Fierce independents…

Dad just visited with my family in Chicago. A short trip, he was in route to Detroit for a business meeting. In addition to seeing his three granddaughters, we took him to Millennium Park –a Chicago sight he had not yet seen. His visit was short but everyone had a good time.

Because his longtime and current place of residence is Los Angeles, many people mistakenly believe my father is from California. In fact, he hails from the south side of Chicago. He grew up in Our Town, beginning his copywriting career working on the Sears catalogue and later for the now-defunct advertising agency, Stern Walters & Simmons. In the seventies, he took a job at Needham Harper & Steers, which, as many of you know, became DDB Needham and now DDB. In the early eighties he moved west becoming Needham LA’s lead creative. When they merged with Doyle Dane Bernbach a conflict arose between two major car accounts, Honda and Volkswagen. Reluctant to give up Honda, dad and his partner (Gerry) acquired the LA office renaming it Rubin Postaer & Associates. That was almost thirty years ago.

Much to my delight –and I’m sure his- dad has not retired from the agency he co-founded, now known as RPA. Up until recently, my father served as the agency’s Chief Creative Officer. He still serves in an emeritus fashion.

While at my home I mentioned a story I’d just seen on Agency Spy regarding the promotion of folks from RPA’s creative department. My dad’s reaction: “What’s Agency Spy?”

I love my dad.

His lack of knowledge about that website and others like it is less from ignorance than calculated indifference. Here is the story: Many years ago Larry was called by an advertising journalist from the Wall Street Journal. He was asked about a Buick commercial that seemingly aped one of his agency’s better Honda spots. Dad made a joke about it: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flatulence.” A dust-up ensued in the press, which culminated in my father being chastised by Honda. The Japanese aren’t much for braggadocio.

Since then, my father has demurred from the trade press –both for himself and his agency. So much so, he even took his name out of the agency’s name! Instead of chasing publicity like so many of us (any ink is good ink, right?), dad reminds me of another old saying: the tall nail gets pounded first.


Right sized…

Nothing makes the old man happier than Honda’s continuous leadership status in the automotive world, yet RPA takes no credit. Nor do they seek it. He and his agency are rightfully appreciative of their long-term relationship, almost singular in its rarity, and will not compromise it for anything, especially the transient accolades of our business. Which is a big reason why, despite being perhaps the largest privately held advertising agency left in America, one seldom hears about RPA, good or bad. Think about agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky or BBDO and people like Martin Sorrel and Howard Draft. What a difference, right?

Not lost on me is the fact that I am anything but a wallflower when it comes to this business or my own business. And Lord knows the flames that attracted me have burned me. Recently, I wrote about this topic. Whether I ever learn my lesson or not, let me state, unequivocally, that such vainglory does not come from my father!


Someone’s DNA to watch over you!

Back when my father was starting out as a copywriter, he had this idea for a men’s fragrance called Cash Cologne. I kid you not. Its theme: “Wear Cash and you’ll smell like a million bucks” …or something like that. There was no client or product attached to the concept. He and a buddy had come up with the idea while shooting the shit one day. I believe they’d gotten as far as contacting a perfume manufacturer before the whole thing fell through. Had they continued the next step would have been obvious: a small-space ad in the back of a magazine. Which brings me to the topic of this article…

The last few pages of many national magazines –including high quality pubs like Dwell and Esquire- contain small space ads that are, by turns, ridiculous, naïve and totally cool. Here is the last bastion of old-school American dreamers. They make art from your favorite photographs or shock-absorbing mats to put in front of your stove. Guys like Photowow and Gelpro These are folks who woke up one day with an idea, sunk their nest eggs into it, and then took out an ad.

No bigger than a pack of cigarettes, these ads usually feature a photo, a small paragraph and a website/800 number. No fuss, no muss. They offer little in the way of concept or art direction. Often produced by the publisher via template, they are extremely utilitarian. Even the “roommate wanted” ads in college dorms are more complicated.

