• May 12, 2009 /  Advertising

    I came to San Francisco in 1976 to work for Botsford-Ketchum Advertising. Ken Dudwick was the Executive Creative Director.

    So was Bill, his dog.

    Bill was a friendly, miniature white poodle who simply adored Ken. He would follow on Ken’s heels wherever Ken went. He was smart, extremely obedient and did whatever was commanded. He came to work with Ken – everyday.

    Now as much as I liked the “San Francisco” look and feel of my new offices with their open interior, high beamed-wood ceilings, brick walls laced with steel earthquake girders and the hanging ferns, I have to confess I wasn’t accustomed to the slower pace or the laid-back style of working. So, having just come from a more staid and formal Midwest office environment, it would then probably come as no surprise that although I was a dog lover, I felt bringing a dog to the office crossed the line – no matter how laid back.

    One day, a group of us met in Ken’s office to present some TV commercial ideas for one of the clients. It was a new campaign and Ken was looking for the “big” idea. We scattered ourselves around his office on a long couch and various chairs. As usual, Bill wandered over for a few head pats and then went to his corner to lie down. Ken sat at his desk as each art director/writer team presented their TV storyboards and explained the campaign idea to him. He rejected one idea after another for various reasons. None of us, in Ken’s mind, had a break-through.

    The last presenter was one of the senior art directors. After explaining the idea, he handed his laboriously illustrated storyboard to Ken so he could get a closer look. Ken studied it and also gave it the thumbs down. He tossed the storyboard on the pile of previously rejected boards lying on the floor next to his desk. He jumped up from his chair, said he would be right back, and headed off to the men’s room. Bill immediately got up from his spot in the corner of the office and began to follow Ken. Ken turned and told Bill to wait. Bill stood at the door and watched anxiously as Ken walked down the hall. As soon as Ken was out of sight, Bill walked over to the storyboard, bent his head down, moved it from side-to-side as if he were reading, and then proceeded to throw up on the storyboard.

    The art director’s face color went from shock white to kill Bill red as our collective mouths dropped and as Gasper Patrico, one of the writers, ran off to get paper towels to clean up the mess.

    No one laughed at the time, but it’s just further proof that in the advertising business rejection comes in all forms.

    About three years after I left Ketchum, I attended a bachelor’s dinner at a Japanese restaurant for my former art director partner Dave Sanchez who still worked at the agency. Ken Dudwick was also invited. He arrived a little late and squeezed in next to me at the only open space.

    After he greeted several people who were sitting around the table, Ken and I proceeded to engage in small talk about the accounts I worked on at my present agency, Foote, Cone & Belding, and some of the people we knew in common.

    As I mentioned earlier, my Midwestern mentality found it hard to accept someone bringing a dog to the office. So here I was three years later sitting next to the man who is always with his dog and thinking with a little bit of sarcasm, “Humph, I’m surprised he didn’t bring his dog to the restaurant.”

    I couldn’t resist. I just had to ask. I turned to Ken and said, “So, where’s Bill?” Without blinking an eye or losing a beat while picking up a piece of sushi with his chopsticks, Ken nonchalantly replied, “Bill? Oh he’s waiting in the car. He doesn’t like Japanese food.”

    Feel free to add your story about the advertising business or the creative people you knew as a comment to this story. I’d love to read them and share them with others. My only request is that you sign it with your full name and agency affiliations.
  • April 13, 2009 /  Advertising

    I got my first ad agency job in 1969. Bernie Anastasia hired me. He was the Executive Art Director for Tatham-Laird & Kudner in Chicago. Back then that title meant every art director in the agency reported to him.

    Bernie was my final interview. We hit it off immediately. I remember him asking how much money I wanted. I told him. It was about twenty-four hundred dollars more than I was presently making.

    He phoned the next day and said he wanted to hire me but there was a problem with the money. My heart dropped. I had just bought a new house, had two small children and knew this was my big chance to get a foot in the door of an ad agency. I resigned myself to the idea that I would have to settle for whatever he offered. Before I could finish the thought, I heard him say he would pay me a thousand dollars more than I was asking. I was floored. A thousand dollars was a lot of money in those days. Years later, Bernie revealed that he always offered more money to people he wanted to hire because it made them feel good about working for him and for the agency.

