July 13, 2010
Alex Bogusky leaving his company and advertising is news. The fact that he’s leaving while at the top of his game makes it even more intriguing.
Everyone aspires going out on top. Yet it hardly ever happens. First of all, you have to get there. No easy feat in this business, or any other. Then walking away that hard-earned spot right when it’s most lucrative? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of many people who’ve done either, let alone both. (I believe my father did, albeit quietly.)
Ego often gets in the way. Recall Michael Jordan’s inability to retire, when he should have, after his last championship. Unlike Michael (or Alex), most of us work past our prime because we have to. There are bills to pay, families to support. Plus, we likely don’t see the top when we’re on it. Still, the fantasy of going out that way burns in our hearts.
Whether Alex returns to Ad Land or figures out a way to end world hunger (both?) is anyone’s guess. Likely, he doesn’t know his next move either. And that’s the thing about him I bet most folks don’t realize: for all his credentials, he’s not driven by ego. Even a funky new job and promises of yet more cash did nothing to hold him. (In my opinion, Mr. Nadal made up the fun-sounding title, Chief Insurgent Officer purely to keep Alex in the network. That lasted two or three months. And with serious coin already in his pocket, even the promise of more money held no sway.)
Telltale signs of Bogusky’s inevitable departure began appearing last year, when he handed over the reigns of his creative department to Rob Reilly and Andrew Keller, along with Jeff Benjamin. (By any measure they’ve done a stupendous job.) In addition, Alex began pursuing personal projects like writing books and various social media experiments. His tweets became more about the stuff of life than work related. All evidence of a man preparing for what’s next.
A few 24 hours ago, I had the pleasure of conversing with Alex Bogusky before he became Alex. I kid you not we were at a pool party in Cannes. Both of us, however, were not really digging it. He seemed to prefer talking about life versus living it up in the pool or, for that matter, the festival itself, in which he would ultimately win a pride of Lions, including a Grand Prix, I believe for Ikea “Lamp.” But at that moment he wasn’t interested in prizes. Like a lot of us, he’d come to Cannes because he could. However, he admitted to now being unsettled by the attention he and his agency were getting. He then confessed that this would likely being his last time at Cannes. “Steff,” he said, “we’ve got plenty of swimming pools in Miami. Besides,” he added, “I like doing the work more than celebrating it.”
I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it. Ironic commentary coming from the man whom would later write “Hoopla” not to mention win more Lions than probably any other person or agency in the United States. Yet, to me, it seemed indicative of some higher power working in his life, or trying to, the idea that achieving goals was more important to him than drinking champagne at the end. The conflict with hedonism is worth noting as well.
For another even more telling exchange, read this paragraph from a very recent interview with Chuck Porter in AdAge:
He (Alex) sent me a blog post he wrote about advertising to children and asked me what I thought. I said it was well-written and made some great points, but I also said he needs to make a choice because it’s not [compatible with the business we're in]. And the next morning he resigned and sent me a note saying, “I resigned like you recommended” and I was like, “I didn’t tell you to do that!
Without probing deeper, it seems Alex began applying his focus on other things besides selling. Perhaps even to the consternation of his peers. Maybe his Higher Power got the better of him. That and a sizable earn-out check from MDC.
The only other time I engaged with Alex was during a pitch. It was down to two agencies: his and mine. We would win that day but, obviously, Alex and CP&B would win a hell of a lot more times than I, or anyone, in the years that followed. CP&B became unstoppable, to the point where they could turn down clients. Regularly. They still do. That’s not arrogance, folks. That’s a blessing.
Alex and his partners built a juggernaut, a magical place. Some call it a sweatshop. But whatever it is it can never be captured in a power point presentation. There are no “proprietary tools” at CP&B. Just like-minded people busting their ass to do great work. And since the beginning, the mind they were aspiring to be like belonged to Alex Bogusky. So powerful is the zeitgeist he established that his predecessors haven’t missed a beat. Indeed, Keller and Reilly are as skilled as they come.
In the end, I applaud Alex for doing his thing: in this business, to this business and now going out of it. He’s done more with and for advertising than almost anyone alive. And so maybe he’s just done. For now, anyway…
So, I was heading to the Palais des Festivals for the awards ceremony honoring radio, media and outdoor Lions, when I noticed a cocktail party taking place on the swank, poolside terrace beside my hotel. Not being a drinker, I could care less about the open bar; it’s the people that make these things work.
And man, did I see people. Kraft Foods was hosting a gathering to honor one of their guests, who was featured at one of the better-attended events at the Palais, none other than the famed auteur, Spike Jonze.
For those unawares, Jonze directed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are. Two of these films are in my top twenty of all time and all three are universally regarded as brilliant. In addition to revolutionizing music videos, he’s also made numerous groundbreaking films for our industry, including one of the best commercials ever created, Ikea Lamp, which garnered every award possible the year it came out, not the least of which a Grand Prix at Cannes. This year he has a 30-minute film in the show about robot love. The piece can be viewed here: Spike Jonze Film \"I\'mheremovie\"
Confession: Hours ago I played courier in a futile attempt to deliver my novel, The Happy Soul Industry and screenplay to his hotel. Yeah, I know, a total mook move. But a guy can dream…
Along with Mr. Jonze, attending the party were Bob Jeffries, Howard Draft, Dana Anderson, Ron Bess, Jonathan Harries, David Jones, Mark Figliulo, Abbey Klaassen, Diane Jackson, Lisa Wells, Tony Weisman, Edie Weiss and leadership personnel from USA Today, Hyper Island, MJZ films and countless other Ad Land movers and shakers. To appropriate a phrase from high school: it was like the C-Suite “on acid.”
Needless to say, I missed the awards ceremony. But that’s the thing with Cannes. Everywhere you turn is an existing/potential boss, partner, competitor, or client and, most importantly, mentor. To meet some of these people, however briefly, is a privilege. And besides, even if Spike Jonze has little interest in my book, I can now say I had a meeting with him!
To view a wide selection of Jonze’s work: Spike\'s ouevre.