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, November 28, 2010

Loser #3

My father, who came of age in the Great Depression, had a favorite phrase he would use whenever someone bugged him. He'd say, “Get a job!” – with obvious disgust in his voice. To a man who experienced unemployment two or three hundred times worse than today's, and its resulting breadlines, the most insecure thing for a man back then was to not have a job.

Being a pre-war baby – World War II, that is – I rarely, if ever, had a problem finding a job during my employment years. According to Malcom Gladwell's “Outliers,” that's partly because I was born “in a trough” – the opposite of the post-war baby boom, so that when it came time for my generation to go to work, there wasn't as much competition. But when I did go to work, first in radio and then in advertising agencies, I worked. And that, according to Gladwell, is equally important – do the work. Gladwell makes the point succinctly in this brief clip with Charlie Rose, about Derrick Coleman.

Well, I discovered that not everybody in my field did an honest day's work. So, over time, my phrase of disgust, different from my father's, became “Do your job!”

I firmly believe that if you do your job, you will win. And the converse is true, too. Today, I want to tell you about the biggest loser I ever met. He lost an entire ad agency, because he didn't do his job.

Going, Going, Gone.

The end came for USAdvertising about six months down the road. Clients don't like to be told they have to switch agencies -- especially when they've been with one agency for a lifetime, as in the case of Quaker State. Fifty-three years at one agency, and then they're shunted off to the side? It couldn't have lasted, and it didn't.

Air France was at K&E because of a relationship with K&E people, and they were no longer in charge. American Airlines was a much bigger account, so Air France was forced to move. They began a search for another agency almost immediately.

But we were a full service agency; we could have gotten other accounts. In fact, we were offered one. I didn't learn about this until after USAdvertising, or the remnants of it, were folded into Poppe-Tyson, another agency that was cut loose because of merger mania.

Here's how USAdvertising's General Manager drove us out business. Believe it or not, our patron agency, Bozell, handed us a prestige automotive account that was a conflict with its largest account. All we had to do was take on additional personnel -- a creative director and a account supervisor. We could have replaced our blabbermouth account supervisor with no problem.

But our General Manager didn't want to “put his creative director's nose out of joint.” (She was the one who had to have matching trees!) His other excuse was that he was going to get the new Hyundai account. That was totally unrealistic, because the Hyundai account was already assigned. He had no chance chasing that car.

Remember, the very purpose of our agency was to take accounts that conflicted with Bozell's, and he said no! Even after all these years, it hurts to write the next sentence.

The account he turned down was Jaguar.

I have to spit this out in one sentence: he turned down one of the most prestigious accounts, which probably would have led to other prestige accounts, which would have made USAdvertising a premium agency with a great reputation and we all could have worked there as long as we wanted and made a lot of money and it was gone in that one refusal.

Gone? First the General Manager was gone. Replaced by a company man from Bozell. But USAdvertising couldn't be saved. Then thirty people were let go in one day. They brought in an exit interviewer, and we all waited our turn. Ten of us were spared, just to keep the agency on the books for what turned out to be a mini-merger.

By the time the Poppe-Tyson deal came through, there were just four of us left: myself, an art director, an office manager and a secretary, and we were forced on the new agency. The welcome wasn't gracious, but we were there for a purpose, and we fulfilled our purpose.

Next time: Go West?

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