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Getting treated like shit gets old…

I got an inordinate amount of traction from a link I shared on Facebook about a leaked memo from Cramer-Krasselt’s Chief Executive, Peter Krivkovich, regarding his agency’s resignation of the Panera Bread account. Claiming the client was “much too much even in this crazy business” what with “the constant last-minute shifts in direction, the behind-the-scenes politics, the enormous level of subjectivity that disregards proof of performance…” Well, it got to the point where “enough was enough.” Here is the story: http://adage.com/article/agency-news/cramer-krasselt-panera-part-ways/293668/

Wow.

Inside an agency comments like these are often voiced but they are seldom put on paper and distributed. Even rarer is resigning an account. Here we are privy to both events. And while the matter is basically none of our business, it hits home. Why? Well, first off agencies don’t resign business because for most of us winning it is so damn hard. That’s an obvious thing. A money thing. Providing reasons for firing a client in a memo is virtually unheard of because bad clients do not get outed in Adland. Period. Sometimes for legal reasons (fear of reprisals, etc) but mostly because we are scared other clients might think ill of us for doing so. The reasoning, I suppose, is that we do not want to be perceived as weak under pressure. Deeper down we do not want to be associated with failure, even when it most definitely isn’t. Our insecurities (financial as well as psychological) are profound. It’s kind of like admitting divorce in the 1950’s. A stigma.

That said, I would bet the ranch not a soul reading Krivkovich’s memo, or the news about it, feels anything untoward about CK. On the contrary. Thank God, we think, someone finally put principles before business!

But you know what? A despicable client is bad business. Peter’s memo provides ample proof. And while none of us were there, I know for a fact that this particular client is not nearly as delightful as the wholesome products they sell.

At my previous agency we pitched Panera. During a critical conference call the client neglected to press the mute button. My team was subjected to a litany of mockery and abuse from them. Ouch. Awkward but shit like that happens, right? Thinking we are in confidence people say mean things. Make bad jokes. Et-cetera. I don’t necessarily begrudge Panera that. The thing I’ll never forget was hearing the pitch leader, a punk consultant they’d hired, tell his colleagues that my agency stood no chance of winning, and never had; when just moments ago he’d outlined expectations for all this work he demanded we do. That is unconscionable. We work too f*cking hard, almost always on spec, to be treated so shabbily. Like tokens.

Of course, we abdicated from the pitch. Yet, bitter as we were we didn’t go public about it. We never even told the client what we’d heard. We did what most every other agency in our unfortunate position would do: Nothing. But like a dead rat caught behind the drywall the stink lasted a long, long time.

And so I’ve no doubt my peers at CK came to the same conclusions about this client and resigned the business, albeit after servicing them for nearly two years. By the way, the agency before CK (Mullen, the one we’d lost to) also parted with them in similar circumstances.

And so whether Krivkovich intended his memo to get out or not, I’m glad it did. Maybe the next group of agencies who go after this client –perhaps yours- will think twice. I doubt it. But consider yourself warned!

Finally, I had to roll my eyes at Peter’s closing lines in the memo, the part where he claims Panera’s food is so good “that many of us will continue to eat there.” I know he was trying to be gracious but trust me, no one from that agency who worked on this account will ever eat there again.

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A couple advertising men passed away last week. Jim Schmidt was a copywriter by trade and co-founder of Downtown Partners, a creative boutique within the DDB matrix in Chicago. Mike Hughes was also a creative director and, in addition, a founding member of the Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia. I wasn’t a friend to either of these fine gentlemen but I most certainly knew who they were, having judged awards shows with Jim and attended AAAA functions in which Mike was a key player.

Moreover, I was a fan of their work. Both Jim and Mike were advertising craftsmen in the best sense of the word. They cared about words. They sweated the details. More than anything, they liked to work on the work. I could be wrong but I don’t think either man identified with being bosses and politicians. They liked to make stellar copy for clients who appreciated it. I think of the Martin Agency’s work for Saab. I think of Jim’s fable-like commercials for Walgreens. Frankly, there are more and better examples but I don’t want to write specifically about advertising copy.

Two very decent men died. Two husbands. Two fathers. They weren’t old men either. Cancer took them both before their time. The say no one is promised tomorrow but Jim and Mike got robbed.

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Jim Schmidt, gone too soon.