    Let me give you a little background on Tatham-Laird & Kudner. Originally founded in 1946 as Tatham-Laird Advertising in Chicago, it merged with Kudner Advertising of New York in 1960. Art Kudner passed away well before the merger. By the time I arrived, Art Tatham and Ken Laird, although on the Board of Directors, were no longer involved in the day-to-day activities of the business. Ken Laird lived in Florida and would pilot his own plane up for Board meetings. Art Tatham, who lived in the Chicago area, still maintained an office at the agency and came to work every day.

    During my first few months with the agency, I was teamed with Bernie Anastasia to work as his writer on special projects and on collateral advertising for Continental Bank’s Master Charge Card Division.

    One day, Bernie poked his head into my doorway and invited me to a meeting in Art Tatham’s office for a special assignment. It turned out to be a personal favor for Art Tatham.

    Art Tatham owned and raised breeding stock bulls and wanted Bernie to create an ad offering the stud services of one of his prize bulls. He gave me the pertinent copy information and supplied Bernie with a number of photographs.

    Bernie began designing the ad. I wrote the copy, which wasn’t much. I watched over the next few days as Bernie roughed out a number of ads with various photographs of the bull. It wasn’t long before Bernie came to the conclusion that the photos were pretty boring. They were all profile shots of the bull. So we traipsed back up to Art Tatham’s office to see if he had any other shots, perhaps a close-up of the bull’s face.

    Art Tatham sat at his desk and listened politely and patiently as Bernie explained in all sincerity how he thought a “cuter” shot of the bull’s face would grab attention and make a more effective piece of advertising. When Bernie finished, Art Tatham simply smiled and gently replied, “Bernie, I think the profile shots will do just fine because the last thing a breeder looks at – is the bull’s face.”

    Feel free to add your story about the advertising business or the creative people you knew as a comment to this blog. I’d love to read them and share them with others. My only requests are that you sign it with your full name, agency affiliations and, though in some cases you may want to, try not to be nasty.
  • April 3, 2009 /  Advertising
    J. Walter Thompson/San Francisco was located in the One Maritime Plaza building in 1977.

    When I worked in Chicago, the local commercial film production studios had a tough time making ends meet. If it weren’t for advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett and J. Walter Thompson, who made a point of awarding some of their business to these studios, they could not have kept their doors open for long. Sure, one or two did very well. But, basically, if a production studio didn’t operate out of either New York or Los Angeles, the chances of really making it big were very slim.

    When I came to the West Coast in 1976, I discovered that the San Francisco studios suffered from the Chicago syndrome, only worse. As far as I knew, the only really successful studio in town made more money renting their lighting, cameras and sound stage to visiting Hollywood movie companies than from shooting TV commercials.

    There was one local commercial film director, however, who truly believed it was possible to live in San Francisco and operate successfully. His name was Randy Grochoske.

    I met Randy at a screening of his director’s reel during my first few weeks at Botsford Ketchum Advertising. I stayed after to talk to him about a commercial I particularly liked.

    I remember the commercial to this day. It starred four chimpanzees eating a formal dinner at a long table staged with white tablecloth, fine china, and candelabras. Two chimps were dressed in tuxedos, the others in long evening gowns and wigs. Obviously, the shots of the chimps eating and playing with their food were hilarious. It ends with the tuxedo-clad chimp at the head of table leaning back on his chair puffing away on a fat cigar, as if relaxing after a sizable meal. The commercial won Randy a number of advertising awards and kudos in the trade press.

    The following year, after I joined J. Walter Thompson, Randy telephoned and asked me to arrange a screening of his commercials for the creative staff.

    He had just hooked up with DeSort and Sam, a successful commercial film studio in Los Angeles. He was quite excited about this affiliation with a large production company and the prospects it presented for developing business from the San Francisco agencies.

    I arranged a time for Randy to screen his reel. The screening ended. Randy left. And, yes, the monkey commercial was on his reel.

