BS from B&S.
My first job after graduating from Columbia College in ’49 was with Procter and Gamble as a merchandiser and salesman. That lasted a year. I didn’t have the P&G family spirit. My next step was to attend the NYU Summer Television Workshop. I felt my future would hold the most promise in this fledgling but sure to grow medium. When the workshop was over, I was offered a job as a production assistant at the NBC-TV but, before I could start, in September of 1950, the 338th Military Intelligence Army Reserve unit was called to active duty. I was a member. I ended up in the Counter Intelligence Corps in Tokyo, but, my tour also was short, lasting only eighteen months.
After discharge, I sought but could not find employment in network or local TV. Desperate, I started reading want ads, any “wanteds”. One day, I was sitting in New York’s Bryant Park doing my daily employment search through the New York Times, when I spotted an ad that read something like this: Assistant Account Executive/ Advertising Agency. Basic knowledge of production, media. ACME personnel. It gave a phone number. I called ACME and told them I had been a merchandising, advertising assistant at Procter & Gamble, and a communication specialist in Military Intelligence. They were sufficiently impressed and without even seeing me, made an appointment for that same afternoon at a downtown advertising agency, Albert Frank Guenther Law, Inc.
I had three hours to prepare and Bryant Park was located immediately west of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. I decided to go inside and take a quick course in advertising.
I found a book on print production and read the chapter headings, paragraph headings, and opening and closing paragraphs of each chapter. There was a detailed glossary of terms and I paid particular attention to the various measurements of type. It described a pica as a 12-point type size used for measurement and a point was a unit of measurement equal to 1/72nd of an inch. Thus, a pica was 1/6th of an inch. An em was described as the square of any size of type and an en was half the width of an em. At the time, I committed these and other bits of information to a three-hour memory channel on the left side of my brain.
At the time, I did not know AFGL was America’s oldest advertising agency, that 90% of its billings were spent in service of the financial community and that its executives and staff were about as boring as the tombstone advertisements which had always been its specialty.
However, there was one oasis in AFGL’s dry desert. It was a consumer products group established by and headed by a most irreverent and highly creative executive bearing the rakish name of Jack McAdams. The Agency’s job search proved to be for an assistant to Mr. McAdams.
Jack’s interview was, if anything, unorthodox. He was delighted that we both had attended Columbia College and that the West End Bar on Upper Broadway was still the hang out for literary Lions. He was delighted that I had been Chief Life Guard at Jacob Riis Park, paralleling his own misspent youth as a lifeguard. When I admitted that I did drink from time to time and that my drink of choice was vodka on the rocks, he beamed as though he had discovered in me the son he had always wanted.
He told me that he needed help right away, that he thought very highly of me from this interview, and felt that we would work very well together. But (there is always a but) he said that it was clear from my resume that I had never worked in advertising and yet this job called for some degree technical knowledge. With apparent trepidation, he finally put the question to me.
“Do you know anything about advertising.”
I answered, without trepidation, and with a forced smile of confidence, “I know the difference between a pica and an em.”
His face broke into a wide grin. “Great! We work mostly in print. Can you start tomorrow?”
I could and I did. For $35/week.
Jack was a great mentor. He was also a great friend. And, during the brief period I stayed with AFGL we had a number of successes (with Chase Bank, Cities Service Oil, Home Insurance Company and Effenbee Doll) that helped the agency broaden its image. But, after eighteen months employment, I left my first job in advertising to move to Detroit where I was to marry a successful advertising copywriter, Ruth Ann Green, and where I hoped to start (with Ruth’s introductions) in a much bigger job in advertising.
My eventual career, as reported throughout this book, grew rapidly and twenty-five years later, in 1978, I was hired as a consultant to the world’s largest agency conglomerate, The Interpublic Group of Companies. I was to guide them in what the industry considered my specialty, retail advertising. They wanted to build a stronger presence in that field and at the same time to better serve some major retail clients that they already were servicing.
I was under an $8,000/month contract to work one day a week on their premises at the top of the Time/Life Building on Sixth Avenue and to make myself available for special meetings at different agencies that Interpublic owned. The deal with me had been initiated by Paul Foley, the Chairman of the Board, and negotiated by Carl Spielvogel, the Vice-chairman of the Board.
The opportunity was exciting, the agencies that “Interpublic” owned were among the world’s biggest: McCann Erickson, Campbell-Ewald, Marshalk and others. The accounts were the world’s biggest such as Coca-Cola and General Motors, and even giants of retailing, including A&P, Sherwin Williams and others.
