Catastrophes That Weren’t My Fault

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Before I draw the curtain on my idyllic days in Detroit, I wanted to set the record straight.  There were some catastrophes that occurred that weren’t my fault. I’m not trying to deflect blame, but rather point out the fact that I was nowhere near the scene of the crime. Multi-billion dollar corporations always make mistakes, but because of their size, the mistakes tend to be huge. They continue, however, to make billions of dollars. Here are a few examples of “too big to fail.”

Asleep At The Switch

GM had a division called GM Photographic. GM ad agencies were instructed to give all of their photostat work to this group. Additionally, they were automatically given the printing jobs for all Chevrolet car brochures, much to the dismay of local Detroit-area printers. And so it was when CampbellReader's Digest-Ewald and Chevy decided to do a pre-printed full-line insert to appear in Reader’s Digest. The “Digest” had a huge circulation, larger than many major national magazines combined. And, even though the page size was very small, the magazine was able to sell itself as an efficient way to reach millions of readers. With this in mind, the agency created a 12-page insert to be bound into an upcoming issue of the magazine. Because of the size of the run, 9 million copies, GM Photographic was automatically award the printing job.  They were to print, collate, and bind 9 million inserts and ship them in time to appear in the next available issue of Reader’s Digest. The printing plates were produced and delivered to the GM Photographic presses. Soon, 9 million Americans would see”What’s New Today In A Chevrolet.”

The press proof check went well. The insert looked wonderful.  The order was given to throw the switch. The green “On” button was pressed, and the gigantic web litho machines came to life. On to the next project. Several days later, it takes a long time to print 9 million of anything, the agency received a call from the shipper scheduled to send dozens of shipping pallets to Reader’s Digest. “Uh,” the shipper said, “you might want to come and take a look at your insert.”  The agency’s head of print production sped over. What he saw made his blood run cold.  The shipper handed him a finished insert. The color was out of register. During four-color printing, the different color plates have to line up perfectly.  If not, the text and photos look like something from a 3-D comic book. OurRegistration_Misalignment production manager called the Account Man (not me) and the client. When they arrived, they opened the rest of the bundle on the pallet. All of them were out of register! The GM Photographic rep was called over. He tried to explain that this was very definitely an isolated thing and challenged the Chevy client to randomly pick any bundle on the dozens of pallets to see that they had been printed correctly. The client did. He picked hundreds of bundles, several from each pallet. They were all wrong! I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure there was a lot of screaming and shouting, as well as some sobbing. On a press run this large, someone is supposed to monitor the printing every so often to make sure that something like this doesn’t happen. Nobody did.  In fact, we later found out that the man running the press had…wait for it…wait for it…fallen asleep at the switch.  GM Photographic was forced to reprint all 9 million at their expense. I think the executions took place in the basement of the GM Building.

Those Pesky Typos

When you have a huge ad budget, you can buy lots of media, requiring lots of advertising. In 1976, Chevy’s ad budget was in excess of $100 million, the largest single ad account in the country. I came up with, what I thought, was a brilliant idea. The U.S. population that year was 218 million. Approximately 20 million were, what could we could call, new car purchase intenders. Why not take the $100 million ad budget and give it to a research company to visit each of these people for ten minutes and tell them how great Chevy was? If only one in ten did, that meant that 2 million people would buy a Chevy. I took the idea to Doug Allison, the head of Campbell-Ewald’s Research Department. He was so disheartened by the idiocy of my idea that he and Herb Fisher, the head of our Multi-Products Group, left the agency and started a little research company called Allison-Fisher. Oh well, maybe it wasn’t a good time to stop advertising, what with everyone wrapping themselves in American glory for the Bi-SpiritCentennial. Chevy was no exception. For ’76, Chevy had a theme “The Spirit of America.” They came out with special Spirit of America models; white cars with red and blue pinstripes. We used our huge ad budget to wrap ourselves in red, white, and blue. With that much media, a lot of ads had to be prepared. Sometimes they were put together too quickly. If you are going to represent the Spirit of America, it would behoove one to check for typos. A lot of people may see your mistake.

