Saturday, January 28, 2012

Looking up at the constellation Leo.

            The only time I met Leo Burnett, the founder of the huge Chicago ad agency, was at an industry luncheon where he was the speaker.  I've sat through many lunches where some of his creative people were complaining about him.

             My friends who worked there were terrorized by his agency's C.R.C., the Creative Review Committee. Every campaign for every Burnett client had to go through that torture-by-committee test, with Leo himself brandishing a big black pencil whenever he showed up.

            The complaint I used to hear most was, "The old man was there." It drove my friends crazy, but I always felt sad for Mr. Burnett. He had built this large, international ad agency with a client list that included Kellogg's, Allstate, and Green Giant. And his people called him "the old man". They joked (and trembled) telling how his lower lip jutted out when he was displeased with the work.

           Leo Burnett always championed creative people, because he loved good copy and good ideas. And with one of his thick black pencils he wrote this in a memo. I've left out a verse or two, and I pass it along to you because in its own way, it's an educational experience:

                                               When the day's last meeting is over,
                                                   And the V.P.'s have left for the train,
                                               When account men are at bars with the client,
                                                   And the space men have switched off the brain,
                                               We shall work and by God we shall have to---
                                                   Get out the pencils and pads,
                                                For finally, after the meetings, someone
                                                   Must get out the ads!

                                                Oh, it's night after night we ruin dinner,
                                                   And although our wives reprimand us,
                                                Somehow we keep right in the rat race
                                                   And somehow our wives understand us,
                                                For no matter the departments and experts,
                                                   The slide rules and business school grads,
                                                All the surveys, reports and researches ---
                                                   Can't stay down and get out the ads!

                                                But after all isn't ad-making
                                                   For print, radio, and TV,
                                                The best possible life for an ad man,
                                                   The full life for you and for me?
                                                Let others have gray suits and homburgs,
                                                   We'll stick to black pencils and pads,
                                                The life, core and heart of our business,
                                                   You're right --- it's making the ads.
          That parody of Kipling, entitled "Finally somebody has to get out an ad", was written in 1955,  before my time in advertising, and today we'd make it gender-neutral. But you get the idea.


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