Family business: A rare visit from my father (Larry Postaer) coincides with even rarer story about his agency (RPA).
August 25, 2010
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.
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!
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.
Even Death is bored.
First JWT closes down its 100-year old operation in Chicago, and then the much-beleaguered, much-named Enfatico is swept under the WPP rug. And the drumbeats get louder: Advertising is dead. TV is dead. Newspapers are dead. Long live the…
The what? The continuous reporting of death and destruction in Ad Land was inevitable and necessary but isn’t it part of a bigger story, a story that’s ready for part II…or even part III?
Honestly, the beginning of the End started 20 years ago, give or take, with the phenomenon of holding companies taking over the advertising landscape. A decade later the Internet arrived and, while at first aiding and abetting Ad Land, it quickly took on it’s own agenda, sucking advertising revenue from older media and, more crucially, changing how consumers and content relate to one another.
So here we are. In my last post I wrote with optimism about the future of marketing services. If big agencies are truly unified (not posing or fronting) they will prevail. Specialty shops always have a place. But I’m missing a piece, one that is critical.
Who among us will emerge from the chaos poised to reinvent? As current leadership (myself included) goes about playing the cards we have (some far better than others), where are the game changers?
Does marketing have a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods? Is marketing even the right word? Granted, unlike sports (where the game hardly changes at all) our world has been turned upside down. But still, we are only transitioning. In order for the ad game to be reinvented we need inventers.
Agencies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky and clients like Apple show us the potential for our industry. They think different and it shows. Alex and Steve are visionaries. My opinion, haters of CP&B are mostly ignorant, jealous or both. This agency is the modern version of Doyle Dane Bernbach. I’m sorry if that’s a hard pill to swallow. In his day, Bill took a lot of shit too. Apple needs no explanation or defense. So strong is their karma it altered not only technology and marketing, it changed the world.
So who’s next and what’s next? Instead of everyone criticizing the old models and their fat cat leaders, why aren’t we seeing any new gurus and game changers? Picking on Martin Sorrel and Howard Draft is so last year. Harping on the death of everything is equally laborious. If you want the definitive text on what went wrong and who’s to blame read The Ubiquitous Persuaders by George Parker.
It’s not a war between advertising and digital. Or direct marketing versus general. They are ALL important. And they are all in trouble. Enough said.
I’m declaring that part of the revolution over. Who among us is capable of delivering the new model for another fifty years, or even twenty? And yes, I’m talking to all the sharp shooters hiding within their cubes or trolling the Internet looking for targets. Put down your water pistols and figure this shit out.
Don’t hate me because I’m rich, newly rich, beautiful or simply just ridiculous.
My last post called out pop star, Peter Wentz for being “that guy.” You know, an individual, who for some silly-ass reason bugs the living crap out of me. And presumably countless others.
But why stop at Hollywood celebrities? Hating on them is mainstream entertainment. What about us: the advertising cognoscenti? Read the trade press. The countless ad blogs. I know there are numerous people in our business who, for whatever reasons, drive us crazy. Christ, I’m no doubt one of them. With my clichéd baldhead. My writing about God and advertising. I’d hate me! What about others? How ’bout the threesome pictured above? Just looking at these guys, right?
Is it the fame? The good looks? Or just the shape of their heads?
Who’s your Bette Noir? Who among our ranks drives you bonkers because of their status, reputation or whatever? This is inane…insane. Even the Gods of Advertising are rolling their eyes. But I’m on summer vacation. Let’s have some fun. We can take it, can’t we?