Thursday, September 1, 2011

The intern with portfolio.

       Last night I decided I need a new hat. For the last few years, the only thing I wore on my head was a baseball cap (Giants) and only when it rained. But watching "Mad Men" made me want something more substantial. I also want to put my trenchcoat back in rotation, but that will have to wait for winter.

       I even went down to the basement to see if I could find the attache case I bought when I was an intern. At the time, the attache case was a symbol of my success. It was the summer between my junior and senior year in college, and I was an intern at a big ad agency --- in Detroit. The pay was $175 a month, and my father said sending me there from Chicago cost him more than if he had sent me to camp.

       When I received the paycheck for the first two weeks, I practically ran over to Saks Fifth Avenue to look at leather attache cases. Everyone at the agency had one, and I wanted to be one of them. The one I wanted cost $55, and I had to think about it overnight, before I bought it. I do still have it, although by now it's pretty beat up.

        A week later at work, I won a contest to write a "house ad" --- an ad for our agency --- about the internship program. It ran in the New Yorker and Fortune magazines, and I came home with a proof for my portfolio. I also wrote two Chevy outdoor boards and a full-color trade ad about an agricultural bug killer. More for my portfolio.

       The agency was very impressive, and I was very impressionable. The beautiful, modern offices for the Copy Director and the Executive Art Director had a sliding wall between them, sort of a tip of the hat to the new New York idea of art and copy working together. Adjoining them were seemingly endless rows of offices for writers and art directors along the windows, with a huge open area in the middle. (I nicknamed the creative department the "elephant house", because it looked like the zoo, and was later told that tag stuck for years.)

       I loved those two months at the Detroit agency and made a lot of good friends. When I returned to college, I was sort of a celebrity in the Journalism Department, especially after that issue of the New Yorker came out. The professor for whom I worked two hours a day even voluntarily increased my pay by five dollars a month, to $40.

      That summer also gave me two things very valuable. It gave me a mentor and friend named Tom, whom I've cherished ever since, and the sense that I could make it in the world of advertising.

       Neither of which was a small thing for a kid with an attache case too big for his britches.

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