Building Roulette

Clients. naturally, like to have their ad agency close to them. They can summon a quivering Account Man at a moment’s notice, and they don’t have to travel very far to visit the agency. Thus it was for Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald.  Chevy was on the 2nd floor of the GM Building, Campbell-Ewald on the 4th. The agency was never more than five minutes away. In the early 1970’s, the agency was informed that Chevrolet was moving to the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. The agency was informed that they would be expected to relocate also. At that time, the largest office facilities in the area were a large Little Caesar’s, a Towne Club pop retail store (soda for non-Midwesterners), and Bob Thibodeau Ford. The decision was made to buy property on Van Dyke in Warren, across from CeCo Warrenthe GM Tech Center. Plans were drawn up. Ground was broken. 30400 Van Dyke was going to be our new home. Until Chevy changed General Managers. Tom Adams visited the new Chevy GM, Jim McDonald, to update him on our building’s progress. “Why are you putting up a building in Warren?” Jim asked. Tom said, “So we can be across the street from you when you move out there.” Jim said, “We’re not leaving Detroit, and neither are you.” Tom excused himself.  We scrambled to find tenants. Fortunately, the area was growing, so we were able to lease a lot of the space. Campbell-Ewald carried this real estate albatross around it’s neck until there was a regime change at Chevy. Campbell-Ewald was told that Chevy was moving out to the GM Tech Center, and that the agency as expected to follow them. Campbell-CeCo DetroitEwald said, “No problem! We might have a building we can use.” Of course, once GM announced that they were moving their corporate offices downtown to the RenCen on the Detroit River waterfront, Campbell-Ewald knew that they were going to have to pull up stakes and “follow the money.” They took space in a warehouse complex that was once part of the massive J. L. Hudson store, next to, ironically, Ford Field. I’m glad they’ve come home.

Next:  These Guys Are A Lot Different From GM!

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!!!!!!!!

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Next: Becoming A Non-Person

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

They Take My Free Car!!!

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Corvette 3 copy

The bomb had been dropped. I was being pulled back to Detroit. It was certainly the right thing to do as a career move. I was now “mainstream.” Close to the beating heart of GM. But, as a twenty-eight year old advertising naif, it was still hard to give up:

  • Pretty much being your own boss
  • Having a very generous expense account
  • Being the “go to” person for all of the local media reps
  • Travelling to exotic locations in your region
  • Working with a large number of Chevy clients
  • Not having to pay to go to Dodgers, Angels, or Rams games
  • Having a free car

