My 50 years in Advertising, Larry Postaer

In my father’s recently released memoir on his career in advertising, Pickett, Plunkett & Puckett he mentions a test he had to take in order to qualify for a job as copywriter on the Sears’s catalog. In the early sixties Sear’s Roebuck (and its iconic catalog) was literally the textbook for retailing in the United States. Called the “Wish book,” anything and everything could be found in the Sear’s catalog (even houses!) and it was a staple in every home, kind of the Amazon of its day.

Yet, the job was hardly glamorous and wasn’t supposed to be. Sears Roebuck was about as old school as it got: dress codes, pneumatic tubes, and a cafeteria.

All his pages detailing the inner workings of Sear’s marketing department are fascinating but, for me, it was the test he took that stands out. Anachronistic now, back in the day, psychological profiling was used at companies all over America to determine whether an applicant was the “right fit” for the job and company. Back then folks entered into a career hoping –nay expecting- to work at a given firm the rest of their lives. The companies’ wanted that too and so standardized tests, however futile, were developed to insure its likelihood.


The “Wish Book.” You know you want it!

My father singles out one question from the test: Would you rather write the play, star in the play, or sell tickets to the play? My father rightly guesses they are not looking for big creative egos at Sears and answers “sell the tickets.” However, like any writer, what he really would like to do is write the play. These days, I’m guessing that’s what every aspiring writer would like to do. Honestly, the way things are now, I’m betting quite a few young creatives would just assume star in at as well.

It’s easy making fun of this archaic test, so corny and out of touch. But the question is pretty damn interesting when you think about it, as I have. From day one copywriters have wrestled with their urges to be creative versus their mandate to sell. Even now the challenge is still a major aspect of the job. Whether one works at a conservative shop or some rogue boutique, all on staff struggle with it. The lame rejoinder “well, you gotta do both” is generally where everyone nets out. Sears had no such dilemma, which makes my father’s anecdote provocative nostalgia.

In the end my father writes he faired poorly on the test but somehow got the job anyway. As I said, the stories around this are fascinating and, like many others in the book, well worth reading. It’s available in paperback or on kindle, via Amazon.

The Sears Catalog stopped printing in 1993. Regardless, the company struggles to remain relevant.

Authors Note: This is an updated version of a previous post.


Jack Postaer, 1913-2012

Advertising runs in our blood. My father was in it for 50 years, the “P” in RPA is his. My brothers are both practitioners in Adland. Jeremy even found a way to make money as a voice-over. Can you say “Bing?” Before retiring, my mother was an art buyer for several Chicago agencies, including FCB, when they still called it that. And then there’s me. I took to this business as if God himself told me to.

Yet maybe we need to go back farther than my father, to this man, Jack Postaer. My grandfather earned a living actually selling stuff, as a green grocer and later a cab driver. As a teenager he sold ice from the back of a truck, this when they still used horses. Air conditioning was called Lake Michigan. And people surfed the radio. Obviously, I don’t remember him as a workingman (he retired when my memory started!) but some years ago I went through a period when I asked him untold questions about his youth, where he lived, how it was…

My grandfather lived much of his life on Chicago’s south side, going to Maxwell Street to buy and barter: eBay from a truck bay. Hard core retail. For men like Jack, the American dream meant selling. During the Great Depression, selling even harder.

Maybe the Postaer gene for it, then, started with him.


Jack Postaer and his long line of salesmen

When my dad got his first “career” job, writing copy for the venerable Sears Roebuck Catalog, Jack was mighty proud. Brokenhearted when he quit, to write jingles on Michigan Avenue. Much, much later when I started my career at the famous Leo Burnett Company, Gramps was over the moon. If, on occasion, The Chicago Tribune’s George Lazarus deemed one of us worthy of his column the phone rang before we got the paper. Jack understood the greatness in selling and loved that we got it, too.

Grandpa Jack died yesterday, peacefully, at the age of 99. I’ll bet the silver dollar he once gave me that when he sees Leo Burnett in Heaven he’ll be sure and show him those clippings.

Finally, many of you are friends of mine on Facebook. On behalf of our family I’d like to thank you for all the kind words. It was deeply appreciated.


My 50 years in Advertising, Larry Postaer

In my father’s recently released memoir on his career in advertising, Pickett, Plunkett & Puckett he mentions a test he had to take in order to qualify for a job as copywriter on the Sears’s catalog. In the early sixties Sear’s Roebuck (and its iconic catalog) was literally the textbook for retailing in the United States. Called the “Wish book,” anything and everything could be found in the Sear’s catalog (even houses!) and it was a staple in every home, kind of the Amazon of its day.

Yet, the job was hardly glamorous and wasn’t supposed to be. Sears Roebuck was about as old school as it got: dress codes, pneumatic tubes, and a cafeteria.

All his pages detailing the inner workings of Sear’s marketing department are fascinating but, for me, it was the test he took that stands out. Anachronistic now, back in the day, psychological profiling was used at companies all over America to determine whether an applicant was the “right fit” for the job and company. Back then folks entered into a career hoping –nay expecting- to work at a given firm the rest of their lives. The companies’ wanted that too and so standardized tests, however futile, were developed to insure its likelihood.


The “Wish Book.” You know you want it!

