Hanging With The Rich And Famous



One of the great things about being in the ad biz, in addition to the free cars, was the opportunity to get lots of free stuff and meet famous people who would act like you were actually someone who they would ever hang with.  One such event was the annual Time Inc. La Quinta Golf Tournament and Lupercalia. It was held every year at the La Quinta Golf Resort near Palm Springs. There’s no strong evidence to support my theory, but I believe that Time Inc. held the event every year to coincide with the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. The Time Inc. event certainly had its own share of wine-sodden people running around naked. In addition golf-3to the three days of golf, drinks, cigars, drinks, food, golf, drinks, all-night gin rummy games, and drinks, the event provided a special guest speaker who would appear at the Saturday night steak-fry and awards dinner. This is when I first realized that these rich and famous people would become my friends and stop by at my house for dinner.  Although none of them ever returned my calls.

One year, as dozens of sunburned ad people staggered their way, drinks in hand, to the banquet room, we were informed that we could only enter through one door, that door lined with men in dark suits and speaking into their cufflinks. A large metal detector had been installed GFordin the doorway. I correctly guessed that the speaker tonight wasn’t going to be Pee Wee Herman. In fact, it was former President Gerald Ford. We were in a smallish room, about eight tables of ten people set in two rows of four in front of the podium. Stationed on either side of each of the rows of tables was a Secret Service agent. President Ford needed and deserved protection.  Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore had seen to that. It must be an awful feeling knowing that there were crazies out there who wished you harm.

We were all just finishing our desserts, gigantic slabs of key lime pie, when President Ford was introduced. I’m sure that he was an honorable man who ran our country during a very tough time, but when he started talking about his days as a football player at the University of Michigan, and the glories of Wolverine football, I as a Michigan State Spartan, began to tune out. It was if Ford was speaking Portuguese in a very low whisper…I wasn’t interested, and couldn’t hear it anyway.  My mind started to wander. This was a small room. There were only four Secret Service agents. What if some crazy person wanted to hit the former President with a still untouched piece of key lime pie? I pie-in-facestarted doing the math in my head. I was 10, maybe 15 feet away from the podium. The agents were at least 25 feet away from the podium. If a crazy person were to charge the podium, he most likely would crouch, using his shocked friends as human shields. Leaping at the last second, the pie would easily reach its mark.

Wow!!  This is too easy. I cased the room again. Everyone was listening to President Ford. The Secret Service agents were all scanning the room for crazy people. Good luck with that! The four agents had stone stares as they stood positioned too far away to stop a pie. Wait! There were only three agents now. Probably the fourth agent went outside for a smoke. Suddenly, I panicked. What if they had devices that could read your mind? I should have worn my aluminum foil helmet to the steak fry. It was then that a feeling of dread and utter despair overcame me. The fourth agent wasn’t outside.  He was standing behind me!!!!! I slowly turned in my suit-manseat to find the fly of a man’s pair of trousers a foot away from my face. I slowly looked up, to be met by agent #4’s eyes looking down on me. “Do we have a problem here, Sir?” I was immediately thankful that I’d worn a dark pair of pants to the dinner.  “Uh, no. Why?” I asked. He squatted next to me. “Well, you see, everyone in the room is watching the President. We noticed that you were busy looking around the room. Everything OK here?”  I told him, as my throat began to close, “I’m sorry. I never voted for the guy…and I went to Michigan State.” The agent laughed, “I hear you.” He rose and gave a subtle signal to the other three that I wasn’t crazy.

Each year, after the guest speaker was done, we all retired to a large banquet room for an evening of drinks, card playing, drinks, cigars, food, drinks, and drinks. The game of choice for 90% of the group was high stakes gin rummy. Another 7% (those who had their names on ad agency front doors) would play even higher stakes poker. Three of us, Bill Hagelstein, Mike Parker , and I would rather go back to our rooms and flush $200 down the toilet.  We weren’t good at gin rummy, and this saved us a lot of time. We were fans of the most cerebral, nuanced, Euchre-Handsophisticated, and exciting card game ever played: Euchre! The three of us would play a three-handed version of the game, unable to find a fourth. We play ferociously until 2 or 3 in the morning, and then tally up. The biggest loser of the night could be on the hook for maybe $8. And so it was one year when columnist/humorist Art Buchwald was the speaker. 

