Everyone in advertising has at least one entertaining story to tell about the good old days. If Mad Men is your only reference point, then you’re likely asking yourself, when exactly were those good old days?. When I first got into the business, the good old days had already come and gone, according to one senior copywriter that I worked with. I had missed it. And boy oh boy had I ever missed the golden years according to this guy. He used to tell tales of exotic month-long commercial television shoots in New Zealand. Extended hotel stays at LA’s ritzy infamous hotel bungalows and driving Ferrari’s on the Autobahn, racing clients at top speed while in Italy at press approvals. Another senior writer I worked with had the small compact body of a boxer complete with cauliflower nose and a pummelled Brooklin accent. His name was Chuck. He was a real character. You never knew what to believe with that guy. One day he’d tell you he used to be the only Canadian writer ever on the original Saturday Night Live. The next day he’d tell you he was living in Canada because he was a draft dodger. He was also a drinker. I don’t think I ever saw him sober in the afternoons in all the time I worked with him. Hell, none of the male, senior copywriters were ever sober as far as I could tell. One time I came in early to prepare for pitch and when the elevator doors opened there was Mr. Good Old Days copywriter, slumped on the floor in the corner, passed out from the night before. I stepped over his long legs, pushed the button for the 31st floor and left him there when the doors slid open. Nothing those guys did surprised me.
I used to hate pitches. As a young creative, I found the pressure to be physically disabling. My hands would shake and mouth would go as dry as the Sahara. No matter how much I rehearsed, my little memorized speech would vanish from my brain at the moment the agency president would turn during the presentation to introduce me. I was not a natural. Our agency boardroom had the unusual distinction of having the most enormous, round boardroom table I’ve ever seen. It was a fair-sized room, but when you sat at that table it was so big you’d need a bullhorn to communicate to anyone sitting on the opposite side. Anyway, we were there one day, pitching some new business thing. Dan, our agency president, was standing up, doing his bar-graph thing with the slide projector when suddenly the doors flew open with a bang. All eyes turned and there before us was a drunken staggering Chuck, dressed in a yellow and black bee costume, complete with gold “deely-boppers” on his balding head. Chuck glared around the room with red blood-shot eyes and lurched into a drunken rendition of “Flight of the Bumble Bee.” Around the table, mouths dropped open. You could have heard a pin drop – if Chuck hadn’t been in the room that is. Chuck’s “Eh-eh-eh-EH-EH!” got louder and louder as he tried to propel his body forward, zig-zagging with arms outstretched. He had made almost one full rotation around the boardroom table when his toe must have caught the wheel of a chair and Chuck literally flew, as if rehearsed, head-first out the door. All eyes in the room turned to Dan. Not missing a beat, Dan walked to the doors and calmly pulled them shut, turned and picked up from exactly where he was before Chuck burst into the room. All eyes turned back to Dan and within seconds, he had everyone’s full attention … Chuck’s stunt forgotten. Or was it? We won that business pitch and I learned 2 things. The first thing was to really study Dan’s presentation style … and in doing so I learned to be a much less nervous, more unflappable presenter. The second thing I learned when I found out we’d won the new business pitch. The client whom we’d presented to that day said our presentation was one of the most creative ones he’d ever seen. Now I don’t know about the creative part – I actually didn’t think it was that good – but substitute memorable for creative, and I think you get the picture. Back then clients actually liked and expected us to act zany. And that client certainly got his money’s worth that day.
For much better stories about the good old days of advertising, I recommend that you read Howie Cohen’s blog “MadMensch – memoirs of an ad guy who was there“. Great stories by a great writer.