Thursday, June 29, 2023

Mary Warlick and Her Art.


Because I am connected in social media to a lot of luminaries in the ad business, I heard the buzz about Mary Warlick's book pictured above, many months ago. 

As much as I already have just about every book on advertising ever written, I didn't much need one. However, intrigue got the upper hand on practicality and I went to order it. At once, I was a little knocked back in my seat because of the price. 

I'm used to spending money on books. 

I think nothing of dropping $35 on a Kindle edition of the latest best-seller about the disappearance of the rare Norwegian variegated mealworm. I don't usually put financial limits on self-improvement. But "Selling Creative" was listed on Amazon at almost $60 and it seemed like something I could live without.

But then I read Ernie Schenck praising it. 

Luke Sullivan praising it.

Joe Alexander praising it.

Gary Goldsmith praising it.

These are people I've admired for, literally, decades. Some of whom I count as friends.

Suddenly, "Selling Creative" turned from being an "expense" to being a "competitive edge." If I bought it, I thought, I might have an advantage over the 9,600,045,879 other copywriters who are fighting for the same advertising assignments I am. We're all out there tryin' to make a living an' doin' the bes' we can.

As Baseball Annie said in "Bull Durham," "A man will listen to anything if he thinks it's foreplay," I'll read anything, or watch anything if it helps me get business. You'd have to be stupid not to abide by that stricture.

So I ordered Mary's book. 

And when it arrived at my apartment, I devoured it like Yom Kippur just ended and it was a lox and bagel sandwich. I was impressed with the people Mary selected to write about. I was impressed with the work she chose to represent those people. But most of all, I was impressed with the quality of her writing about those people. 

I started reading about people I worked for. Ron Rosenfeld. Amil Gargano. Mike Tesch. By extension Patrick Kelly, who I was about to shoot with before he died.

Mary seemed to capture them in a just few pages better than I had after working around them for a few years. Quickly I sent Mary a note, and some 7th-grade school newspaper questions. Almost as quickly, Mary wrote back. 

Here's a bit of our Q and A.

When I read about the people of Ally, particularly Tesch and Amil, I was stunned by how you captured the tenor of the place, the sadness of its fall and its mercurial lifespan. How many interviews, who, etc.

I interviewed Mike Tesch, Ed McCabe, Jim Durfee, numerous times. I read Amil’s book. I met Carl Ally before he died, and interviewed him, but it was before I began work on the book. My sources for the tenor of the place were dozens and dozens of contemporary trade articles, which followed the rise and fall of the agency.

Do you think anyone today has a Hall-of-Fame oeuvre? Not one or two stellar ads. But hundreds of ads over decades that have created and cemented brands in consumers' heads?

I continue to be surprised that Bob Barrie is not in the Creative Hall of Fame. His work over the decades has proved to be classic and has the strength of the earlier members of the Creative Hall of Fame. His work for Time, Hush Puppies, and United Airlines are classic examples.

In the past, there seemed to be great brands associated with the agencies that worked with them for decades.


Do you think that alliance/allegiance between agency and clients still exists?

The work from the long-time agencies often depended on the personal relationships between the heads of agencies and their clients. This was apparent in the work from Bill Bernbach’s agency and the VW client, Ralph Ammirati and Martin Puris and their BMW clients, and UPS client. Certainly, Carl Ally and Fred Smith bonded over the Federal Express account, as both men had a vision for the overnight delivery service.

Mary Wells married her top client, Harding Lawrence at Braniff Airlines. Phil Dusenberry had a good relationship with his top clients, Jack Welch of GE. And of course, Dan Wieden and David Kennedy had a strong relationship with Phil Knight of Nike. These personal relationships opened the doors for trust and creative work.

Was your book--like One Show Annuals--merely nostalgia for old people like me? Or can young people and clients learn from what was.

It is important for young people to know on whose shoulders they stand. I tried to capture the personalities, and the backgrounds of the creative giants that went before,
so that young people can understand there is no direct route to good work. It depends on confidence, determination and passion for the business.

Many years ago, when I abandoned my dream of being an academic and decided to pay rent instead, I was a classically trained scholar with an advanced degree in English Literature.

My training taught me to study and learn from writers who were fundamental to all that came after them. Homer. Sophocles. Chaucer. Petrarch. Dante. Shakespeare. And so on. 

My love of film has led me to study Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, Renoir, Pressburger, Welles, Sturges, Wilder, Lean, Reed.

My love and respect for advertising led me to study and, yes, memorize the work and the lives of many people in "Selling Creative."

I'd imagine the giant holding companies spent upwards of a combined $10 million sending legions of people wearing loafers and no socks to Cannes. Who knows how much they spent on foot powder. For probably two-percent of that money, they could buy a copy of "Selling Creative" for everyone employed in advertising and every CMO in the world.

If our industry objective behind award shows is truly to educate and uplift, the ROI gained from bestowing Mary Warlick's book to people throughout the industry would be a much more effective way to improve the industry--our respect, our craft, our relationships and our output.

"Selling Creative" is one of the most expensive advertising books I've ever bought. In terms of value, however, it is by far the cheapest.

There's something to learn on every page. And it's fractal. The closer you look, the more you see.

Thanks, Mary.

For all the help. And all the business.

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