When I returned from the Field Meeting, Bob Albright and I started “Tom’s Farewell Tour.”  We visited the San Diego and LA Zone offices as well as the key dealers throughout the region. Most of the people we met asked, “Are you crazy?  Why are you leaving Southern California to go back to Detroit and work in the GM Building?” They all laughed when I said, “I had no choice.”  They thought I was kidding.  I wasn’t.  I felt like the condemned KGB prisoner.  Not only is he going to take one in the back of the head, his family is forced to buy the bullets. The packers packed, the movers moved, we were on our way back to Detroit.  As our neighbors tearfully waved goodbye, I announced, “I shall return.” We’d decided Mapthat we’d drive back, figuring that we didn’t want to sit waiting for our furniture to arrive at our new house in Detroit. The new 55 MPH speed limit had been enacted for travel on U.S. Interstates. Being a law-abiding citizen, I told my new boss that I couldn’t drive over 55 MPH. So driving for eight hours would bring us 400+ miles a day closer to the GM Building. It’s 2,281.4 miles from LA to Detroit. The math dictated that I take 5.5 days to make the drive. The irony was not lost on me, I was going to be able to see the U.S.A. in my Chevrolet! I had made reservations for lodging along our way. We would drive to Las Vegas, then a short jump to St. George, Utah,  then to Grand Junction, Colorado, then Kansas City,  MO., on to Indianapolis, then into Detroit. Some stops were more than a day’s drive, but we were also sightseeing. I had everything planned down to the nth degree.  Except for one, teeny, tiny problem.  I would be driving across the country in La Bestia, my Chevy Monza with the 5.7 liter V-8 monster engine that was cooled by a tiny Vega-sized radiator. We left LA on a Monday morning, headed for Las Vegas. By the time we got Victorville, in the Mojave Desert, I noticed that the temperature gauge was going up. Determined to press on regardless through the blistering nothingness of the Mojave, I was only marginally concerned when the needle was firmly planted in the red zone of the temperature gauge. I was moved to somewhat concerned status when I saw steam coming out from under the hood. I arrived at critically concerned when the car stalled and OverheatSignwe coasted on to the shoulder of I-15. When it was safe, I opened the radiator cap and saw a bone-dry radiator. It was 109 in the desert that day, and the temperature in the passenger seat was rising even past that. After thirty minutes or so, a California Highway Patrol car pulled up behind us. After explaining my problem, he looked under the hood and laughed. “Buddy, when you dropped this monster engine into this car, you forgot to put in a radiator that can cool it. I’m surprised you got this far. Where are you headed?” When I told him, he slowly shook his head. He informed me that my car wouldn’t make it through the heat.  I said that I had to be in Detroit in five and a Red-Rock-Canyon-Las-Vegashalf days to become part of the Chevy Account Team. Surprisingly, he was unimpressed. We worked out a plan. He would fill my radiator with water.  I was to top the radiator off every sixty miles. I was only to drive at night to avoid the blistering heat of the day.  I was to drive with the a/c off! Already, my passenger was making plans to take a bus back to LA. We limped into Las Vegas at 10:45 PM. The heat wave in the Western U.S. was expected to last for another four days.

We decided to leave Las Vegas for St. George at 4:00 AM. The temperature had plummeted to 80 degrees.  Cool enough to drive without the a/c. There’s not much to see in the Nevada desert, there’s even less at night. We arrived in St. George in time for breakfast. Not quite ready to go to bed at 9 in the morning, we visited the Brigham Young Winter Home  and the Daughters of Utah Pioneer Museum.  Neither place appreciated my request for a cold beer.

We continued our nocturnal journey through Utah and Colorado.  Sleeping by day, enjoying the beautiful countryside by night. The only hitch came at the Loveland Pass.  This is where I-70 crosses the Continental Divide.  Gerald Ford had decided that he liked to vacation in Vail, about 38 miles west of the pass. In anticipation of the added traffic, I-70 was being widened on a stretch near the Eisenhower Tunnel, which cut through the pass. The elevation is about 12,000 feet. You can fool a tiny radiator into thinking it’s cool outside, but you can’t convince it that there’s air when there is none.  Traffic on I-70 was squeezed into one lane, and backed up for miles. Excavation equipment roared by our open windows. Steam began to wisp out from under the hood. A time and space warp enveloped the interior of my stalwart Chevy Monza. Hallucinations, screaming, flashes of lightning, curses shrieked in anger, talons ripping at flesh, and cries of banshees. We did, however, finally make it to Denver.

It was all downhill from Denver. In a good way, as we were on the downside of the Rockies. Kansas City and Indianapolis flew by.  We were now driving in daylight as we had the good fortune of being able to follow severe thunderstorms all the way to Michigan. We rolled into a Ramada Inn in Southfield, MI. This was just Arrowa few miles from the house we’d purchased in the Beverly Hills area of Royal Oak. I needed some remembrance of California.Our furniture arrived two days later.  We were fortunate.  Only about 20% of our stuff was destroyed. Our schnauzer particularly loved the house as he could easily squeeze under the under the redwood fence in the back yard and run away, I was able to quickly meet a lot of my neighbors by picking up schnauzer dootie in their yards. Monday morning arrived.  I showered, shaved, and put on my best grey flannel suit. I grabbed my empty briefcase and drove down my street to Woodward Avenue…the femoral artery of Detroit. Turn right on Woodward. Turn right on Grand Blvd. Turn right into parking lot behind Fisher Bldg. Go into Fisher Bldg. Take the underground concourse to the GM Bldg. Go to the 4th Floor. I was now in the belly of the beast.

