LA wasn’t Detroit, FCB wasn’t Campbell-Ewald, and Mazda wasn’t Chevy. That’s not a comparison of merits, but more a statement of fact. Like saying a book isn’t a spleen. But it was still auto advertising! And I loved it. One of the first things I noticed at FCB was how much younger everyone here seemed. By my reckoning, I figured that maybe there were only five employees over 50 years of age. This seemed to give the place a feeling of vibrancy…and libido. At Campbell-Ewald, a sense of gravitas filled the halls. Executive management was ensconced down Mahogany Row. Direct eye contact could not be made with senior GM management. Things were different at FCB. One of our clients at the time was Winchell’s Donuts. Each morning, I would go to our lunchroom where boxes of the client’s product would be laid out for us. Filling my pockets with donuts, I would then fill my thermos with coffee and head to my office. This sure beat the $5/week for the Campbell-Ewald coffee club. Even in these pre “casual Friday” times, our dress was more relaxed. More sports coats and blazers for the account people…I say “people” because I now worked with, wait for it, wait for it, Account Women!!!! Of course none of them worked on the “car account” yet, but that would soon change.
There was also a joie de vivre that was systemic. Perhaps because of what Southern California had to offer. In Detroit, if you asked someone what they did that weekend, you would get responses like, “I shot a deer,” or “I went fishing and caught a mess-o-perch,” or “My wife and I took the kids to Edgewater Park.” In LA, the answers would be “I shot a movie,” or ” I went fishing off the coast of Baja and caught a 300 pound tuna,” or “My girlfriend and I took our kids to Disneyland.” Of course, there was always surfing, swimming, skiing in the mountains, or burning your buns at Black’s Beach in La Jolla. Some say that familiarity breeds contempt. At FCB, familiarity bred familiarity. Everyone had an open door. There was no Mahogany Row. In short order, everyone, for better or worse, knew everyone else’s business; who was getting a divorce, who was seeing whom, who was creepy, who was good at partying, who was a good shoulder to cry on.
A lot of this feeling also applied to the folks at Mazda. Many of them had moved over from the Detroit automakers. In Mazda’s case, mostly Chrysler. Most of them had come out of their respective field sales organizations, spending little time actually working in Detroit. There was no “caste system.” Mazda’s executives were all easily approachable; a true joy for an agency guy. Rod Hayden was the EVP of Mazda Central, the highest ranking American. After crunching budget numbers with Miki Sato, I could walk over to Rod’s office and chew the fat with him for a while. I couldn’t do that with John DeLorean when he ran Chevrolet. I would have been stopped at the elevator by security and hustled off to an interrogation room. There’s a lot to be said for getting to know ALL your clients. It helps you with your current job, and can help down the line when you’re working someplace else and an ex-Mazda client suddenly shows up to work with your current client. The GM of Mazda’s West Cost Distributorship back then was a young up-and-comer named Dick Colliver.
I was soon to learn a valuable math equation: E=MC², where E is the total Entertainment you can receive being equal to the sum of M, being the number of Media reps you know, times C², the amount of their expense account squared. Sales of Japanese car brands were skyrocketing. While not exponentially, their ad budgets were too. This was not lost on the media sales community. Expense accounts grew. Sometimes lunch ended at 3 PM. Sometimes it ended with a pool party. Sometimes it ended with 18 holes of golf at Wilshire Country Club. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were living in what are now fondly called “the good old days.”
Ours was a small account group. When I arrived, Jim Arnold and Ed Ratcliffe ran the Mazda Dealer Group, Denny and I worked on the National Account. Patty Dryer and Barb Marion served as account coordinators. Candice Brock was our group secretary. She soon talked a friend, Cindy Murphy, into joining our merry band. We later added two assistant account executives. Being a small group, we felt like family, albeit a dysfunctional one. Because of this, for good or ill, the outlines of proper office etiquette became blurred. Co-workers as good friends!! What a concept. Even so, sometimes the limits of protocol did get stretched. Cindy became my secretary. One day she came in to have me sign some budget papers and expense accounts. We sat and talked for a while, when she mentioned that she spoke French. I didn’t. But in an attempt to impress, I started to rattle off every French phrase I knew. Cherchez la femme! Mon dieu! Quelle dommage! Quelle frommage! I knew the difference on that one. Cindy soon figured out I was French-challenged. She got up and headed for the door. I blurted out “Voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” I had recently heard Patti LaBelle sing it and figured it must be some type of dance craze. Cindy stopped in her tracks, closed my office door and walked back to my desk. “Do you?’ she asked. “Do I what?” I answered naively. “Oh. You don’t know then what that means,” she said as she turned and walked out. I asked someone else what it meant. They told me. Note to self: Before speaking in another language, make sure you know what you’re saying.
Not all of our ribaldry was contained in the office. We often went to the FCB/H Employee Fitness Center. Actually, is was a seedy bar called the Hi-Ho about a block east of the office. The Hi-Ho, alas, is no longer there. It was one of those great old-LA “joints” that you’d expect to find in a Raymond Chandler novel. The drinks were cheap, and the patrons cheaper. The bartender was a fellow who bore an eerie resemblance to Lon Chaney Jr., in his later years. The place was dimly lit, and that was a good thing. One day at lunch, a piece of lettuce on my salad decided to sprout six legs and scoot across my plate, heading down the wall and into the woodwork. This was a kind of place where sometimes the rice in your pilaf would start moving. But the drinks were very strong, and cheap. We would go there for lunch, and quite often after work, “waiting for the traffic to clear.” One evening, on the way over, Denny spotted a newspaper rack in front of the bar that carried copies of the LA Xpress. The LA Xpress billed itself as “LA’s Premier Guide to Adult Entertainment.” Denny had never seen one, and since they were only 50¢, I bought one to take in with us. As with any good newspaper, its true vitality is found in the classified ad section. So it was with the LA Xpress. Creative writing at its best! After our sixth cocktail, we all thought it would be a fun game to play classified roulette. Each of us had to, in our turn, close our eyes and randomly put our finger down on one of the ads. That person then had to, in their best voice, give a dramatic reading of the ad as if it were a radio commercial. After four or five of these, we were laughing so hard that most of the cockroaches had evacuated the building. It was then that we realized that we had offended the tender sensibilities of the normal clientele beyond their darkest fears. A roomful of shocked and scandalized pensioners stared at us, jaws agape. “Oh, we’re so sorry,” I stammered. “Keep going,” Lon, the bartender shouted from across the room. “This is the most excited I’ve seen them in months. The next round’s on me!”
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