“Come right over to the Pan Am Building, Frank! We've got a new account, and we need a writer with your kind of experience,” Mary Van said.
Five years earlier, I had advised Mary to leave the Schenectady ad agency where we worked together, to take a job as Account Supervisor in New York. Now, she was working on new business at Kenyon & Eckhardt, and she had brought in a national travel agency franchise that was just in the planning stages.
That meant they needed a copywriter with retail experience -- someone who could write fast and write well, for retail advertisers -- not the usual kind of portfolio that gets you a job at a major ad agency with headquarters in New York. She knew I was right for it, and could get a great campaign up and running in a hurry.
I had my portfolio with me at the Helmsley Building next door, because I was putting it together in preparation for the demeaning task of begging for work.
But I didn't have to beg. Mary had pre-sold them on me. And it's a good thing, too. Because it was a fast-moving, frenetic agency I walked into with my portfolio at 3 PM on that Friday afternoon.
John, the wild-eyed Associate Creative Director met me at the front desk, hurried me into his 18th floor office (with a spectacular view looking right over the top of Grand Central at the Empire State Building), and asked me to wait for him there. He had something urgent to discuss in the print production department.
As I sat there, I noticed two ad proofs for the Savings Bank Association, and with nothing better to do, I read them and critiqued them for myself. Fifteen minutes later, he was back. He told me that the agency had just gotten a new account, an association of travel agencies, and that Mary assured him I was the right person for the account.
As I opened my book, he asked what I thought of the two ads he had left on his desk. This is where attitude came in handy. I didn't have time to worry about this interview, plan it out – hell, I didn't even think this was real. I looked at it as a kind of rehearsal for job hunting, so I was completely candid, and told him what I thought.
“This ad is fine,” I said, and told him why. “The other ad is okay, but it would have a positive, double meaning with just a comma added right here in the headline.”
He jumped up.
“You're right! I woke up thinking about that last night! Let me go see if I can change it before it goes out.”
And away he went again, pleading with me not to disappear. When he came back, he said it was too late to change the ad, but, as he paged quickly through my portfolio, he said he was hiring me. “Actually, my boss does the hiring, but it's just a formality. Let me go see if he's available.”
His boss, the creative director, was busy, but he had obviously gotten the word that the right candidate was there. They just didn't want me to get away.
At about 4:30 I was brought into the creative director's office, with an even more spectacular view than the previous one. He was a tough-looking, gruff little man, of Italian descent, named Bob Fiore. (He later went on to have his name on the door of another agency.)
He said that Mary had told him I was working for Governor Carey.
“Do you know the governor?,” he asked.
“No. Never met him, he doesn't show up at our meetings or our functions.” '
“I know him.”
Was he testing the honesty of a copywriter?
“Well, they tell me you're what we're looking for. Let me see your book.”
He looked. He asked for a resume. To my surprise, I didn't have one in the portfolio. I explained that I hadn't had time to put a new one together, and had thrown out my outdated resumes. “Well, you can have the job. It pays $35,000 a year. But you have to be here in two weeks, and you have to bring a resume.”
''Thirty-five? Is that all? I can make that free-lancing.” It was a substantial amount back then, and a hell of a lot more than I was making.
I was bluffing, trying to see if there was more money in his budget. I had done one free lance job in the last year and a half, and made a couple of hundred dollars. I guess I still didn't believe this was real. “That's all I have for this job. But if you work out, I'll take care of you.”
I believed him. We shook hands. I had the job. I went back to the office of the Year of the Child Commission, where Fran and Nancy, my two co-workers were waiting for news. I told them I had the job, and that weekend, wrote my letter of resignation, updated my resume, and made plans to find my own Manhattan apartment.
But when I showed up for work two weeks later, something important was missing.
Next time: The client that wasn't there.