I Shut Down New York City

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Television commercials require quite a bit of planning to come in on-time and on-budget. Television commercials shot on location require even more planning. But, no matter how well one plans, anything that can go wrong…will.

The 1982 Honda Accord was restyled and featured some new technology. Accords were now being built in the U.S. Auto writers were calling it an engineering wonder. The decision was made to produce a TV commercial having Burgess Meredith discuss the Accord’s ad_honda_accord_hatchback_blue_1982engineering mastery while the vehicle was filmed cruising past notable U.S. engineering wonders: The Hoover Dam, The St. Louis Arch, The Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

The shoot would require precise planning as the film crew and the vehicle would move the shoot across the U.S. Time was money even back then. A small group of agency people would accompany the flying circus. We would shoot one location for a day. We’d then wrap the location and put the vehicle on a car prep truck to meet us at the next destination. The agency was represented by the writers and art directors who conceived the spot, an agency producer who had worked up the budget and schedule with production company, and an agency technical specialist who made sure that the vehicle was properly prepped for each shot. The producer and production company were also responsible for getting all the necessary permits from the local governments for shooting and traffic control. I went along as the “designated suit.”  This was an account person who would have the opportunity to fall on his career sword if anything went wrong.

We left Los Angeles and headed to Henderson, Nevada, full of optimism and high spirits. The Accord looked smashing as it drove across the top of the Hoover Dam. The footage was “in the can,” and after a brief cultural visit to Las Vegas, we set out for St. Louis.

White, puffy clouds greeted us in St. Louis. The helicopter camera caught great views of the car passing the St. Louis Arch. We wrapped and took off for New York City.

For those who aren’t familiar with the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, it was named after Giovanni da Verrazzano who in 1524 became the first European to enter New York Harbor USS_Leyte_Gulf_(CG_55)_under_the_Verrazano_Narrows_Bridgeand the Hudson River. He discovered a narrow passage that carried him from the Atlantic Ocean into the harbor. And, no, that’s not a typo in his name. For some strange reason, when they named the narrows after him, map makers decided to leave out the extra “z” in his name. The bridge connects Staten Island to Brooklyn and the rest of Long Island.

We landed at JFK and settled into our hotel in Manhattan, not noticing the gathering storm clouds. Being the last location, we decided to find out whether they sold steaks and Irish whiskey at The Palm on 2nd Avenue.  They do!

Our call was for 6:00 AM on the Staten Island side of the bridge. The heavens had opened and were pouring sheets of rain and showers of lightning down upon us. Visibility was very poor. We were all there, setting up all the equipment. Well, almost all of us were there. The car wasn’t!  A quick call let us know that the car was stuck in Pennsylvania. A quick look let us know the the Port Authority Police were setting up roadblocks to stop traffic on the bridge’s upper level. The truck drivers whose trucks were now backed up for a mile were becoming a bit choleric. One of the production assistants told us that it would be at least another hour before the Accord arrived. The backup at the entrance to the bridge horrible-traffic-jam-picturesgrew. Truck drivers and commuters were getting angry. A police supervisor walked toward us and asked, “Who’s in charge here?” I suddenly felt sixteen fingers pointing at me. The police captain wanted to know why we weren’t filming anything. I explained that the car was delayed. A great idea came into my head.  “Why don’t we let these folks use the bridge until the car arrives?” The captain reached inside his trench coat and pulled out a very official looking document. He perused it for about 15 seconds and said, “Sorry, pal, no can do. It says right here that we have to close the upper level off from 7:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Youse guys still got five hours of closure.” I protested, but the policeman said, “Orders are orders,” as he walked away. What the public servant didn’t catch was that the permit allowed the bridge’s upper level be INTERMITTENTLY closed between those hours. Our producer ran into the Port Authority Maintenance building, which sat next to us, to make frantic calls to some nameless bureaucrat who was in charge of traffic pandemonium permits and have him call the police captain.

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 9.26.04 AMNew York City was effectively shut down. Well at least Brooklyn and Queens. Unfortunately, Chris Christie was only 20 years old at this time. It would have been easier to blame this “Bridgegate” mess on him.

To deflect blame, I told the production assistants to start the rumor that the bridge was closed because a despondent Boston Red Sox fan was threatening to jump off the bridge. The boiling anger was lowered to a simmer.

Finally! The police captain was summoned to the phone inside the maintenance building and was told to open the bridge until the car got there.  He told his men to remove the barricades.  It was just then that the car prep truck carrying the Accord arrived.