I was given an office across the hall from Carl Spielvogel’s impressive one, but our relationship was not as close as that proximity would imply.
I had know Paul Foley from 1954 when I joined MacManus John and Adams in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan as a lowly account executive on the Dow account and he was the dynamic senior vice president in charge of the General Motors (Cadillac and Pontiac)account.
Carl had entered the agency business, after a successful career as an outsider looking in, as the first advertising columnist for The New York Times. He had known me from 1958 when the Times announced, in a three-column Spielvogel story, MJA Appoints World Unit Head. At the time, I had started MacManus John and Adams International. We occasionally met at various advertising and charity events (including a Black Tie one Carl hosted as Chairman, honoring Mayor Abraham Beame at Cartier). We would talk briefly and shake hands.
But, we were not friends.
I didn’t realize this until I began to sense Carl’s attitude.
He would introduce me at Interpublic Executive Committee Meetings and to Interpublic’s agencies principals and their clients as, ‘The Legend in His Time”. On the surface, it was a compliment, but underneath, I came to understand, it carried another subliminal implication, “The Has-Been”.
Carl would have his secretary inform me that he wished to meet with me on a certain date, but just before meeting time, she would reset the date as much as two weeks later. I would pass him every day in the halls of the offices, but he was “so busy with important things” that he couldn’t spare ten minutes sometimes for as much as two weeks.
At the time, I was not too concerned. I felt that Interpublic was paying me very well for the little time I spent with it. The fee was good and I was making three times that fee in my other work, which was directly with my own clients. I grew to have the feeling that Carl was a rather pompous bullshitter and that he resented my closeness to Paul Foley, his only superior in the vast corporation.
In my meetings with Interpublic’s agency principals and executives, I was treated with much greater respect and my advice was generally taken with the gratitude it generally deserved. At Campbell-Ewald in Detroit, which had no retail business, I was asked to do a study of the feasibility of the agency’s setting up a multi-million dollar task force to go after major Midwestern retail accounts such as Sears in Chicago and Michigan’s own, Kresge. My advice to the agency’s principals was based upon the agency’s deep relationship with General Motors and especially with the vast Chevrolet account. I advised that there would be a dichotomy within the agency between providing the less-than-squeaky clean, low-ball methods of retail broadcast production and media buying and the clean-as-a-whistle communication agenda required by their biggest and dominant account. They agreed with my logic and thanked me for saving them their two-edged sword investment in retail.
At Marshalk, my thoughts and contributions, though not the same, were equally well received.
But at McCann Erickson, I faced a different set of circumstances. The agency was running the very well known Price and Pride commercials with two actors representing each of these qualities in “corporate” advertising for A&P. These award-winning commercials came from the highly creative mind of Bill Backer, famed creative genius, who was not only executive vice president of McCann Erickson but was considered virtually un-touchable. It was Bill who put the kids on the hill in Italy to sing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”. It was Bill who did this and Bill who did that and one could fill in the blanks with a score of award-winning campaigns. You can’t touch that. But, Bill’s A&P campaign was under fire at A&P. The twenty-two regional heads of the A&P food chain were protesting weekly over the fact that the public liked their commercials but shopped at their competitors, attracted by double-bonus savings coupons and other advertised price offers featured every week in local newspaper ads and inserts by most supermarket chains. Bill Backer insisted he saw a bigger picture, that concentrating the A&P budget in TV with Price and Pride positioning would result over the long run in the best return for A&P in consumer loyalty and consumer buying action.
The A&P account supervisor at McCann was distraught. He reported to McCann’s top executives of the dilemma but they were afraid to offend Backer who had threatened more than once to leave if he was pushed too hard. Then, McCann Erickson top management had an idea and they approached Carl Spielvogel to ask retail expert Jack Byrne to intercede.
Whatever his motivation, Carl asked for me to arrange a meeting with the account staff and the creative teams on A&P to see if some solution to this dilemma could be developed. I first met with the account team and reviewed the account situation. Then, I created a “concept-retaining” and account-retaining solution. The solution would be to establish a small Radio and TV Studio within the agency’s vast offices in New York. The Price and Pride actors would be brought into this inexpensive one-purpose facility and, through use of close ups and cut always, they would deliver promotional selling messages which would run locally on TV and Radio in accordance with the needs of store groups various regions. These Price & Pride tactical spots would run Thursday and Friday nights, promoting the weekend specials. The corporate strategic Price and Pride messages would run nationally, Saturday through Wednesday.
The account team was excited, they saw the logic of the strategy and, more importantly, were sure it would please A&P. The “Big Meeting” was finally set in a large conference room at McCann.
