I Dodge A Big Bullet

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Crown Prince

All of the Chevy Account Men settled in to help keep Chevrolet #1. The Chevette was setting sales records, Chevy trucks were outselling the anti-Christ Ford trucks. Peace and love and harmony swept over all of us. Until late in 1975. A Chevrolet Merchandising account supervisor lost his mind and quit to move to LA and work at some place called Needham Harper & Sears (sic) on the Honda account. It was actually Steers, but nobody in Detroit knew that. Then, several key creatives bolted to LA to work at Clinton E. Frank on Toyota. They were dead to us.  What a waste of a career…to leave the bosom of Campbell-Ewald to go try and sell cars that were ruining America. The agency decided that they needed to stop the hemorrhaging of talent. One day we learned that a bright young Account Man on Chevy Truck was leaving to go to BBD&O and be the #2 guy on the Dodge account. We were all very happy for him because we knew that he was getting a boatload of money, a huge title, AND a free car to move over to Dodge. His office was immediately emptied…when you go to a competitor, you have to leave right away lest the client think you are going to steal state secrets. Possible replacements for him were being interviewed. Several days later, in a moment of way too much candor while we were on our way to the airport, the Chevy Truck Management Supervisor gave me what he thought was wonderful news. “Tom, the negotiations lasted past midnight last night, but we’ve talked him into staying with Campbell-Ewald.” Hmmm. This young Account Man was giving up a boatload of money, huge responsibilities, AND a free car to stay in his old job? The memo came out the next day.  It announced his promotion to VP-Account Supervisor on Chevy Truck.  The current VP-AS was being “reassigned.” The Account Men who had been leap-frogged were more than a little upset. What was going on? We found out about two weeks later. In a phenomenal case of bad timing, Advertising Age ran an article titled, “When Tom Adams Retires, He’ll Be Replaced By Tom Adams.” The article explained that the agency loved smooth executive transitions. The new Campbell-Ewald HR Director was quoted, “We have what we like Resumeto think of as the ‘Crown Prince’ program working here.  We’ve already identified the young man who will replace our chairman, Tom Adams, when he retires. We almost lost him to another agency recently, but we made sure he stayed with us.” Great!!! Every non-royal Account Man dusted off his resume…at home, since none of us knew how to type. After the article ran, executive recruiters witnessed Account Men running like grunion. I was somewhat tentative. We’d only been in our house for a little over a year. We knew that housing in LA was very expensive. I engaged my passive sonar, I didn’t want management to hear me actively pinging. In the Spring of 1976, I received a call from a gentleman from Parker Advertising in Palos Verdes, California. He was the Senior VP-Management Supervisor on the Datsun account. “Tom, your name was given to me by a friend.  I understand that you used to work on the Chevy California Marketing Project, and that you now handle Small Cars nationally for Chevy.” The mating dance had begun.  I did the pro-forma “I’m not looking to move, but wouldn’t mind talking” lie. He was in Detroit interviewing people. “How about we getBig Boy together for breakfast tomorrow?” he asked. He was staying in Birmingham, so I mentioned an Elias Brothers Big Boy that was roughly halfway between us. Known as Bob’s Big Boy in the West, the three Elias Brothers knew a good thing when they saw it and became the first official franchisee in 1952. Breakfast went very well. I told him about the media friends I had made in LA, about how I knew that housing was expensive, and about where I thought the small car segment was going. We adjourned with him saying, “We’ll be in touch.” Chevette sales continued to grow as more and more people were being driven happy. AlbumCovers-Chicago-ChicagoIX-ChicagoGreatestHits(1975)The creative department had been using a photographer named Reid Miles to shoot a lot of the Chevette magazine work. He had become famous by designing LP album covers.  Perhaps his most famous was the cover done for the group Chicago. Reid shot “idealized reality.” A little like photography’s answer to Norman Rockwell. There was a home-spun feel to his work. 1977-chevy-chevette (1)It was very present in the work he did for Chevette. If people were going to be driven happy, we wanted the people in the ads to look as though they had been delivered to this happy place. Reid often used an ensemble group of actors who had a “hometown” look to them. The Chevette print work exuded happy people. Chevy ChevetteThe decision was made to carry over the “Reid Miles” look into the TV commercials. We came up with a really big idea. What if everyone drove a Chevy Chevette? Everyone would be happy! There would be Chevette police cars, fire engines, convertibles,SanDimas-Downtown-467x348 delivery vehicles, and ambulances. We chose the small town of San Dimas, CA., to be the location for our dystopian view of America. Located about 25 miles east of LA, the town had a “small town America” look to it. The city would gain more fame a few years later as the location for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Four days before I was set to leave for the shoot, two things happened. BBD&O came back to the “Crown Prince” and threw even more money at him. He accepted and was barely able to safely exit the GM Building as shotgun blasts tore the molding off of the elevator doors as he stepped inside.  