Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting a job was always harder than making the ads.

       One of the cool things about starting in advertising in the days of "Mad Men" is that nobody ever heard of "Mad Men".

       The week I started my first job in Chicago, the agency I was with ran a full-page ad in Advertising Age. The headline read, "It pays to look both ways: Madison Avenue and Michigan Avenue". When you were looking for a job in New York or Chicago, the ad agencies were all on those two streets.

       The first place I applied for a job was a big agency called Needham, Harper and Steers. I sent in a resume and got back a letter from Dick Needham. Boy, they really liked me! When I showed up for the interview, I found out that Dick wasn't the boss, he was the son, and his job was running the training program. He said there were no openings because times were tough. Not even a comment about how they'd keep my resume on file in case something came up.

       The next place down the Avenue was the Leo Burnett Company, the largest ad agency in Chicago. I called and got an appointment with the personnel manager. (Humans were personnel back then, and apparently didn't want relations.) The personnel manager was very dapper, very polite. He spent a full 15 minutes with me, handed me an apple, and walked me to the elevators. (He handed me an apple because every visitor to Burnett gets an apple. When the agency started in the Depression, Leo was told he'd be selling apples on the street in two weeks. Today, they give away tons every year.)

       At the elevators, Mr. Personnel gave me this advice: "Kid, pick another line of work. You're not cut out for advertising." Semi-crushed, I threw away the apple the minute the elevator got to the lobby. But I learned something important. Never go to the personnel department when you're looking for a creative job. Go right to the creative director or his assistant.

       I crossed the street to the London Guarantee Building and went up to ask my Uncle Ed for a job at his ad agency. His secretary, Ms. Frazier, said he was busy. In a few minutes he came out and said, "I can't see you now, Harvey. We do so much of our business by appointment these days."

      I called and met with Ed the next week, and he gave me a job at $400 a week --- if I did okay on the Myers-Briggs personality test.  I probably flunked the test because I heard mumbling about how they better let me stay because I was the boss' nephew. I assume that after going over my test, Mr. Myers would no longer be speaking to Mr. Briggs.

      That's okay, I was hired. On my first day, Bob, the executive art director, asked me to write a headline for his visual of a hand pouring a bottle of Wish-Bone Salad Dressing into an empty crystal carafe. I blurted out "Lie to Your Friends". He loved it, he used it, and I was a keeper.


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