.

And write.

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