We raced to unload it as traffic slowly began to move across the bridge again. The production company let us know that the helicopter with the cameraman was on its way. When it was ten minutes out, we closed the bridge again, further enraging the drivers who had been miles out in the back-up. The shot was to show the Accord driving across the bridge toward Brooklyn. The helicopter flew alongside the car and then pulled back when it reached the bridge’s midpoint to show the entire bridge and the Manhattan skyline in the background. Close the bridge. Shoot the car.  Open the bridge. Close the bridge. Shoot the car. Open the bridge. Repeat as necessary.

We were close to wrapping when something happened. Noon. It was time to feed our crew. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union, to which all of our crew belonged, required that we feed them after specified periods of time. They had been working in the cold and rain for six hours. The catering people had been setting up tables and chairs for the lunch. On-location catered meals rival those of the finest restaurants. We were trying to squeeze in one more shot before breaking for lunch. Everyone was starving. Someone shouted, “Oh no!” I turned around to see hordes of Port Authority mobmaintenance workers pouring out of their building and racing toward the food. For some reason they figured that the food was for them. We shouted for an assistant to go tell them to back off. The assistant quickly returned, being told by the workers exactly what he should do to himself. This situation was getting worse. Our guys were still working. The maintenance guys were feeding.  Think school of piranha and a cow. I then thought of the only thing we could do. I would have to speak “unionese” with them.  It would be the only thing they would understand.

I trotted up the hill. I needed to know what union they were in so I could speak their dialect. Then I realized that we probably had a mix of IBEW, Teamsters, SEIU, and IABSORIW (steel workers) gorging themselves. I needed to use the Esperanto version of “unionese.” This dialect was universally understood. “Hey everyone, this is IATSE food. You wouldn’t want them to file a grievance with the AFL- CIO would you?” They all looked at me, Coquille St. Jacques dripping from their lips. They immediately realized that they were all committing a cardinal sin: You don’t eat another union’s food! They backed away from the table like roaches from Raid. “Thanks guys, you can have anything that’s left.” They were all smiles as they ambled back to their pens.

We finished the shoot. Wrapped everything up. Left the food in foil chafing dishes and raced across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I looked out the rear window of our car and saw every piece of the food being devoured.Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 7.42.51 PM



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Life Imitates Art!

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Advertising is stressful, competitive, daunting, draining, exciting, and stimulating. It also tests the limits of your endurance, and is always just a hair’s breadth away from erupting into violence. That’s why Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig had a co-ed softball team. We wanted to carry these life shortening characteristics into our evenings and weekends. We took it seriously.  This was not your fluffy “oops, let’s have a do-over” type of softball.  This was “take-no-prisoners” softball. We were L.A. advertising’s softball equivalent to Burt Reynolds’ convict team in The Longest Yard. Our 3rd baseman had been a star on the UCLA women’s softball team. Her throws to 1st base were measured in nano-seconds. Our left fielder carried, along with his glove, a six-pack of Pabst into left field with him every inning. Our 2nd baseman was able to schedule his psychotherapy sessions around our games andDrinking Team practices. And, like Pavlov’s dogs getting their treats for positive behaviors, we would retire to Sloan’s on Melrose to fuel our libidos. Alas, like the Tail O’the Cock, Sloan’s is long gone; given over to those who cater to glitterati and illiterati. 

The FCB team was a juggernaut of raging estrogen and testosterone. We would “juice” with our own proprietary concoction, testrogen,before each game. It was now 1980.  We were in the playoffs.  Our next opponent was William Esty, the agency for Datsun. We knew that no quarter would be given or sought. Nerves were on edge. We were all wound tighter than $5 Sears ukeleles. The game was close. The crowd was frenzied. then, it happened……. The Esty batter hit a slow grounder to 3rd base. Our star 3rd baseman charged it, and with one motion, picked it up with her hand and fired it to 1st base. Unfortunately, Patty Dryer, our crack 1st baseman, had her foot on the foul territory side of the bag, rather than on the 2nd base side. Because of this, her right leg 1st Baseand hip were directly over the base. The ball and the runner, who had his head down running as fast as he could to beat the throw, reached Patty at the same time. Because half of her body was across the base, the runner hit her like an Amtrak train hitting a small goat. She was out cold before she hit the ground.  The ball caromed off into right field.

Time was immediately called. Patty was carried off of the field and put underneath a shade tree. Her husband, a beefy ex-marine who ran his own collection agency, charged out of the stands and went after the Esty runner. It took five of us to drag Patty’s husband to the ground and explain that it was an accident.  The Esty runner was one of the nicest guys in LA advertising, and he didn’t mean it.  The collision was Patty’s fault. Cooler heads prevailed. For a while.