After his hilarious talk, Art followed us all into the Hall of Sorrows to kill some time. He strolled between tables, watching the giants of the ad industry gamble away their children’s inheritances.  I’m sure he was gathering information for a book or column. He walked by the three Art Buchwaldnaïfs playing a game that was definitely not gin rummy. He pulled his cigar from his mouth and shouted, “You guys are playing Euchre! Can I join you.” “Of course,” we said. Art immediately sat down in the empty fourth chair. After introductions, Art told us that he loved playing the game as a kid growing up in New York, and thought that nobody played it any longer. For the next four hours we were regaled with incredible stories and cigar smoke. Actually, all of us were smoking cigars, gifts from our new best buddy Art. Finally, he said, “Well, my friends, what’s the damage? I should go.” I spent the next minute slowly tallying the score. Art already knew that he and Bill had won.  I finally was able to announce, “OK. Bill and Art, you won $24.” Art was dumbstruck. “$24?” he croaked. I said, “Well, actually that’s split between the two of you, so that’s $12 apiece.” Mike and I were already fishing our losses out of our pockets when Art exploded with feigned shock and dismay. “I just spent over four hours with you f#&*ing mopes and all I have to show for it is 24 f#&*ing dollars? He laughed and shook our hands as he walked over to join the poker table with the guys who had their names on their agency front doors. As he scuttled away, I shouted after him, “Art, call me. I want to know if we’re still on for dinner at my house next week.”


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Power Politics

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Soviet Officials on May Day

When I started my career adventure, I set out under the erroneous assumption that everyone got along, that everyone worked toward mutual goals, a spirit of collegiality drove corporate decisions, and a general feeling of Gemütlichkeit guided every business action. I was disabused of that notion starting in 1974. Sometimes various forms of power were flexed by individuals and groups to serve different agendas.  I present three examples:


In the early 70’s, Chevrolet was bathing itself with sports sponsorships.  College football, NFL football, MLB baseball, and even the Soap Box Derby.  Network TV sponsorships, network radio sponsorships, local TV and radio sponsorships. They even had celebrity endorsement deals with former Olympian Jean-Claude Killy, and an up and coming Buffalo Bills star named O.J. Simpson. Chevy was spending a lot of money on these properties.  The challenge was “Are we maximizing our investment?”  That translates into, “How much can we squeeze out of the buys?” Campbell-Ewald Autry Hotelcame up with the perfect solution.  One that would “maximize the investment” as well as allow everyone to get out of the snow and ice of Detroit in January and play golf in Palm Springs. The “Chevrolet Sports Merchandising Conference” was invented. Chevy was sponsoring the California Angels.  Gene Autry owned the team, as well as Golden West broadcasting, which owned many stations receiving Chevy media dollars. Gene Autry also owned the Gene Autry Hotel in Palm Springs.  “Let’s hold the conference there!” Invitations (summonses?) went out to all of the station reps carrying a Chevy-sponsored team. They were being invited to attend the Sports Merchandising Conference and show what they had been doing to “maximize the buy.” The first conference got ugly.  Some teams and stations had lots of money to “maximize” the buy.  Many times the money was buried in the cost of the media sponsorship. Some stations didn’t. KMOX in St. Louis had the money. For their presentation, they flew out the late, great Jack Buck, the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone would play golf in the morning, with the first presentation of the day scheduled for 1 PM.  Jack and the KMOX guys were waiting for us when we entered the room, having just completed our grilled hamburgers and bloody marys.  Once we had all been introduced to him, we took our seats. Jack began by telling us how honored KMOX and the Cardinals were to be associated with Chevrolet. He talked about being #1 in whatever you do.  He mentioned the Chevy logo on the outfield wall, and the in-game freebie promos. He then cued lou-brocka projector which showed Lou Brock breaking the single season stolen base record. “Lou Brock is a champion,” Jack said as we watched the moment, “he knows how to win.  He knows how to……. WAIT!!! Why am I telling you this, let’s have Lou tell you in his own words. Guys, please welcome Lou Brock.” On that cue, Lou walked into the room from behind the screen. He acknowledged our standing ovation.Brock-a-brella He spoke about being a champion, being #1. He then personally signed replica bases for each of us and gave each of us one of his novelty Brock-a-brellas. The KMOX presentation had now gone 25 minutes over its allotted time. Nobody cared. This was how to “maximize the buy.” The bar had been set. The next presenter was the National Sales Manager for WCCO, Minneapolis. He tentatively approached the podium.  He had the look of a man who knew that he was doomed.  “Hi, everybody. Thanks for sponsoring the Twins. We are really, really thankful. He then reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small Twins’ pocket schedule. “Uhh, we printed the Chevy logo on 300,000 pocket schedules. Uhh, we’re really, really grateful to you folks. Hey, what a beautiful hotel you got for us here. Did I say how really, really grateful we are? Well, thanks.”  He crept away from the podium to polite and mercy applause. He was probably on his way to the garden to commit ritual seppuku to atone for his shame. I turned to one of the Campbell-Ewald heavy-breathers who was here from Detroit.  “That poor devil, he didn’t have a chance.” He responded, “Yeah, but you can bet your ass that next season we’ll get a lot more out of WCCO. That’s why we have these conferences.  Nothing pushes you to perform like the fear of being shamed in front of your peers.” Hmmmmmm.