    Before continuing, I should describe the Thompson offices located on the upper floors of the One Maritime Plaza building. The perimeter offices, except for the corners, had clear glass windows facing the hallway. Now with the hallway windows, the large windows facing outside and the white-painted walls, you had the distinct feeling you were sitting in a fish bowl. I worked in one of these offices.

    It was about an hour after the screening. I was in my office with the door closed to get the full bowl effect. Suddenly I heard shouting and pounding on the hallway window. I turned from my typewriter (we did use those at one time) to see Stu Hyatt, the Creative Director, his face beet red, his mouth blaring indistinguishable words, using one hand to pound the window, and the other to shake his fist at me. I raised my hands palms up and shrugged my shoulders in the “What did I do?” motion.

    He opened the door and began a tirade about my bringing Randy Grochoske into the agency behind his back and showing a DeSort and Sam reel.

    He continued his ranting and raving, even threatening to fire me for pulling a stunt like that and saying he never wanted to hear the name DeSort and Sam again. When he stopped long enough to take a breath, I calmly protested that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about and would he simply explain the problem. He stood there glaring at me, then turned abruptly and went back to his office. He never raised the subject again.

    I finally pieced together the story over the next few days. It seems Stu had just finished filming a commercial with DeSort and Sam in Hollywood. There was some sort of disagreement during the filming that led to an argument between him and the director Jack DeSort and they left on bad terms. I can only guess that in Stu’s mind, I somehow should have known about this problem, which I didn’t, and therefore went behind his back by inviting Randy to the agency.

    Because I don’t appreciate being blamed for something I know nothing about, I came up with what I considered the perfect “don’t get mad, just get even” scenario.

    The yelling incident had taken place the beginning of December. So shortly before the office closed for the holidays, I bought a Christmas card, wrote a message, signed it, addressed it to Stu Hyatt, and mailed it.

    What I would have given to see the expression on Stu’s face when he opened the card a couple days later and read, “Happy Holidays. Looking forward to working with you again. Your good friend, Jack DeSort.”

    Feel free to add your story about the advertising business or the creative people you knew as a comment to this blog. I’d love to read them and share them with others. My only requests are that you sign it with your full name, agency affiliations and, though in some cases you may want to, try not to be nasty.

  • March 28, 2009 /  Advertising

    Over the years, renown advertising people such as David Oglivy, Howard Gossage, Fairfax Cone, Bill Bernbach and Jerry Della Famina have written wonderfully informative and sometimes funny books about award-winning advertising campaigns, great marketing strategies, even books on how to create the ideas themselves.

    But for all the great campaigns, strategies and ideas, what really made advertising come to life, made it work and made the public buy the products were the people in the trenches who created it: the copywriters, art directors, producers, directors and yes, occasionally, even the account person.

    I never looked at it as a job because every day I spent in the business was fun and so were the people I worked with and met over the years. In fact, I could never fathom the idea that we got paid for what we did.

    So I put together some stories about these people, the fun and crazy things they did, the personalities, eccentricities, just plain weirdness and yes, massive egos, which fostered an atmosphere of creativity and a feeding frenzy of ideas that in the end translated into some great advertising.

    Since the time I was active in the business into the late 1990s, it has changed a lot. Maybe people started to take it too seriously. After retiring, advertising icon Hal Riney said in a 2007 Adweek interview that advertising in general had lost its sense of fun, originality and the human element. Jacque Smith, one of my art director partners, summed it up nicely: “What we do for a living, ain’t going to cure cancer.”

    If I misspell a name or two, forgive me. Some of these stories go back a lot of years. My intention is not to slight or put anyone in a negative light. I’m simply trying to relate incidents and stories as I remember them.

    And finally, I would like to say a word about this blog’s URL. My good friend and fellow copywriter Don Hadley, who passed on in 2007, once had business cards printed that simply read: “Mr. Don, Copy Stylist.” So I thought I would use “copystylist.com” as a tribute to Don because I told him a lot of these stories over the years and I know he would have enjoyed reading them.

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