My father singles out one question from the test: Would you rather write the play, star in the play, or sell tickets to the play? My father rightly guesses they are not looking for big creative egos at Sears and answers “sell the tickets.” However, like any writer, what he really would like to do is write the play. These days, I’m guessing that’s what every aspiring writer would like to do. Honestly, the way things are now, I’m betting quite a few young creatives would just assume star in at as well.

It’s easy making fun of this archaic test, so corny and out of touch. But the question is pretty damn interesting when you think about it, as I have. From day one copywriters have wrestled with their urges to be creative versus their mandate to sell. Even now the challenge is still a major aspect of the job. Whether one works at a conservative shop or some rogue boutique, all on staff struggle with it. The lame rejoinder “well, you gotta do both” is generally where everyone nets out. Sears had no such dilemma, which makes my father’s anecdote provocative nostalgia.

In the end my father writes he faired poorly on the test but somehow got the job anyway. As I said, the stories around this are fascinating and, like many others in the book, well worth reading. It’s available in paperback or on kindle, via Amazon.

The Sears Catalog stopped printing in 1993. Regardless, the company struggles to remain relevant.


Mentor, from Greek Mythology

As a beginning copywriter at Leo Burnett, I had two mentors who helped me immeasurably. The first was Ted Bell, a creative director plucked from Doyle Dane Bernbach in New York. He’d made a name doing some of the later adverts in the famed Chivas Regal campaign. He and his partner, John Eding (both perhaps mentored by the great Helmut Krone) had just been hired by Burnett to bring daring-do and expertise to our agency, specifically on the Schenley (now Guinness) account. Both men did just that, reinvigorating the moribund Dewar’s campaign. Their effort (and ours) would gather many creative awards for the agency. To this day, I hold the craft of print and poster making in the highest regard. And I owe much of that to these two exemplary creative people and, in particular, the writer, Ted Bell.


The Commodore, Ted Bell

Wanting to impress my boss and/or emulate him was key to my development as a copywriter. When you watch Mad Men observe how Peggy busts her ass to impress her boss, Don Draper. It was not sort of the same for me. It was exactly the same. Working all night –hell all week- to craft one paragraph and then, heart in my throat, presenting it to Ted was everything. At the time it just seemed normal. I wanted what they had and I was prepared to go to great lengths to achieve it. And Ted and John were almost always there for me. In addition to copywriting, Ted taught me, by example, the fine art of presenting. Watching him sell work was a privilege. He owned the room. Again, I think of Don Draper.

The other mentor I was born into. My father, Larry Postaer was and still is a model creative director and consummate writer. Obviously, I didn’t work for my dad but his influence on my chosen career was critical. Among other things, my father taught me about loyalty to company and client as well as the near-sacred nature in trusting one’s team and partner. While these qualities have lost meaning in today’s creative department that doesn’t make them in any less precious.


Father knows best…

I felt if I could bring the best of Larry and Ted to the office each day I would be set. Easier said than done. But that was my aspiration and that is what mentoring is all about.

Now that it is my turn to be a good mentor I know I often fall short. Being an introvert, I am not as inclined to work with others as I should be. However, I do try. My door is always open. In a very real way, I set up this blog to help newbies in advertising get a leg up. Fact is when I write here I imagine my audience as younger than I am. Always have.

So, whatever happened to mentors? My fear is that beginners in our field are less interested in being mentored than I was. There is a Keyshawn Johnson mentality pervading our industry: Just give me the damn brief! I have the know-it-all gene in me but I was smart enough to look up to others and ask for help. Being teachable is a virtue no matter who you are or what you do but it is especially valuable to the young in Adland.

Maybe they think, Hey, I’ve got X followers and Y friends so what do I need U for? By definition, social media breeds narcissism. A less cynical view: the average 25-year-old is afraid of asking for help. Or is the average 40-year-old afraid to give it? Probably some of both. My best response is the only response: Don’t be.

Postaer Men (L-R): Me, Jeremy, Daniel, Jasper, Larry, Jack

My original post was about a new blog that I want you all to experience. Unfortunately, Tumblr hosts the blog and is currently beset by “an issue in one of their database clusters.” It’s been down for 36 hours and counting. Serves them right for playing outside without a sweater! Anyway, I’m not going to pimp a new blog while it’s inaccessible.

So, I’m running an audible. First, by updating my “novel slash social media experiment,” Sweet by Design. About 90 pages remain to be published. I’m trying to speed up the text conversion but the cover design contest will be open until it’s completed. That means you still have time to win the Ipad. You can also vote for your favorite covers so far, by viewing and commenting right here.

At top, I posted a unique photograph comprising four generations of Postaer men. Taken this Thanksgiving, it’s the first one like it and likely to be the only one like it. Grandpa Jack is 97 years old. A Chicago cab driver, shop owner and hardcore sports fan, Jack Postaer gives us all inspiration. Also in the photograph is my father, Larry Postaer (Founder, RPA), brother Jeremy (ECD, JWT), brother Daniel (Director, DMG Media) and nephew Jasper, 4 years old. Besides the advertising that runs in our family, it’s pretty cool having four generations breathing air, let alone in the same area code!

My girls are not in this photo because they’re girls. (It was a guy thing.) But here’s a favorite photo of them taken last summer. Safe to say they do not look like the men. Thank God.


Colette, Camille & Lily

Assuming Tumblr corrects their “data cluster issues” my next post is a doozy. Until then, from my family to yours: Happy Holidays!

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