Being a Chicago native I had more in common with Jim. When Jim left Euro RSCG (now Havas) to begin Downtown Partners in 2004 I had the dubious job of replacing him. Fortunately, we had other things in common besides that particular challenge. Both of us copywriters, we were more or less from the same advertising class, lived and worked in the same city, even competed. I adored Jim’s candor and piercing wit. Loved it when he took me to task for something I’d written or said. He followed this blog and was free with his comments and, as I’ve said, not all of them were flattering! His biting Facebook posts were legendary. Jim adored the Beatles with a teenager’s passion. He loved music. He had heart. We weren’t buddies by most definitions but I will miss you. (AdAge Story)

Mr. Hughes was more like my father (who also started his own agency, RPA) than me. Judging from the loving tribute his agency made for him, Mike was considerably more than just a hard worker and popular guy. He was a patriarch: stable, warm and special. I imagine he was an exemplary mentor to countless lucky writers and budding advertising professionals. I bet he was a father figure to many.

Clearly, both men had above average talent. Well above. Whether one considers either a “legend” I will leave alone. I doubt either man would have cared for the distinction let alone aspired to it. I know Jim loathed sizzle and self-promotion, banking his career primarily on substance, even as our business grew more hyperbolic and social. Similarly, Mike cared more about others than himself. His consistent involvement with the VCU Brandcenter is but a tiny proof point.

This isn’t a suitable eulogy for Jim or Mike. These are just impressions of two lives. But here’s the thing. Upon hearing of the sad news I could not stop thinking about these two guys. Nor could I write about anything else until I wrote about them.

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Chicago from my hotel, a visitor now.

How are you with personal nostalgia? I’m definitely Love/Hate. For reasons I can’t quite articulate, I’m not always a fan of tripping down memory lane. Some people dig visiting their old haunts, getting misty eyed at the sight of myriad firsts (kiss, drink, apartment, job, etc) but I’m not one of them. I usually experience the passage of time as melancholy. The good parts are gone forever and the bad parts linger like ghosts. Either way, it’s kind of funky.

As many of you know, I left Chicago last year to be ECD of gyro, San Francisco. Save for one hotel-bound visit last summer, I have not been back to Chicago at all: not for business and certainly not for pleasure.

Until now…

A global meeting and the Business Marketing Association (for which gyro is a huge supporter) delivered me back to my Sweet Home Chicago. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this post from the fabulous 14th floor of gyro’s Chicago office.

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“Selfie” at gyro, Chicago. All smiles.

From my perch before its many windows I can see both my former companies, Leo Burnett and Euro RSCG (now Havas). I also see parts of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where I was born as well as my daughters. Ah, and there’s the ugly, iconic Marina City Towers. I recall a blowout party…

Shit. I’m waxing nostalgia.

Or it’s waxing me? That’s the thing about returning to one’s hometown. Everywhere I’m bombarded by memories. Yet, maybe they aren’t all misty and sad. Maybe I do enjoy the echoes. It’s kind of like a time machine. My brain processes familiar images as icons. Those “firsts” I made fun of in the first paragraph are unavoidable and indelible.

I’m reminded of Don Draper’s now famous “carousel speech” from an early episode of Mad Men. In it, he exploits the profound human desire to recreate the past based on romantic memories. If you’ve not seen this bit, watch it. The writing and execution are flawless.

Don tells his clients nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” I won’t deny seeing my last former workplace didn’t dredge up some crap. That of a mission not wholly accomplished. The guilt. My anger. A person or two I did not punch in the mouth (but maybe should have). On the other hand no one punched me…

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Euro RSCG… Havas… fading fast

But then I see Michigan Avenue, what tourists call the Magnificent Mile! I’m instantly transported back 25 years heading south from Oak Street to my first big day of job interviews. There’s J. Walter Thompson in the John Hancock building no less! Then Foote, Cone and Belding. Followed at last by the most famous Chicago agency of all, Leo Burnett…where I would ultimately work for the next 18 years!

Clearly, I chose wisely. The other two firms aren’t even here anymore. Not really. And let me tell you back then NOTHING compared to having an LBCO business card in your wallet. It made my brother envious. My mother proud. And the chicks dug it.

Today, I’m a proud and happy card-carrying member of gyro –an agency built for the 21st century. All told, I’ve been and continue to be a very fortunate man. Gratitude. That’s a good lens for viewing the past as well as the present.

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Or as my kids call it, a “flat bowling ball.”


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.


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.