Everybody related to the account was to be included and the meeting was to be co-hosted by Bill Backer and Jack Byrne.
At 10 a.m., when the meeting was to begin, I arrived. The account supervisor and four of his team were already there, seated as a group. The copy chief and two copywriters sat with the agency’s head art director, Tom Lenz, and two assistant art directors sat next to them. I took my seat at one end of the table. The seat at the other end was for the Creative Director, Bill Backer.
But, Bill Backer wasn’t in it. Some ten minutes went by and then, Bill Backer’s secretary came into the room. I expected her to apologize for Bill’s delay but, instead, she spoke to Tom Lenz. “Emergency. Bill needs you right away.” Lenz left with her.
Ten minutes later, she was back, this time speaking to the copy chief and she told him the same thing. He left with her. She came back in a few more minutes and told the remaining copywriters and art directors they were all wanted in Mr. Backer’s office right away.
I was sitting there, wearing an omelet on my face, with the account management team who were similarly dressed. I was, of course, angered at what appeared to be a childish attempt at control.
I got up, went to the reception phone and called Carl Spielvogel and told him what had happened.
“Gee-whiz, Jack,” Carl chirped, “Bill must have had some agency crisis. I guess you’ll have to set a later meeting or something like that.” Then, he said, “Have to run!” He hung up before I could tell him to go-fuck-himself or something like that.
The meeting was never revived and A&P eventually resigned McCann Erickson. Price and Pride died.
But A&P is not all that left McCann Erickson through these two gentlemen.
The situation made me concerned with Spielvogel’s lack of support, or more, with his overwhelming support of Bill Backer in a very risky situation with a very large national account. It was the first time, I felt I should meet privately with my friend and chairman, Paul Foley. I told Paul that I was concerned about Backer having an attitude that could be destructive to the agency. I also told him that my feelings were that Carl Spielvogel had an agenda that also might conflict with the Interpublic Group of Companies. He thanked me and said that he knew that both gentlemen were rather self-oriented but that they were also good men and had contributed much to the company. I left it at that.
My next big assignment with Interpublic was one I created myself.
My old Alma Mater, Albert Frank Guenther & Law had grown to be a $40 million agency. My mentor, Jack McAdams, had become its president and was looking to do something with what was still a modestly successful agency. Its people had hardly changed except for aging, they were seriously aging. The agency’s account list was still heavily concentrated upon financial institutions. AFGL was not changing but financial clients were. They were merging and growing, changing their marketing, toying with TV moving toward the masses of just the classes and their industry peers.. The legal restrictions upon financial advertising were being lifted. If AFGL remained known as the best agency for Tombstone advertising, it would be erecting its own tombstone.
Jack and I were still friends. When he was named president, I had invited him to lunch at Sardi’s East to celebrate. I had toasted his new title and then asked him if he was being given a “free rein”.
“One hundred percent, Jack. I can hire and fire. Change the agency profile. Solicit whatever accounts I wish. I can make any decision….” He paused, picking his drink back up from the table, “Unless it involves money.” He finished his drink.
We got pleasantly drunk that afternoon. Late in the day, I suggested that maybe we could do something together, like selling AFGL to Interpublic.
He thought that was a great idea but he was pretty drunk at the time.
Not more than a month later Jack called me. He said, “Were you serious about that buy out?” I asked “What buyout?” He reminded me of our spirited conversation. I said why not to myself and “Of course, I was” to Jack.
Jack brought the subject to the principal owner of AFGL who was a sprightly lady who had been involved with the company for more than sixty years. Her name was Sophie Speake. And, nobody did anything at AFGL until they heard what Sophie spoke. I approached Carl and the executive board through a memo that summarized the assets and liabilities of AFGL, pointing out that it could serve as a base for further penetration into the financial market and that it had the alternate possibility of being developed into an effective shirt-sleeved agency for retailers because of its great strength in production details, low salaries and experience in high-frequency, low-budget executions.
Within two months, the two companies had agreed on a price of three million dollars plus some stock for AFGL. Essential to the agreement, was the continuance of Jack McAdams as President with a five-year contract at $125,000 per year. But, also essential from the AFGL side was that Jack Byrne (who had been hired by them for $35/week some quarter-century before) would lead the joint company as Chief Executive Officer. At first, there appeared to be no problem with that because the Interpublic Group management had also agreed to make the purchase contingent upon Jack Byrne running the new subsidiary.
But, then it came to compensation and that was to be negotiated for Interpublic by my immediate superior, Carl Spielvogel.
