Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A good business with no clients.

          Norman was a copy supervisor who worked for me and had it all figured out.

          "Everyone says an advertising agency would be a great place if it weren't for the clients," Norman told me. "Of course," he added, "when I worked at a university, they said it would be a great place without the professors. And when I worked for a medical center, they said it would be a great place if it weren't for the patients."

         Why is it that many would be happy if it weren't for the people they are there to serve? Personally, I love working with clients. I've told you how John DeLorean wanted us to do Pontiac commercials that parodied Bonnie and Clyde. And he was at conservative General Motors!

         A great friend and client was Henry Feldman, who had been the marketing director of the Playboy Clubs and became the head of the Claremont Resort in Berkeley. One day, in a meeting, Henry asked me where I get all my ideas. I told him that after supper, I sit down at the kitchen table with a bottle of Jack Daniels. I was putting him on of course.  The next time we got together, Henry presented me with a gallon of Jack Daniels.

          Toby Tobias was the advertising director of Reynolds Aluminum. He was a great conversationalist, and I loved my trips to Richmond, Virginia, and his trips to Chicago. Toby was a staunch defender of the brand and their pioneering role in recycling. He also was a student of readership research. At our first meeting, Toby railed against reverse type, white type on a black background. He knew it was so hard to read, and people would give up on an ad that used it. I assured Toby that I agreed, and he wouldn't see any reverse type in his ads from then on. We became friends that minute.

          At Procter and Gamble, Thane Pressman and I never became pals, but his understanding of creative and championing of good work made him a leader in his company. (I also shared his love of Michelin 3-star restaurants in Cincinnati.) Thane was brand manager of Pringles at the time, and we accomplished a lot together for the world's most misunderstood potato chips. What touched me the most was the call I got from Thane after I quit the agency. He wanted to know why. What made me unhappy? I would never bad-mouth an agency, but I certainly remember his concern for me.

          One great client is Dr. Ed Revelli, the head of the Eye Center at the University of California.
For years now he's had the patience to teach me what I needed to know about vision care,  the professionalism to keep me on track, and the support that keeps me devoted to working with them.

         Of course, I've had difficult clients, too. One who became hysterical if I ever veered off strategy. One who threw pencils at the account executive if he didn't like something. Another who complained to our president that I was "too far out". And still another who threw a tantrum when he thought that two of my people were whispering about him at lunch.

          Without clients, though, advertising would be a lonely business. Norman knew that. And he also knew that it would be no business at all.

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