After the Christmas Party, the Campbell-Ewald Management Training Program returned to its own state of homeostasis. I was learning a lot, but knew that no department manager was going to turn the controls of the 747 over to me just yet. I was hanging out in Multi-Products Land. This was a separate, but equal, area of the agency that handled all the accounts that weren’t Chevrolet. One of these accounts was Marathon Gasoline. I enjoyed helping on the account because we had developed a promotion for them with the comic strip character B.C. This was the brilliant strip about the adventures of the caveman B.C. and his friends. If you went in to a Marathon station, and purchased eight gallons of gas, you got a B.C. placemat. The next week it was a B.C. coffee mug. Next, a B.C. glass. Then, a B.C. bowl. A friend of mine was a traffic person on the account. We produced the B.C. merchandise for the promotion. He was able to slip me enough B.C. stuff that I was able to call my fiancee` and tell her we wouldn’t need to register for china or crystal. I had taken care of that.
When the team would go off to a client meeting, I was told, “Tom, why don’t you stay here and hold down the fort while we’re gone.” That meant that there was nothing to do for the day. The old saying about idle hands and the devil proved true. On one of my idle days, after I had toured the entire agency introducing myself, I noticed a stat of a mechanical for an outdoor board that had been left on my desk. NOTE: For our readers who weren’t born until Reagan was President, a mechanical was a hard cardboard flat upon which type and artwork were laid to be sent as the finished product to the engraver. Photostats were made to circulate to parties that needed one more chance to approve the ad. The stat of an outdoor board mechanical was approximately 30 inches long by 20 inches high. Most people just folded them twice and put them in a file folder. Overcome with curiosity I decided to roll it diagonally into a tube; starting with one corner and ending with the corner across from it. It made a tube almost three feet long. I fastened the end of the roll with a small piece of tape and looked into the tube. Having folded the stat on the bias, the tube now had rifling on the interior. Hmmmm. I needed a bullet. A long-nosed pushpin would do. Unfortunately, the barrel of the tube was a little larger than the pin. Wait! A handy tissue was trimmed and taped to the push part of the pin to serve as a gasket to maintain pressure. I loaded the dart. I needed a target. Where, where, where? Aha! I spied a metal wastebasket about 25 feet away from me. After filling my lungs, I emptied them into the end of the rolled-up stat. I didn’t see the dart leave the tube, but I did hear a distinct clang. In the blink of an eye, the dart had travelled the 25 feet, and not only hit the wastebasket with deadly accuracy, it had penetrated the metal side and was now sitting inside the basket on a pile of discarded Delco contact reports. Eureka!! This technology must be shared…but only with those who appreciate a wasted mind. If it got into the wrong hands, the halls of the GM Building would run with blood.
The days continued to roll toward the end of January, 1971, when, one day, I received a call from Jim Berline. Jim was the Assistant to the Director of Field Operations. He had come to Campbell-Ewald a number of months before I had. He wanted to meet for lunch. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted to talk about. He was a Wolverine, I was a Spartan. The Hatfields and the McCoys weren’t usually big into social contact. Jim and I met and had a cordial chat about life, the training program, and the relative merits of advertising as a career choice. The next day he called, asking me to come to see him in his office. I came over and he described what his job as Assistant to the Director of Field Operations entailed. He asked if it sounded interesting to me. Was I being vetted for something?
The role of the Regional Account Executive at Campbell Ewald was an interesting one. There were ten regional Campbell-Ewald offices. One in each of the Chevrolet Regional cities, and one extra in Los Angeles. The Western Regional office for Chevy was up near San Francisco, but the agency also had an office in Los Angeles to handle the LA and San Diego Zone offices as well as serve as the center for West Coast Operations such as TV production, Network Affairs, starlet management, and to handle the Rockwell account. Back then, Chevrolet and the agency had no desire to become involved with local Chevy ad associations. The field office was there to support the region and the zones with their own local promotions, provide production assistance to the local ad association agencies, evaluate the local execution of national Chevy media buys, wine and dine the Chevy field staff (who knew which one would be running Chevrolet in a few years?), and to send weekly reports to the agency on how things were going out in the colonies. There were two types of Regional Account Executives: the first was the up-and-comer who had been sent to the field to learn the client’s business, and would be brought back to Detroit to be part of the National account team; and, the lifer category of fellow who had the job so dialed in that he knew (much to his delight) that neither Chevrolet nor Campbell-Ewald would ever want him transferred to Detroit. During this era, it was generally felt that field experience was necessary for ascendancy within the Chevrolet Account hierarchy. The “field guy” reported to the Director of Field Operations in Detroit, so he was pretty much his own boss. He had a generous expense account. He got to make his own schedule. He had his own secretary. And…wait for it, wait for it. He got a free car every year!!!!!!!
I told Jim, “Where do I sign up?” We went next door to see his boss. Gene Owens was the Director. A wonderful man who looked like he could be your uncle. The three of us chatted for a while, and the curtain was pulled back. I was sworn to secrecy. The Dallas field guy was leaving the agency. Jim was being moved to Dallas and needed to be replaced here in Detroit ASAP. I was being considered for the job. This meant that I could be out of the training program and into a position that would officially mark the start of my career.
Gene called the next day. Commencing the following Monday, I would be the new Assistant to the Director of Field Operations on the Chevrolet Account at Campbell-Ewald. My salary rocketed to $11,400 a year! I had “crossed over.” Press releases announcing the promotion were sent to the Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, and the New Center News. A fatted calf was prepared for the feast that was to be held in my honor. I could afford my own apartment. Life was good.
Next: “Ummmm, Do You Mind If I Get Married First?