Thursday, October 27, 2011

Every ad agency can use a Jerry.

       My friend Jerry was one of the most talented filmmakers I ever hired to be a copywriter. Actually, he was the only one.

       I had a policy never to hire friends, but Jerry was special. He was head of the film department at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, and called me when he was about to go on sabbatical. He said he would be interested in spending time in an advertising agency.

       Jerry was also a documentary filmmaker. He won a medal at the Vienna Film Festival for "Marco", about the natural childbirth of his son before it was legal in Illinois. He was also a founding partner of Kartemquin Productions, the group that made "Hoop Dreams". You can see why I was so excited he called.

       Most advertising writers get restless when they have to work on long projects that involve research. Jerry loved them. I assigned him to write a documentary film for the American Optometric Association, explaining to role of the optometrist in vision care. He did a brilliant job, and the film was the kickoff of a multi-million-dollar communications program our agency created.

       Jerry was also very witty, and would regularly put signs on his office door. One of my favorites was:

                                            "He who speaks wisdom
                                              will never be forgotten."
                                                             -- Anonymous

        He did so well as a copywriter that we put him on some of our most difficult, involved accounts. Clients loved Jerry because he studied their businesses and their markets and stuck with it, coming up with ingenious ad campaigns for their trade journals.

         I loved having Jerry around because he was an intellectual in an ad agency, a rare commodity. He was trying to understand advertising, often challenging its underlying philosophies as he searched out the good in everybody.

         Jerry never did go back to teaching at the University. He stuck with advertising, eventually starting his own small agency in Chicago. His clients included the University of Illinois, who never wanted to let go of him.

         He wanted to go into advertising and found his own niche, doing things others weren't good at. Something for you to keep in mind.

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