When we met, I told Carl that I would have to make considerably more than Jack McAdams and that could make things uncomfortable.
He said, “What do you mean? Our Chairman, Paul Foley only makes $150,000 a year and he runs a billion-dollar business”. I asked Carl what Paul Foley made from dividends and stock options (which, I believed, were counted in the millions of dollars). He told me that was not what we were talking about. I told him that we were talking about compensation and it would not make sense for me to put this deal together only to reduce my income.
I explained that although Interpublic was paying me at the rate of $96,000 per year for perhaps 20% of my time, I was also making $150,000 in fees for about 10 days of work each year for personally handling the Lee Myles Transmission Franchise account. I had other sizable fee accounts, like Gimbel’s, Philadelphia, but they did consume far more time than did Lee Myles.
I suggested to Carl that I would cease all activity on all accounts but Lee Myles, come on board with Interpublic at the same salary as Jack McAdams but be able to continue my service of Lee Myles under an agreement which would restrict specifically the amount of time I could devote to it.
Carl appeared shocked and, to me, became overly sanctimonious. “You don’t understand Interpublic, Jack. All of us here are part of one sacred mission. Every minute of our day, except that spent for family and sleep and church, belongs to The Company. At our level, there is no time limit to the hours of our work week. None of us direct our attention elsewhere although all of us could, by writing books, giving speeches, or whatever. It would be impossible to have one person doing outside work, particularly advertising work, while the rest of us forego all that for the good of the future of Interpublic.”
He was shaking his head at the very nature of my sacrilegious thought.
I explained to Carl that for me to give up $150,000 a year for ten-days work to receive less money than that for 365 days of work made no sense at all. I offered to bring the Lee Myles account into the new agency under the stipulation that I would take two-thirds of the income while providing 90% of the handling requirements.
Carl was adamant. He said I was shortsighted. He said that he and many others had given up far more lucrative positions for the long-term potential of this great institution.
He wouldn’t budge.
AFGL was eventually purchased by Foote Cone & Belding.
I soon left IPG.
So did Carl Spielvogel. (NOTE: In 1979, when Philip Geir named new CEO after Pauk Foley retired and CS felt robbed) (PF died in 1983).
So did Bill Backer.
All I took with me was about $18 worth of IPG pens and desk pads.
But Carl and Bill took $81 million worth of Miller Beer billing. (note: $100M?)
At the time, it was the biggest account heist in the history of advertising.
Backer & Spielvogel was also the biggest start up agency in history. Subsequently, it merged into Backer Spielvogel Bates which by 1994, when Carl Spielvogel departed, became Bates Worldwide one of the world’s largest marketing and advertising companies, billing $5.2 billion. Carl eventually became U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia.
There’s something special about having been screwed by an Ambassador.
Footnote: My life is full of unhappy coincidences. When Backer & Spielvogel left Interpublic, they brought with them McCann’s Top Art Director, Tom Lenz. When they became Bates Worldwide, and the three founders were bought out, Tom’s share of the buyout was some $25 million.
Tom had a son named Chris who in the 1990s worked in television production. Chris Lenz met a sexy young woman in the same business and within a year or so married her. That woman was Marie Merren who, before she had finished Marymount College came to live with me and my wife, Christian and function as governess to our son, Kareem. Marie was with us for close to eight years, during the last two as my administrative assistant in my consulting business. She and I had a very close (although not as intimate as I might have liked) relationship. We were buddies, thirty years apart in age, and she always sought my advice. Before she married Chris Lenz, we had many discussions about the problems and opportunities in such a marriage. I was frank; the greatest opportunity was that, if it failed, she would at least be divorcing a millionaire. That would help give her a kick start into her future.
Two years after they married, Chris decided he didn’t want to play that any more. He offered her a settlement rather than “they should go to court”. He offered to let her keep the apartment that they had rented (but she would have to pay the rent) and he offered her a lump sum of $2,000.
That’s right, no zeroes missing.
She had little recourse because Chris, on paper, had very low income. His millions were in a trust fund that she could not reach but from which his father Tom, as occasion demanded, gave Chris gifts that made his living quite palatable.
I introduced Marie to a lawyer who had the creativity and the ball-crusher’s instinct to induce Chris’ father, Tom, to make a handsome settlement rather than bear the public exposure of some truths about his son’s private life (not here revealed).
But, Marie could not face the hassle (or perhaps, the potential counter attacks). She was so shocked by the rejection that she had no will to fight.
The little resistance she did show raised the settlement to $10,000.
More a kick in the head than the kick start I had predicted.
In case you haven’t noticed, this book is not about winning.