The second thing was a call from Parker Advertising. They liked me and wanted to fly me out to “meet the team.” I told them that if they could wait four days, I could save them the airfare as I was coming out anyway. Because I had learned that Account Men were not supposed to touch or say anything, I knew I could slip away from the set for a few hours. Telling everyone that I was going to visit some old friends, I sped to my clandestine rendezvous for lunch. The meeting went better than I could hope. As lunch was winding down, I excused myself to go to the restroom. When I returned to the table, a phone had been placed there.  Both Parker guys had big smiles. “Tom. we candlestickphone2want you to come work on the Datsun Account at Parker. You’ll handle the cars. We have another fellow named Bill Hagelstein handling trucks and the Z car. Here’s a boatload of money and you get a FREE CAR! We have this phone here so you can call Detroit and quit on the spot. We need you out here for a big meeting in four days.” I accepted, but told them that, since I’d been with Campbell-Ewald for almost six years, the decent thing to do would be to resign in person. I would still be able to make the meeting as I would most likely be hurled out of a window when they found out I would be working on Datsun. They agreed, and asked if I had time to go to the office and meet everyone. The offices were gorgeous.  I met “the team.” We then went down to meet John Parker, the agency founder.  His office was dark. the Management Supervisor asked where he was.  “Oh, he got called over to Datsun for a meeting. he should be back soon.” Instead of waiting, they asked me to come back first thing the next morning to fill out my medical paperwork and order my free car!! That evening, at the hotel, I called my wife, my parents, my close friends in Detroit and in LA, to give them the good news. My wife was going to call the realtor and get the “For Sale” sign up ASAP. I got a call from the woman who did the Datsun budgets at Parker.  She was also a real estate agent and offered to set up some home visits the next day.  She told me how happy everyone was that I had decided to join Parker. Wonderful!! I pulled into the Parker parking lot the next morning and ran into the Account Supervisor on my way into the building.  I didn’t notice the puzzled look on his face. Dodging BulletAs we got on the elevator, he said, “Uhhh, Tom, did you get a phone call last night?” I told him that I had. “Well, what do you think?” I told him that the budget manager had called and we were going to look at houses today. “Uhhhh, Tom, we lost the Datsun account yesterday afternoon.  That’s where John Parker was…getting fired. In fact, there’s no job, we’ve all been fired.” Well, golly! I’m sure glad I didn’t quit over the phone yesterday. I had dodged a huge bullet. With trembling hands and a convulsing stomach, I drove back out to San Dimas just in time for the big finale. It was a huge parade scene that was going to be done in one shot. Marching bands, all of the customized Chevettes, beauty queens, local officials, and ParadeCub Scouts would, on cue, turn the corner and march down the street toward the camera. We had talked San Dimas High School into letting the students off for the afternoon to cheer the parade. They each received $1 to give us the rights to their likeness. Reid was at the top of a huge cherry picker with the cameraman. He barked directions through a powerful megaphone that could be heard throughout the downtown area. “Action!” The marching band started playing the jingle as they came into view.  There was the Chevette fire truck with a terrified Dalmatian on the roof. Sirens blaring, lights flashing, beauty queens waving, city officials in their Chevette limos giving the “thumbs up to the crowd. A Norman Rockwell painting come to life. The parade passed underneath the camera and began to move away, when Reid shrieked, “Cut!!” One of the students had taped his dollar to his forehead and was in the shot. The take was ruined. With the megaphone at full throttle he started,”You %$#&*% idiot kid. I’m coming down there to #$^% you in your @$#. As a matter of fact, this whole &*^$$ town can go and ^#$%& itself. What did you all do, marry your cousins? This is total &%$#@*!!!” I knew that, as an Account Man, I wasn’t supposed to touch anything on a shoot. I did notice the San Dimas police running down the street toward us. I nodded at the agency producer.  He would go up on the cherry picker and subdue Reid.

Good Lord, I love this business.

Next:  Onion Soup

3 thoughts on “I Dodge A Big Bullet

  1. Why my addled brain recalls the spelling is beyond me. I’m the worst speller in the world. And to think I only did three years and a handful of months at NH&S. You had already left for Ammirati and Puris before I made my exit — how I remember that is beyond me. I’m loving your blog. Can’t wait for the next installment.

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