Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Small agencies would be better if they were big.

          One week after I had quit my job at Foote, Cone, and Belding in Chicago and became a partner in a small Ann Arbor agency, I found out it wouldn't be as easy as it seemed.

          One of our clients was a maker of backpacks and duffel bags, and I wandered into a pre-production meeting for the photoshoot. The scene in the ad was three people with these backpacks sitting on the football field at the University of Michigan Stadium. Our agency account executive, Rich, was speaking to the amateur models, recruited from our staff: "So we've got to run onto the field at half-time Saturday, take the picture, and run off before they catch us."

           I couldn't believe what I was hearing. No permissions, no nothing. I told Dick, one of my partners, who said, "Let them do it. We're a small agency." Here in this pretty, bucolic Midwestern college town, I first got high blood pressure. I was certain I'd hear it on the news at 11 on Saturday night: "Six ad people arrested for trespassing on football field." I didn't, but it took me a while to calm down.

           One morning I got to work early, around 7:30. The phone was ringing off the hook. The caller introduced himself as the president of another of our clients, the University Microfilms division of Xerox, the people who record all Ph.D. theses in the United States. He was calling me because his assistant wasn't in yet, and he had to send a fax to New York. "I don't know how. Can you help?" he asked. I walked him through it, relieved that I hadn't let the client down before I even met him.

           Another client was Compuware, who made software for mainframe computers. I went to meeting after meeting and had no idea what they were talking about. Then came time to write an ad, which I did. It was a two-page spread with this as a headline: "What we do is a mystery. But our product is a best-seller." The ad pulled more responses than any one had before. The client thought I was a technical genius.

          A few months after I got to Ann Arbor, it became obvious that I was brought in because my partners wanted to quit. One had just inherited a small fortune and wanted to go home to Georgia, and the other had always dreamed of opening a restaurant in Key West.

          We recruited an art director, Mel Medrich, who owned a small agency in Ann Arbor, to work with me. He had been doing collateral material for Hatteras Yachts in High Point, N. C., and three weeks after he came aboard, Hatteras asked him to make a presentation for their $2-million ad account, too.We chartered a plane, made our presentation, and flew back with a prestigious large new client.

          That was my post-graduate work in Ann Arbor.

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