We were in the second to last inning, and had the game well in hand, when it became payback time.  Just like in Major League Baseball, “you hurt one of ours, we’ll hurt one of yours,” came into play. Except there was only one person on our team who felt this way…our left fielder who had already consumed six innings of Pabst six packs. He had advanced to 3rd base, when one of our folks hit a fly ball to left.  The Esty fielder caught it for the second out. Our guy on third base began to slowly walk down the line toward home plate, yelling at the left fielder to throw the ball to the catcher to tag him out. Oh no! He was going to take out the catcher! We all yelled at him to go back to third. The poor catcher, Home Platewho was only playing that position because he’d hurt his leg and couldn’t run, knew what was coming. He slowly moved to the side of home plate. The left fielder took the bait, threw the ball to the catcher, and our guy went into overdrive, going out of the base path to take out the catcher, who by now was fleeing toward the dugout. The collision set off car alarms for three square miles.

And just like the true sportsmen and sportswomen we all were, the benches emptied. Lots of pushing, shoving, groping, and cursing. We felt bad, because the Esty folks really hadn’t done anything wrong. But, true to our warrior code, BB fightwe had to watch each other’s backs. After a few minutes of jostling and bellowing, enough to satisfy the honor code, we all retired to our respective benches…except for our left fielder. He had been kicked out of the game.  This didn’t bother him too much, as he was able to make a quick beer run. We won the game and went on to win the West Coast Championship. After the game, we retired to Sloan’s to lie to each other about how great our advertising was. Patty was there, with her red badge of courage bandage over her eye. The Esty guy bought her drinks all night.

A few weeks later, the agency folks were in Las Vegas for the annual Mazda dealer show. This was going to be the first time the Mazda dealers would be seeing the new Mazda RX-7, the car that was to save the franchise. We were going to use a new, at that time, technology whereby the car would be revealed traveling through a tunnel of laser light out over the audience. This was going to be huge, the most expensive new model reveal in Mazda history. The night before the show saw us all trying to get everything ready. Top executives from Toyo Kogyo in Japan would be in attendance. It was now 1:00 AM and we noticed that the electricians rigging the lasers had stopped working and were sitting around smoking. I asked them why they had stopped working.  They gave me another life lesson.  “See that pipe up near the ceiling? We have to pass a cable over it.”   “So?” I asked. “Well, you see, we’re electricians, not plumbers.  That pipe carries water for the sprinkler system.  We can’t touch it. We’ve put out a call for a plumber.” Two agonizing hours later, a plumber walked in.  He was getting triple time as this was an “emergency” call. The plumber and an electrician rode a scissor-lift to the ceiling. The electrician handed the cable to the plumber, the plumber laid it over the pipe, and Violá, everything was back on schedule. The reveal went off without a hitch, and everyone was very happy. Including the plumber.

Laser Tunnel

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The Clouds Part

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As a small boy growing up on the Detroit’s Westside, meaning West of Woodward, I knew nothing of the world of leveraged buy-outs, stock swaps, and conglomerates. My father had worked as the credit manager for Detroit Steel Products, makers of the Fenestra line of industrial windows and casements. Their office Screen Shot 2013-10-07 at 1.27.51 PMwas at 2250 East Grand Boulevard.  One day I went to work with my father.  We passed a behemoth of a building on West Grand Boulevard. I was awe-struck by its size. “Tom,” he said, “that’s the General Motors Building.  They’re the biggest company in the world.” While studying advertising at Michigan State, I knew that ad agencies were founded by people with a creative and business vision. The big ones were privately held, and had the founders’ names on the door. If you worked hard, someday you might become a partner and share in the profits. Imagine my surprise when we all got the memo that Campbell-Ewald had been purchased by something called the Interpublic Group. The memo told us all that “nothing would change except our ability to access the resources of our sister companies.” Also, we were all now urged to buy stock in Interpublic.

There was, however, one very visible change. We could all tell who had just become millionaires by the Cheshire cat grins on their faces. One EVP told me, “My stock split 4 to 1!” He felt compelled to tell me how many shares of Campbell-Ewald stock he was converting, knowing full wellburns1 (1) that I’d do the math in my head. Oh well, maybe now he could afford to buy better suits and get his teeth fixed. Our Chevrolet client was unfazed. Interpublic already owned McCann-Erickson, the Buick and GMC agency. The germ of a question was planted in my head. Privately held agencies lived to work for their clients, publicly held agencies lived to work for their stockholders. Would the creative product suffer? Yes, make the client successful, just do it with fewer people and less overhead. I’m all for fiscal responsibility, but there are times when responsibility takes a back seat to common sense. We all knew what our T&E budgets were. Near the end of the year we were told how much under or over budget we were. Being good financial stewards, most of us were under budget. The word got out to the Account Men that the “use it or lose it” rule was being applied by the new bean counters. If an Account Man didn’t use all of his T&E, then, obviously, his allocation was too high and needed to be cut for the next year. Our Chevy clients loved this rule.  It meant that lunches and dinners would rain down on them during the last eight weeks of the year.