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Next:  I Am Shown To My New Office

“Get out! Get out, now!”

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Torch DriveHaving survived the ” Attack of Smokey the Bear,” I was more than happy to return to normalcy.  My 10-week media tour of duty was ending when the Media Director asked if I’d like to stay in media.  “Everyone up here likes you, and we’d like to bring you out of the training program and on the staff here.”  I told him that I was honored, but my dream had always been to be in account management. In hindsight, maybe I should have taken him up on the offer. In any case, account management was where they gave you the free cars.

My next assignment was something called broadcast administration. I had no idea what that was.  My friend Ed Pietila had just finished his term there.  He told me that the department head sat him down and told him everything there was to know in a three-hour chat.  There had to be more to it than that!  On my first morning in my new assignment I was called into the manager’s office.  “Have a seat,” he said, as he closed the office door. “Tom, I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years. I still have trouble staying on top of it.  I’m going to talk to you for three hours and tell you everything that you’ll EVER need to know about this.”  He did, and it was. “Bring in a magazine or book tomorrow, you’ll need something to do.”

Nuts!  This was going to be boring.  On the third day of doing nothing, I got a call to come down to the CEO’s office!!!  Tom Adams was an imposing, charismatic guy. Football star, War hero, hair slicked back.  I had only met him on my first day when, as a member of The Little Princes, we were presented to him.  Why did he want to see me?  On the way to his office I ran into Ed, who had been similarly summoned. What was up?

“Gentlemen,” Tom began, “I am going to ask you both to help Campbell-Ewald.  I can think of nobody better to represent the future of our agency than you two.” Hmmmm.  “For the next two weeks you will both be on loan to the Torch Drive, helping them provide the needy with a better tomorrow.  We’ve already talked to your managers and told them not to expect you in for two weeks.  The Torch Drive will use you in their business-to-business fund-raising efforts. You’ll be calling on some of the most important corporations on the city.”  With that, he got up, shook our hands and gave each of us little Torch Drive lapel pins.  “There is an organizing meeting tomorrow at 10:00 AM at the Sheraton-Cadillac.  Good luck, and thank you.” Fired with company pride, we promised to not let him down.

Ed and I were both 20 minutes late for the meeting.  When we got into the room, we saw gaggles of suits going over information packets and high-fiving each other.  The moderator approached us.  “Are you the Campbell-Ewald gentlemen?”  We put on our best obsequious masks.  “Yes, we are.  We are soooo sorry for being late.” “No problem,” he said, “everything you need to know is in the packets, including the names of the businesses, the owner, and how much they contributed in the past. Your team goal is also in there.  Yours was the last packet chosen.”  We soon found out why.

The United Foundation’s Torch Drive was started in Detroit in 1949.  It grew into the United Way.  “Give once for all,” was their motto.  Ed and I were ready to give it our all.  We knew that our collection area was bounded by E. Warren on the north, Mack Ave. on the south, John R on the west, and Beaubien on the east.  What we didn’t know was that most of it had been leveled almost a year earlier to make way for the new Wayne State University Medical Complex.  We hopped into my brand new 1972 Camaro RS ($2225!) and went to check it out.  I had come to the conclusion that it might be a few months before I started getting free cars, and I couldn’t keep showing up for work in The Flying Coffin.  So I bought one.

