How I Got to Madison Avenue. And beyond.

As with life, this blog is developing and changing. It began with a lot of stories that occurred on my career path from Albany to Madison Avenue and back.

There were some similarities to the AMC series "Mad Men," and then I went even farther back in time with a somewhat fictionalized version of growing up in Troy's Little Italy.

And now, a new development. As my free lance advertising and marketing career winds down, I'm becoming more interested in the theatre arts that my father and his 3 brothers helped instill in me as I grew up.

As a result, I've volunteered to help promote the Theatre Institute at Sage, and now, to continue a long-interrupted desire to be behind the proscenium, I've joined the newly formed Troy Civic Theatre, and was actually fortunate enough to appear in their first production.

So, I hope you'll enjoy the new stories that will develop from this latest turn.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A No Account Writer

Before I take you back to 1980 and how I became the Quaker State copywriter because I had nothing else to do in my new job at a major Madison Avenue ad agency, I want to comment on another "Mad Men" coincidence. In the first episode of the 4th season, which premiered last Sunday evening, the new agency was competing for new business with three others -- and one that was mentioned was none other than Kenyon & Eckhardt, the agency that had hired me, and that I also had mentioned here last Sunday morning.

Come in Late, Take Long Lunches, Leave Early.

Sometimes, it's your job and nothing can take it away from you. Two weeks before, I had gotten the job of my life: copywriter at a big New York ad agency, the head writer on a new account. I found an apartment, a one-bedroom with a working fireplace, on the third floor of a converted brownstone -- with the smallest elevator -- in the twenties on Manhattan's east side, a couple of blocks from the East River. I could - and did - walk to work, as I had in Schenectady, when I lived near the Mohawk River.

My first day at Kenyon & Eckhardt (K&E) was a revelation. Judy Southard, the creative director's assistant, met me, and apologized that there were no windowed offices available. It was 1980; the tail end of advertising's golden era. The agency's policy was that every copywriter and art director got a windowed office. It wasn't difficult in the Pan Am Building, since most of the offices were on the outside perimeter of the building, with the service modules in the core. But it was a busy time at K&E, and all the good offices were occupied. Judy assured me that as soon as a windowed office became available, I would be moved in there. In the meantime, I was shown into a small, windowless space with two doors on facing sides, which connected two corridors.

Since one door was right across the hall from the men's room, and because the office had been unoccupied recently, the male employees of K&E were in the habit of using the office as a shortcut to the men's room. This is how I came to know many of my coworkers.

I had a chair, a desk, a typewriter and a phone. What I didn't have was an account. I reported to my immediate supervisor, the Associate Creative Director, and he told me that there was no travel agency account, after all. It had somehow de-materialized.

“But don't worry, we'll find something for you to do. In the meantime, come in late, take long lunch hours and leave early.”

I didn't want to do that. But I didn't have anything to do, so every day, I read the New York Times from front to back, and completed the daily crossword puzzle. Eventually, I started writing things for myself, just silly exercises to keep my mind and fingers nimble. A month later -- yes, a month! -- and there still was no assignment.

My friend Mary Van, who had recommended me for the job, was getting worried. I really wasn't. I figured that this was my job, and that it would work out. Things usually do. Things did.

The Quaker State Motor Oil account, which had been at the agency for almost fifty years, was having a sales meeting and wanted the agency involved in helping to script it. The Quaker State sales manager wanted K&E to write his speech. Since my resume listed my most recent job as being Communications Director of a New York State Commission, they must have figured I had written a lot of speeches. I had never written one.

And I didn't know anything about motor oil. Larry Mulhearn did. He wasn't just the agency's chief writer on the Quaker State account; he was the account historian. Luckily for me, he had no problem sharing his vast knowledge and fat files with me. When he was through with me, I knew everything I needed to know about the account, and a little bit more.

I wrote a speech. I looked at it, hated it, tore it up and wrote it again. I liked the second one, handed it in and discovered that everyone else on the account liked it too. I was invited to a creative brainstorming meeting to help plan the Quaker State sales meeting.

I went where I thought I was supposed to go for the meeting, but I walked into a poker game. Yes, it was an office on the seventeenth floor, it said Andy Doyle on the outside, but inside was a man with an eye shade and sleeve garters sitting not at a desk but at a genuine poker table.

Andy was the Quaker State broadcast producer, and he was a gambling man. Meetings in his office started with poker. I was invited in, but I chose to sit out and watch. After a few hands, the topic of the meeting began to be discussed.

Quaker State was changing, and the sales meeting was supposed to help present those changes to the sales force in the most positive way possible. I helped to come up with a wonderful format. Between each major event at the meetings, speeches, recognitions, new commercial presentations and the like, we devised a continuity ploy. (My first job title, after all, was Continuity Director. )

There would be two main characters carrying on a dialogue throughout the several days of the meeting. One was an old time salesman who had been with the company for years and had seen it all, the other was a newly hired salesman full of enthusiasm. We scripted their exchanges so that in the beginning, the old timer wouldn't have anything to do with new ideas, and the new kid totally discounted all that had gone before him.

Little by little, they would start to see each other's point of view, and by the end of the sales meeting, they would come together in the middle ground, agreeing on keeping the best of the old and trying the best of the new -- in other words, both of them taking the company's point of view. It worked wonderfully, made the client happy, and got me on the Quaker State Account.

It turns out that someone was really needed on the account, because Larry had developed quite a problem with alcohol and his lunch hours were lasting from noon to five every day.

As I think back on it now, the gimmick for the Quaker State sales meeting in 1980 really was the personification of Larry, the old pro, and me, the new kid (even though I was forty years old at the time), sharing information and attitudes and coming to an understanding. I didn't get to thank Larry as profusely as I wanted to. He passed away a few years ago, thankfully before the account was forced out of its fifty-three year home at K&E due to merger-mania. I hope this makes up for my oversight.

Next time: Catching up with the past.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, now you're scaring me. The older/younger bit was done last night on MM. Is it possible that Matt Weiner is bugging your house?