Every so often, a creative team hits a dry spell. It happens. The only problem comes when the dry spell comes during a spell of slow sales and client angst. Thus it was in the late Summer of 1977. The Evil Imports were gaining market share on the West Coast. Sadly, our direction was “We’ll know it when we see it.” In desperation, I prepared another Creative Planning Request (CPR) outlining the need for a “hard-hitting” Chevette magazine ad that had a ‘sense of urgency” to it. We were driving people happy…just not enough of them. The creative team and I had a heart to heart. We knew that the best plan was to improve the products. We, however, weren’t in control of that. So we pressed on. A week later, I was summoned to their office for the grand unveiling of the ad.

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The art director and the writer both enjoyed seeing me gasp for breath as I clutched my chest.  “I can’t present this!” I said. ” The client will go nuts.” After they knew that my paroxysm wasn’t going to be fatal, they pulled out another ad for me to present. We all hoped that this one would drive more people happy…and quickly. 

Summer had evolved into Fall of 1997. It was October 20. On the previous day, the New York Giants had beaten the Lions 26-20 in overtime, with a 68 yard pass from Danny Kannel to Chris Calloway.  Oh well, what else was new. I was staring out of my office window which now had a view of West Grand Boulevard…similar to the “ocean view” touted in Southern California real estate ads. “See that smudge of blue haze around that building and through those trees? That’s the ocean!” My phone rang.  My secretary said that a Joan Baeder was on the phone. Realizing that it wasn’t an angry client, I took the call.  “Hello, Tom, she began, “my name is Joan Baeder and I work for Judy Wald-West.  Have you heard of us?” I lied and said yes. “Do you have a few minutes to talk?” she asked. This sounded like it could be one of those conversations where  you needed the door closed.  I got up and closed it. “Tom, we’ve been hired by an advertising agency in LA that handles a Japanese car account, I got your name from a friend (it’s always a “friend”) and was wondering if I could talk to you about the position?” The clouds were beginning to open. “Uh, sure,” I said. Foote, Cone & Belding/Honig was looking for an account supervisor to work on the Mazda account.  We both decided it would be best to continue this conversation later after I got home. I would also be able to rewrite my resume to more closely match what they were seeking. Editorial note: Hey, you’ve all done it. FCB and Mazda had become famous for the rotary engines that went “hummmmmm” while piston engines went “boing, boing, boing.” Here’s an RX-3 spot that was definitely not politically or NHTSA correct.

 Our conversation that evening went very well.  It ended with the always scary, “We’ll get back to you.”

Well, they did. Joan told me that they wanted to meet me. Fortunately, I had some vacation left and took two days off to head to LA. FCB was then located on 6th Street, behind Lafayette Park in an area euphemistically “Lower Mid-Wilshire.” For those of you who know a little about LA geography, the office was a few blocks away from MacArthur Park.  They put me up at the stately Sheraton Town House Hotel, next to Lafayette Park. I introduced myself in the FCB lobby and was called back to meet with Denny Remsing. Denny was the Management Supervisor on the account.  The job I sought reported to him. He was an ex- Detroiter,  and one of the nicest people in the ad business. We talked about college, he went to Western Michigan, and some of the mutual friends we had in Detroit. We went to meet with Paul Repetto, the EVP and General Manager of the agency. I met with Jack Foster, the Creative Director. He had taken the day off to paint his house, but came in to see me. Then I was taken to see Lou Scott, the President of FCB/H. The day passed very quickly, and seemed to go well. Everyone was very friendly, and the offices were bright and cheery. But, with my luck,, I knew that Mazda would fire FCB any second, and crush my dream.

The call came after dinner about three long weeks later.  I got the job!! They wanted me out there right away. Interpublic had this rule on cashing out your profit-sharing account. When you resigned, the date was rolled back to either July1, if you resigned in the last half of the year, or January 1, if you resigned before July 1. If I was going to afford a house in LA, I couldn’t afford to pass up almost six months of profit-sharing. In any case, we were going into the Thanksgiving and Christmas vacation periods.  There were only three weeks of actual work left. FCB agreed to have me start on 1/5/78.  I would resign on the morning of 1/3/78, and race for my life for the door. I was going back to LA!!!!!!!!


Next: Becoming A Non-Person