We were shocked and dismayed as we drove into the neighborhood.  Over 90% of it was gone or boarded up, waiting for demolition!  How were we going to collect any Storesmoney for the needy? We couldn’t let Tom Adams and Campbell-Ewald down.  We devised a plan.  We couldn’t admit failure.  Perhaps this was a test of our ingenuity. On the first day we’d call on the four or five buildings still standing. For the next thirteen days we would each contribute $5 in the name of a non-existent business.  This was cheaper than paying for parking at the GM building.  We couldn’t show up for work.  That would be admitting failure.  What would we do with our days?

We were definitely ingenious, and 25 years old. We spent our days discussing Nietzsche and Kierkegaard at local fine dining establishments such as Edjo’s, The Tender Trap, the 52nd Street Show Bar, La Chambre, The Landing Strip Lounge (near the airport), Cricket’s, and BT’s.  We heard that the Canadian National Ballet was appearing in Windsor. We went over and saw them.  Each day we put $10 into our collection envelope. Toward the end of the second week, we decided to make a run through the area again.  We found two businesses that had not been as yet abandoned.  One was a small tailor shop run by an elderly Jewish man.  “I’ve been here for over 40 years.  They start demolition next week,  I’m too old to start over.”  He opened the cash register and handed me a crisp $20 bill.  “I hope this helps,” he said.  Wow!

The last building was about four hundred yards away.  As I drove up, I saw the sign: Chez Antwan’s.  It was a bar!  We could collect from the owner, and any patrons who might be there.  I parked my Camaro by the front door, and Ed and I strode in.  Big mistake!!!  Not only were we the only white guys in there, I realized that in our cheesy suits we looked like narcs.  The “fight or flee” portion of my brainstem kicked in.  In a millisecond I realized that if I turned and ran, we’d be confirming everyone’s worst suspicions about us.  And we’d never make it to the car.  I walked up to the bartender, and in a loud voice, said, “Good afternoon my good man.  My friend and I work for the United Foundation and today we’re in the neighborhood seeing if any of the local businessmen would like to make a contribution for the needy.”  My brain told me to shut up.  Even though it was very smoky in the bar, I could see that every face was looking at us.  “Well, if not, we’ll just be on our way.” The bartender motioned me closer.  “You two are too dumb to be narcs.  I believe your United Foundation story.  I’m not going to give you any money, but I will give you some advice.  Get out! Get out now!”  Ed and I did a sideways crab shuffle toward the door, and got into my car.  We rode back in silence.  At least we hadn’t let the agency down. We had collected $120 for the Torch Drive during these tough economic times.  So this was advertising.

Next:  They Want Us To Do What?  

 

Into The Belly Of The Beast

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Golddiggers

June 26, 1971, started as any other day except for one thing.  I was now an Ad Guy!!  I had relocated from Lansing to my grandmother’s house in Detroit several days earlier to be close to work.  I was to report to Personnel at 9:oo AM.  As I entered the lobby of the GM Building and made my way to the elevators, I noticed that I was now part of a sea of suits that was about to infest every corner of the building, making heavy decisions, determining the course of the U.S. economy, and just generally being brilliant.  After dropping my paperwork off, I was escorted to the main conference room.  Soon, the other four chosen ones came in.  My MSU college buddy, Ed Pietila, had made the cut. Tom Turner and Greg Stein, Vietnam vets, and Chuck Seibert, who had been a caddy at Oakland Hills C. C..

We had all been assigned to different departments to begin our instruction into the art, craft, science, and lifestyle choice that was advertising.  I grabbed my briefcase, that had nothing in it, and was taken to the Media Department.  The Media Department was not in the GM Building.  It was behind it on the 11th floor of the Argonaut Building.  To get there, you had to take a GM Bldg elevator to the 10th floor where a hallway led you to a skyway concourse that took you directly into the Media Department.  To this day I haven’t been able to figure out how one gained a floor by crossing Milwaukee Avenue a hundred feet in the air.

