Dreaming in long copy…

When addicts stop using drugs and alcohol they are commonly beset by drinking and drugging dreams. Usually occurring within the first year of abstinence these dreams can be strikingly vivid. The addict often wakes up highly agitated, believing completely he or she has fallen off the wagon. Even upon realizing it’s only a dream, the phenomenon can be highly disturbing. Addicts and alcoholics feel as though they have betrayed their sobriety, almost like a relapse.

Not to connect the dots but…

Having left Adland 5 months ago, I had my first (recollected) advertising dream the other night. I was younger (a man can dream!) and working on a luxury car account. The crux of the dream had me pitching concepts to one of my first bosses and mentors, Ted Bell. (Ted is now retired from advertising and a best-selling author of thrillers like Warlord and Assassin.)

If he was my boss that means the place was likely Leo Burnett and the account Oldsmobile… even if the car in my dream was a snazzy convertible, unlike anything Olds used to make.

Regardless, I remember trying to make wordplay about drivers having an “open mind” for the open top vehicle. I can’t recall the exact copy but either way Ted wasn’t buying it. “People don’t need an open mind to want one of these cars,” he kept repeating. Why I kept fighting him on the point I don’t know; but I was. Needless to say, the boss is always right. Even in your dreams. Upon waking, I realized my idea was silly and sophomoric. Very “spec book.”

Yet, what disturbed me most about the dream wasn’t the mediocre concept but rather my dogged determination to prevail. I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I kept trying to make a case for my silly open minds concept.

Sound familiar? Who among us doesn’t remember pushing way too hard our first concepts? The relentless young creative is so commonplace it’s basically a cliché. In a recent AdAge interview, famed adman and now teacher, Luke Sullivan stated his biggest regret was “having an insane amount of certainty” as a young copywriter.

And there I was trying to force my boss to have an open mind!

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.

An editor requested I write a brief story about how I got my first job in Advertising. They will be publishing it, and others like it, over the next few months. Here’s a advanced copy of mine:

I put my book together the old-fashioned way: with markers and tape. An art director from my dad’s office scribbled me some quick drawings and I markered in the headlines. I got 3 offers in one week. Took the one at Leo Burnett. I still remember the number: $19,500 a year. And that was $1,500 dollars more than the offer I got at JWT (then called J. Walter Thompson).

Beyond the better salary, LBCO promised me a chance at working with a rising star they’d just hired from Doyle Dane Bernbach. They still called it that. My new boss did anyway. His name was Ted Bell. He had a partner, John Eding. The two of them, I was told, were cut from a different cloth than the TV-centric majority at Leo Burnett. They cherished print and were good at it. The duo had actually created some of the more famous print campaigns of their time. Chivas Regal being one of them. (Look it up.)

Anyway, I took my book into Ted’s new office and came out with a job. How’d I do it? To this day, I know it wasn’t just on account of my book. I had that right mix of awe, enthusiasm and confidence. I was able to sell him on myself. I remember showing stories I’d written for my university newspaper. I kid you not. I had my own music column in Madison, Wisconsin. Highlights from that foray into journalism include a review of a sparsely attended saloon gig by the Replacements (“These guys are going places.”) as well as coverage of the Violent Femmes. I don’t think Ted knew who either act was but he liked that I was a writer. I may have even shown him some song lyrics I wrote. You laugh, but I got the job.

Of course my book had ads in it. Three campaigns consisting of three or more print ads. I had a couple TV scripts but Ted didn’t read them. He did, however, read the body copy. Like I said, Ted loved words. FYI, he’s a best-selling author now.

Three campaigns of three or more ads. The Rule of 3. I still tell creative candidates that this is your price of entry.

One line of mine from that fateful interview I’ll never forget (partly because Ted always liked to remind me) was when I told him “with the right art director I could sell venereal disease.” I knew he would laugh, get it, and get me. I had a sense of him. I read the room. A gift I have since embraced as something from God. We all have such gifts. Nice to know what they are before interviewing!