I was headed back to Las Vegas to call on the local Chevy dealers and get input for my weekly reports. The calls were pretty uneventful, until I got to the dealership owned by Fletcher Jones. Jones was a successful, multi-franchise dealer.  His son now runs a very successful Mercedes dealership in Newport Beach, CA.  I announced myself at the Chevy dealership reception desk. After a few minutes I was led into a massive office, festooned with sales awards, trophies, and autographed pictures of celebrities. I introduced myself.  He asked me why I was visiting him.  I said it was to provide “input to Detroit.” He then leaned across the desk and stared directly at me.  “When is Chevrolet going to get it through their thick heads that Las Vegas is an important market to them and add us to their Top 25 market list so we can be part of their spot TV buys? Ford is killing us.” I had an answer.  Sort of. I knew that Las Vegas was on the cusp.  There were three markets all vying for the cherished final 25th spot. “Well, Mr. Jones, right now it’s close, Las Vegas is right in there..”  “Humph,” he said, as he swung his chair around toward his credenza, picked up his phone and punched in three digits. He was business-man-fear-nailbiting-300x214speed dialing someone. I could hear someone answer.  “Hey, Fletcher Jones here, I want to talk to Bob Lund.” For those who haven’t seen previous posts, Bob was a GM VP and General Manager of Chevrolet!  “Hey Bobby, Fletcher Jones here.  How are you and the wife?  Yeah, still hot out here. When are you going to come visit? Bob, I need to ask you a question.” Jones turned to me and said, “Hey, what’s your name again?”  I told him. “Bob, I have one of your Campbell-Ewald guys by the name of Tom Cavanagh here who says that you guys are adding us to the Spot Market list.  Are you?” What if Lund said no?  Was this how my career was to end…limping out of a dealership in Las Vegas? Maybe I’m not too old for med school. “You are!!! Bob, that’s great news.  I’ll tell my local agency to plan around your buys. Take care, bye!”  Bob Lund had just arbitrarily made the decision that our media scholars were slaving over. Fletcher Jones wheeled around toward me with a smile on his face.  “Son,” he said, “sometimes you have to know when to push ’em.”


This example is pretty straightforward. Align yourself with powerful, or soon to be powerful, people who work at the client. Dick O’Connor, who started at Campbell-Ewald as a trainee in 1956, was the Chevy Account Director. He reported directly to Tom Adams, the chairman. As I had mentioned, being a field guy was the best way to pick up on rumors about change. Information leaks didn’t move from Detroit out, but from the field in. Chevy had just promoted a fellow to the job of General Sales Manager. It was their second highest position. His best agency buddy was Paul John, who worked for Dick O’Connor. The new GSM was traveling to all of the Chevy regions to meet the staffs and key dealers. Paul John accompanied him. My fellow field guys who had attended the meetings told me that Paul was being introduced as the Chevy Account Director!!  What?? We had received no company memo. What was going on? The regional meetings ended just as Campbell-Ewald was calling us to Detroit for Greek civilization, Plinth of kouros statue, bas-relief depicting wrestlers, circa 510 B.C., detail, from Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, Greeceour field meetings. We were gathered in the conference room on the first morning, waiting to hear from our Field Director. Instead, in walked Tom Adams and Dick O’Connor. Tom spoke to us. “You may have heard some wild rumors out there that there is a new Account Director. Well, as long as I have anything to say about the running of this agency, Dick here is our Account Director.” That’s what we wanted to hear!  We all applauded. Two days after I returned from the meetings, I got a copy of an all-company memo.

TO: The Staff

From: Tom Adams

Subject: Dick O’Connor Promotion

I am pleased and proud to announce the fact that, effective immediately, Dick O’Connor is being promoted to the position of Vice Chairman of Campbell-Ewald. Dick has served us for almost 20 years. In his new position, Dick will oversee the day-to-day operations of the agency as well as our business development activities. His skill and business acumen have proven to be great assets for this company. Through his leadership, our relationship with our Chevrolet client has grown ever stronger. Please join me in congratulating Dick on this well-earned promotion. By the way, Paul John takes over as Chevrolet Account Director.

Well, at least this meant that the client was happy.

Next:  More Tales From The Darkside