From pillow-chairs that enable creative sexual coupling (yowza!) to handmade mailboxes from New England, these tiny adverts offer a great window into the entrepreneurial nature of Man. Inventors and pioneers built this country. Some of them probably started out in ‘small spaces’ like these.

Next time your thumbing through a magazine, take a look in the back. See what they’re selling. I bet you secretly crave at least some of it. Who doesn’t want “modular rugs for (your) stairs” or “beautiful canvas art pieces…made from your favorite photographs?” My personal favorite: wall-sized paintings based on (your) actual DNA. “It’s art as unique as you are!” How cool is that?

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“Tell me your name again, sweetheart.”

Our agency had its Christmas party yesterday. It was a swell affair and a mood of gratitude pervaded the room. In a most challenging year, we came through relatively unharmed and with much to look forward to. (I hope you and yours can say the same.) The following is an excerpt from my  message to the agency…

My father, Larry Postaer likes to tell a story about his old boss, the fabled ad executive, Keith Reinhard. For those who don’t know who he is, Keith essentially built and ran what is now DDB Chicago. He was also instrumental in creating the most successful (and least maligned) advertising holding company in the world: Omnicom.

Many years ago, Keith Reinhard was holding court at his office holiday Party. The agency had recently renamed itself DDB (from Needham, Harper & Steers) and quite a crowd was on hand. In fact, it’s very likely our own Ron Bess was there!

Anyway, an executive assistant introduces herself to Keith. Despite having worked at the company for many years, it quickly became apparent to her that he did not know who she was. Having had her share of liquid courage, the woman gave Mr. Reinhard a piece of her mind. Needless to say, Keith was mortified. Not at the employee’s conduct but at his own.

Later, the following year, my dad is attending a cocktail party at Keith’s apartment. While using the bathroom he sees a file containing photographs and biographical information on every, single employee at DDB. Be creepy if the reason wasn’t so sincere.

Apparently, Keith had been so traumatized by his earlier snafu he’d made it a point to memorize every person’s name at the company. That’s right; he went through the file whenever he sat down on the throne! For all Keith’s many professional achievements, this anecdote about him is my favorite.

Obviously, I have a feeling Keith would not mind being talked about this way. People were that important to him. Still are. What’s the old cliché about ad agencies? The only thing of value in them is the people. Something to think about this holiday season. God bless!

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Vintage advertising from Honda and RPA

Considerable numbers of you logged on to read my column about the Volkswagen advertising review. Your enthusiasm for this story prompted me to write more on the subject, this time with a personal twist.

The following is a tale of two car companies and two advertising agencies, all intertwined. The first pair we’ve already discussed: Volkswagen & Doyle Dane Bernbach. Both entities owe a lot to each other, namely the most famous advertising in the world, game changing work, advertising that gave new meaning to the word creative. In my previous post, I displayed the “Lemon” print ad that started it all. Many more iconic pieces followed. The rest is history –coffee table book history.

Honda and Rubin Postaer & Associates are the other two companies up for discussion… and this is where it gets personal. As most of you know, the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Rubin Postaer & Associates, Larry Postaer is my father. How he started his agency (with partner Gerry Rubin) has much to do with the history of DDB, Volkswagen and Honda advertising. But I’m skipping ahead…

In the late 1970s my father was creative director at Needham Harper & Steers in Chicago. There he worked for the legendary ad man, Keith Reinhard on the McDonald’s account among others. In 1981, Keith asked Larry and Gerry to run Needham’s Los Angeles office, Honda being its main client. Excitedly, they accepted.

The next five years were a boon to both agency and client. Like VW in the 60s, the fuel efficient Civic and Accord offered great relief during a period of soaring gas prices and great economic hardship. (Sound familiar?) “We make it Simple” became more than a tag line for Honda it was a philosophy.

Then, in 1986, BBDO acquired DDB and Needham forming Omnicom. For a period the new company went by the name, DDB Needham. (I still have the stationary.) Not surprisingly, things got sticky. Volkswagen was DDB’s fabled car account. Though rising in stature (thanks in part to my father and his partner’s efforts), Honda was considered not in the same league as VW and thus jettisoned by the newly formed network.

