The ad agency that was created to handle overflow accounts of the newly-merged Bozell Jacobs Kenyon & Eckhardt was on the fifth floor of a bank office building on Fifth Avenue.
Her office was bizarre, to say the least. Of course it was a corner office. Creative Directors in New York get corner offices. But it didn't have a desk. It had a white, marble top table, surrounded by red chairs. It had one tall red chair, hers, and a tall easel, laid almost flat to hold her portable typewriter.
On one wall was a huge blowup of a few lines from a wonderful Tom Stoppard play, The Real Thing, about crafting words to present ideas that soar, like building cricket bats so well that without much effort, they make the ball really fly.
“What we're trying to do is to write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock, it might . . . travel .. .”
Everything in the room, including what she wore every day, was either white or black or red. Except for the two living ficus trees. Despite the fact that they were serviced regularly, one or both would die regularly.
We figured it had something to do with her vibrations, which weren't exactly steady, as this incident will demonstrate.
She liked copy to be presented to her aurally, by the copywriter. As far as I could tell, the presentation I was about to make wasn't any different than any that had gone before. In fact, I was proud of the copy. I had worked on it, crafted it and otherwise fine tuned it until it really flowed smoothly and effortlessly. It's a style I've cultivated, which I call “simulated conversation.”
I settled in to one of the chairs at her table, but turned it to face her as she sat in her high chair. The ficus trees were behind me. I wasn't a third of the way through reading my copy to her, when she picked up her phone without warning, punched two numbers and screamed to our office manager who was on the other end of the line, and only about three offices away. The intercom wasn't really necessary; all 40 employees heard her shout, “Peggy, I can't work like this!”
There was a pause while Peggy said a few words, trying simultaneously to calm the situation and find out what the problem was. Because I was in closest proximity to her and her portable typewriter, I held my breath.
I didn't know what else she was going to say or do. I was sure I had bathed that morning. Had I misunderstood the advertising strategy so much that she hated the copy and the copywriter? Was my fly open? How had my presence or my copy or both offended her so much that she had to call and tell the office manager? Turns out it wasn't me, or anything I said or wrote.
She finally revealed the problem. “These trees are not even!,” she cried.
That was it. The company that was responsible for the trees had replaced them with two that were not the same height. I don't remember if I finished reading the copy to her then and there. But I do remember going out for a drink directly from work that night.
For this, and other reasons which I'll chronicle next time, the ad agency lasted six months.
Next time: The Champion Loser