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, December 5, 2010

Go West?

Seven years in Manhattan, surviving advertising's merger mania, and you'd be worn out, too. I needed a change of everything. Rich Capparela, the friend I drove west with, had made a name for himself in LA radio.

He was hosting an advertising awards show around the time I was involved in a commercial shoot out there, so I stretched my time in LA -- on my own dime -- and went. I had an idea that if I saw the kind of creative at the show that I would like to do, I might try to work at the shop that created it.

I did see some very well crafted, long copy ads for the Times Mirror. Thinking it was an LA agency, I wrote a note complementing the campaign, and received a letter back from the head of an agency in San Francisco. He was running a boutique shop inside a bigger shop, and was looking for someone to share the load.


The man in charge wanted to fly me and my girl friend at the time, Wendy (a pretty, voluptuous research maven who worked at the Wall Street Journal) out for a series of interviews. This was flattering. I asked my friend Mary Van about this mucky-muck. (Mary is the one who had moved to New York on my advice, who later found for me my first real New York job at a real agency, and who was now in San Francisco with her British computer whiz husband and running a nice little ad consulting business of her own.)

She told me in very certain terms not to consider it. She said he was extremely difficult to work with, and had a bad reputation among creatives in the Bay Area. But he was willing to pay for two of us to come out for a long weekend, for a series of interviews. And, I thought, if this is my job, I can make it work. And if it's not, it's a free vacation for us.

Well, it wasn't my job, and it was no vacation. I knew that as soon as I realized what was going on. The mucky-muck, who was married, was having a relationship with his Italian-American Account Executive. The small group that worked for him were like his children. He was the bad daddy, taking up with the hussy.

In separate meetings, I realized what a dysfunctional family this really was. Wendy and I met with the mucky muck and his hussy for dinner. His snobbery was only exceeded by his petulance.

Wendy and I met with the art director and his wife at a beautiful waterside restaurant in Marin County. The AD was miserable, wanted to stay on his farm and never leave. I told him he should.

I met with the mucky-muck's mentor in the office. He took advantage of my nervousness, and put me through hell.

I met with the group for an input session, and then was ordered to go away and create an ad on my own. Advertising agencies don't work that way -- it's a cooperative effort, everybody adding something to the mix until the final outcome is greater than the sum of the parts. I did my best, which was pretty good, considering the pressure.

The final meeting was with everyone except the mucky-muck, at a lunch. It was like facing a firing squad, except over a nice, trendy, California meal. They all had rehearsed their questions, and fired them at me -- fortunately, one at a time instead of in a single, deafening, mortal volley.

By now, as much as I wanted to leave New York and be anywhere else, I knew this was exactly the wrong job for me. So about halfway through their questions, I formulated one sublime question of my own, and waited to ask it.

When their ammunition finally ran out, I asked them each to respond.

“What will the person in this job do?”

Each one responded just as you might expect – the prospect would solve all their problems, have the all answers, insulate them from nasty clients, speak for them, listen to them, advise them. Their cumulative picture of this person became crystal clear to me. And even if there had remained a slim chance of my getting the job, I willingly threw that away with my response.

“Well, the last person who answered that description was,” I said, carefully pausing for effect, “crucified.”

The meeting ended with embarrassed niceties, Wendy and I flew back to New York and the declination call came about two weeks later.

Next time: location, location, etc.

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