Larry and Gerry had other ideas. Not only was Honda an anchor for the LA office; the duo considered it the better car and client. They brokered a deal with Omnicom to take over the LA office, making it their own and allowing them to keep Honda. Rubin Postaer & Associates was born.

Honda respected the two Americans and agreed to stay put. The Japanese are men of integrity, honorable. In fact, if you recall, at that time the Japanese way of doing business (stoic and methodical) intimidated many American businesses. But not American consumers. RPA/Honda’s mantra “Simplify” resonated then, as it does now, where it continues to inform the Honda brand and all of its communications.

Thirty years have passed and the agency/client bond still holds. If anything, it’s gotten stronger. Both companies have grown exponentially, by offering reputably great cars via consistently focused advertising. During this time the client has never put the agency in review. RPA hasn’t wavered in its commitment to Honda either. Honoring this remarkable relationship is part of the reason RPA has stayed private all these years.

Thirty years. How is that possible? The only industry more volatile than advertising is automotive! One clue: Honda has had but 3 marketing directors since 1981, a miniscule number unheard of elsewhere in the mercurial auto industry. Likewise, other than shortening its name to RPA, the ad agency remains under the same management.

Honda and RPA share an amazing legacy, based on mutual respect and the trust both companies have in each other. Operating without fear, it’s easier for them to make right decisions. Keeping it “simple” means keeping it together. Food for thought as VW ponders its next agency…and we ponder them.

Author’s note: While I did check with my father on names and dates, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. It’s an amazing story. Hopefully, I got it right.

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China Phelps Back to China
Michael Phelps returns to China. Daniel Postaer (far right) helps him swim through the adoring crowd.

Many of you know my father and brother from this business: Dad (Larry), co-founder/Chief Creative Director of Rubin Postaer & Associates (RPA) and Jeremy, of Goodby Silverstein, GSDM and, most recently, JWT in New York.

But I have another brother, Daniel (30), who is also leaving a footprint on our beloved industry, albeit a more unusual one. Daniel Postaer is an executive for DMG in China. With an emphasis on sports marketing, Daniel puts together monster deals featuring super star athletes and mega-wattage brands. Stars like Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming. Global clients like Nike and Under Armor.

His latest pairing features none other than eight-time Olympic Gold medalist, Michael Phelps and, of all things, Mazda. What does swimming prowess have to do with driving cars? “They’re winners,” Daniel told me. “And that’s all that matters in China.”

Not only did Daniel help put this deal together, he also served as chaperone of sorts for Mr. Phelps. As you can see from the above photo, this lead to some crazy days and even wilder nights.

Half Chinese himself, and a formidable basket ball player in high school, Daniel makes a perfect liaison for these often culturally naïve athletes and their adoring foreign public.

Pretty cool, if not evolutionary, that Daniel is, by turns, a planner, creative director, account executive and tour guide! Indicative of how fast-paced China is, especially when it comes to marketing. With hybrid talent like my brother, DMG competes very well against the big holding companies. Very well.

Last year I got to visit Daniel in Shanghai. On a Sunday, while showing me around, he received a text from his boss: Get on the next plane to Beijing! Something about a presentation that night. And that was that. Off he went, leaving me to the cricket mongers and DVD pirates.

Earlier that day, he’d taken me to his office. He’d told me folks there worked 24/7, often sleeping on the floor. I thought he was acting tough for his big brother. I thought wrong. DMG headquarters was like the DMV, even though it was Sunday. In one hallway, I counted five sleeping bags, two of them occupied.

That’s China.

Funny. Here we debate work environments and what constitutes a creative atmosphere. In China they sleep on the floor, if they sleep at all.

Needless to say, I’m very proud of my little brother. He has a cool job, yes. But to some extent he created it himself. And Lord knows he works at it. If you want to read more about his escapade with a world record holder, click on the link below.

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