Thursday, June 20, 2024

"I Do."

One Saturday night many many years ago, I went to a wedding of an account person I was friendly with who was getting married to another account person she was friendly with.

We were out in Brooklyn somewhere and sitting at our table as we watched our friends tie the knot, jump over the broom, enter nuptial bliss--or nuptial blister--whichever comes first.

There were about eight of us at the table at which I was sitting and I recognized the guy sitting across from me. He was a very prominent creative having risen very high up at BBDO and then after stops at some other giant agencies (BBDO was a giant agency once) opened his own place.

He was a big name in the business, famous for very funny spots and famous for winning awards.

I'm not sure what he's doing now or even if he is doing. That's not the point.

I introduced myself.

"Hi, _________. It's nice to meet you. I'm my name here. I also work in advertising."

"What do you do," __________ asked. He seemed, for a moment to actually give a shit.

I was at Ogilvy on IBM at the time and said something like, "I help run IBM for Ogilvy. I take all that shit no one understands and I make it understandable."

__________ looked at me for a moment. I think he might have closed his eyes, then he opened them and said to me, "Oh, you do real advertising."

What struck me that evening is the stratification of the advertising business. If the industry is comprised of say, 200,000 people, probably 2,000 win 97-percent of the awards. The same 2,000 who are posting from Cannes right now, drinking Rosé in bare feet and feting work that I've never seen except on LinkedIn, agencyspy and the last remaining trade journals, which are really nothing more than press-releases bought and paid for giant agencies.

About five years ago I was asked to go to Cannes. Actually various Ogilvy "Cs" put a decent amount of pressure on me to go. I got out of it by saying "I'd look shitty in pink linen shorts." I left the room and they left me alone after that. 

Essentially, that's how I also got out of doing pharma work. I was asked to once by a C with no small amount of pressure. I said to him, "Hi, I'm Joan Lunden for anal leakage." He said, we'll find someone else, and left me alone after that.

When I was a boy, my older brother, Fred was an all-county golfer--all country in Westchester, NY. That's like being all county basketball from the southside of Chicago. Westchester was a golf Mecca.

Fred has a work ethic that makes me look like a slacker. To get his handicap into the low single-digits, Fred practiced all the time, mostly his short game and especially his putting. Once he said to me, "you drive for show and you putt for dough."

Meaning in golf, it's the details that separate the winners from the also-rans. On the putting green, a ten-foot putt means more than a 330-yard drive. 

There are probably thousands of golfers who can get on the green in two. But only a few dozen who consistently sink long putts.

You drive for show and you putt for dough.

About 50 years ago, I read a book by Malcolm Cowley. I don't remember anything about it but the title. It's the writer's version of the golfer's money shot, above.

The title was, "And I worked at the writer's trade."

When I think about the advertising business today, I also think about the business I grew up in. There was a time, this will be hard for many to fathom, that advertising agencies had beautiful office spaces and paid good salaries. What's more, they were located on Madison Avenue, Park Avenue, Lexington Avenue and Third Avenue. Back in the 1980s, I think Ogilvy was on Fifth Avenue.

In other words, ad agencies were sited within spitting distance of the companies they worked for. They were near the very center of the world's most-prominent companies. Agency CEOs had a pick-up- the-phone-relationship with Client CEOs. And agencies were well-paid for the work they did--they didn't charge like vendors, nor were they treated like vendors. 

I remember when a boss liked an ad I wrote but the client wouldn't buy it. My boss thought it would win gold. Hall-of-Famer, Amil Gargano agreed and called the client's CEO to sell the spot. He suggested I make one copy change--that would allay the client's issues. The client bought the ad.

Not too many months ago, I got a phone call from Steve Hayden, my advertising mentor and the closest person to a father I ever had. Steve had given GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company a client and he asked how it was going with that client.

"I think it's going pretty well," I answered. "He just called me on Saturday. A friend of his died and he needed help writing his eulogy."

"I'd say that's going pretty well," Steve said.

Somehow I think too much of our business has become too much about our own awards and our own aggrandizement. No, I don't relish writing eulogies for clients, but when you run your own agency and you're lucky enough to work primarily with CEOs or at the least CMOs, your job isn't a flashy one. Or it's not all flash, anyway.

It's not merely the spot or the stunt--real or phonus balonus--that shows up at Cannes. It's the 32-million things that a client needs, that's your job. Your job is to do them, to pull the client's ass out of the fire, to make the client look good. To come through and come through and come through. Even a eulogy for someone you don't know on a weekend in a rush.

Your job is to putt for dough.

To do the little things that build big wins.

Like I said, there was a time when agencies were treated well and paid well. I think it was because clients knew that those agencies came through with smart thinking when it was needed and asked for. And even more-so when the client didn't even know they needed it. They weren't worried about scopes and billable hours and deliverables. They were worried about delivering.

When I ran an agency I had a slogan. I still use it today. As in every day. "There's a big difference between doing the assignment and doing the job."

When advertising did the job people got rich from advertising. When we did nothing but the assignment advertising became a low-wage industry.

I believe in advertising that does the job. Advertising that over delivers. That knows the client and the client's products. And what makes them tick. And what makes them different.

That's the advertising industry I'm trying to build with GeorgeCo.

I couldn't give a rat's ass about the industry advertising has become. It's not the industry I love.

So far, five years into GeorgeCo., I've been able to find a lot of clients who like the way I work. 

I'd say 'they like the cut of my jib,' but that sounds too much like advertising.

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