Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just the Fax, ma'am.

       I was told I was the last person Fairfax Cone interviewed. Two weeks after meeting me he had a stroke at his home in Carmel, California, and never came back to Foote, Cone and Belding.

       As c.e.o. of the big national ad agency, Fax was a monument to salesmanship in print and broadcast. He oversaw campaigns that are now classic: "Does she or doesn't she?" and "Is it true blondes have more fun?" for Clairol. "Raid kills bugs dead" for S. C. Johnson. "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did?" for Dial soap. "When you care enough to send the very best" for Hallmark.

       His interview with me was in Chicago, and lasted maybe three minutes. I was at FCB for my final interview and was told Mr. Cone was in town and wanted to meet me. His lieutenants were probably trying to kill a few minutes of the boss' visit. Fax asked me a few questions, said he was glad I thought of the agency, and that working there would be good for me. I told him I hoped to see him on his next visit.

       Although I never saw him again, his words bounced off the walls and corridors of the agency the whole time I was there. Every employee was given a copy of his book "The Blue Streak", a collection of his memos. "A messy desk means a messy mind" he reminded us. (We all had to put our stuff on our chairs and push them under the desk every night.) We couldn't wear loafers because "I don't want my clients to think our people are too lazy to tie their shoes". "Your pants have to match your coat." And his account execs were told never to wear brown.

      That last one was my favorite because these days brown is re-emerging as the biggest thing in men's clothes. Fashion articles are everywhere featuring Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry", Ronald Reagan in his pinstripes, and Ryan Gosling in brown Gucci.

      Fax Cone himself was iconic in advertising, and I was thrilled to meet him, but his fashion sense wasn't his long suite. Not everyone is good at everything, I guess. Not even Dirty Harry.

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