Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The winding career path home.

          When I was interviewed by my student Miranda, she said it was for her class in creative non-fiction. The answers I gave her were precisely that.

            Miranda started by asking about my career path in advertising. I told her that I skipped around so much, I didn't need a resume, I needed a map. Interned in Detroit, went to Chicago, back to Detroit, moved to Ohio,  then back to Chicago for two more jobs before I moved to Ann Arbor for my own agency, for which I started an office in San Francisco. Quite a waste of energy, actually.

            My friend Dennis, who now teaches advertising at the University of Kentucky, says he envies my sense of adventure. I think it was more like falling in love every time I got a valentine, in the form of a job offer.  Not such a good policy. I probably would've ended up at the same place by staying at my first job.

            Miranda now knows I have met some crazy people and some great ones. And some crazy great ones. She asked me if my first jobs were like "Mad Men". In reference to how women were regarded at work, I said, yes. Sort of like possessions. That's why every time an executive left, his secretary was likely to go with him. The only women execs were in the creative department. They were the ones with the hats.

            In reference to drinking, not so much. I did have an agency president who threw a cocktail party in the main conference room every day at 4:30. In social relationships, as in most everything else, we were an hour behind New York. I had so much to learn about advertising, I was oblivious to most of the goings-on, but I do know that every once in awhile a vice-president would leave "to pursue other opportunities." In other words, he got caught having an affair.

            I hope I told Miranda the two most important things in advertising: one is to learn to yawn with your mouth closed (very important in meetings). The second is to learn to read upside down, a lifesaver when you're presenting ads to a client.

             I didn't tell her about the writer who got so angry that he threw the potted plants in the lobby down the elevator shaft. Or the endless potential for rejection, because your idea is your baby. I didn't want to scare her.

            In the end, it's all worth it. Advertising is a truly enjoyable way to make a living. And it needs all the fresh thinking it can get!


1 comment:


    I think the mad men era was pretty much over or fading fast when I entered advertising in l970. I think the scene in Man Men season 1 when the guys don't know what to make of the Volkswagen "Lemon" ad was prophetic. In 1970, at Grey, we worked in writer/art director teams. The idea that the writer slipped the "copy" under the artist's door was long over.

    In the 70s women did hold many prominent positions in the creative departments but bear in mind that the driving force behind Wells Rich Greene (my last major agency in the 90s) was founded by a driving woman and singular force in the late 60s. Woman-centric accounts, like Noxell were run by Mary Ayers at SSC&B and Shirley Polikoff although she took a subsumming role in her personal life was making the Clairol account at Foote Cone and Belding and re-making women's self-images and sense of freedom in general. I knew both Shirley and Betty Frieden and think it significant that Betty Frieden said that when she saw Shirley's headline, "If I Only Have One Life to Live, Let Me Live It As A Blonde," she immediately colored her hair.

    As for the drinking, I never saw whiskey bottles on anyone's credenza but Foote Cone was in the Pan Am building and we did regularly have two martini lunches in Charlie Brown's on the ground floor. I once saw Brook Shields father who was a magazine rep sitting at the bar declare "it's a jungle out there," right before falling off his stool. Bill Wirth the Vice Chairman would take we five creative directors and our executive art directors up to the Sky Club on the top floor of Pan Am for multi-martini lunches once a month.

    At my next agency, J. Walter Thompson, there was a company bar called "The Meeting" where martinis were a dollar and beer and wine 50 cents. Having a company bar was a great idea because it kept all scuttlebutt private within the agency and not aired out in public watering holes. Also it was a great place to shop for a new job within the agency, that's how I moved from the Kodak group to Burger King.

    Glad I caught your post, writing these notes has moved me a step closer to a picaresque memoir I want to write and post on a weekly basis. It will be called, "A Soldier in the Cola-Wars."

    BTW, my "Isn't It Iconic, The Art and Anthropology of Advertising," has had almost 3,200 views from 54 counties on wordpress and will be published as an ebook next month with a preface and design by the great Roger Black. Thanks for your early support, will have to check your blog more often.