Bill Kennedy, VP – Media Director, greeted me and took me around to meet the group.  I’m sure that they had all been told to be nice to the “bag smasher” they were getting stuck with.  I was to be assigned to the Broadcast Group.  They were the ones who planned and bought the time for TV and radio commercials.  I instantly learned about “glom.”  Glom was the free tchotchkes you got from networks, stations, and reps.  I was immediately given a Mutual Broadcasting coffee mug, a CBS Spot Radio Sales notepad, and an NBC Sports ballpoint pen.  I was ready to start making a difference.

I was turned over to Mary George. Mary was the head of the Spot Buying Unit.  A very petite lady, she gave meaning to the adage “Hell hath no fury like a spot buyer scorned.”  On many occasions, I would hear Mary’s voice rise when a rep would tell her that he couldn’t deliver the ratings he had promised.  The walls would shake as she told the rep was about to happen to his career.  It was the only time in my career that I would see men run out of an office.  I crunched rating numbers for her.  One day I was standing behind her at her desk, going over a buy.  I noticed that she had a milk crate under her desk, upon which she had placed her feet.  I asked about it. Mary smiled.  “Tom, I’m so short that my feet don’t touch the ground when I sit in my desk chair.  If I didn’t have something to anchor my feet when I went to throw something at a rep, I would just spin in my chair.  That’s not a good image for engendering fear.”  That advice went into Tom’s Book of Advice to Never Forget.

A few weeks after I’d started, the FCC did something that almost caused me to reconsider my chosen vocation.  They came out with PTAR…the Prime Time Access Rule. It wasn’t so much the rule that almost sank me, it was what the rule brought about.  TV stations now were able to run their own local programming.  The hour from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM would no longer carry network programming.  The race was on!!!  Syndicators and advertisers went crazy coming up with shows to fill this vast wasteland…of time.  Chevy was no different.  The General Manager of Chevy was John Delorean.  John Z. had many Hollywood connections.  The agency was told that Chevy had purchased three barter syndication shows. Barter meant that Chevy would slug two commercials into the show, the station could run the program at no charge and sell the other two spots for their own profit.  They were:

  1. The Tom Brookshier Sports Illustrated Show – Ahead of it’s time.  Think of a kinder, gentler Bryant Gumbel’s Real Sports 
  2. Johnny Mann’s Stand Up and Cheer – Wholesome, clean-cut, mostly young, singers and dancers who always seemed to be wearing red, white, and blue spandex. Notable about the show were two of the singers.  Thurl Ravenscroft, who was 57 at the time.  He gave voice to many of the animatronics at Disneyland, but was most famous as the voice of Tony the Tiger.  The other was Ken Prymus. One of two African Americans in the group, Kennie is probably most famous for his role as PFC. Seidman in the movie version of MASH.  During the “Last Supper” scene, he sings the now iconic theme “Suicide is Painless.”  These were cool people to be around.
  3. Chevrolet Presents the Golddiggers – This was a dog’s breakfast of skits, unintentional bloopers, and going through the motions dance numbers.  For those of you who weren’t around, the Golddiggers were a group of lovely young women who were featured on the Dean Martin Show in the 70’s.  They would lounge around on couches, supporting Dean’s naughty boy image, while he delivered the opening monologue.  Someone had the brilliant idea to package the routines that weren’t good enough to air on NBC, and sell them to Chevy as a syndicated show.

Either because everyone else was too busy, or nobody wanted to be connected with this deal and get career-ending schmutz on them,  I was given the project.  My instructions were simple:

  • Clear the top 25 markets at all costs!
  • There are no demo tapes, “so they’ll just have to trust you that these are great shows.”
  • The MOST important thing was to clear a Detroit station.  There would be a lot of televisions in Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, and Grosse Pointe looking for them.
  • All of this had to be done in two weeks.

Armed with a station directory and my NBC Sports pen, I started cold calling station managers.  There were a few hurdles.  They had never heard of the shows (except they could name all of the Goldiggers), they wanted to see a demo before they committed to a program, and, of course, they had no idea who I was.  Within two weeks I had cleared 24 markets with at least one of the shows.  I couldn’t crack Detroit.  The folks in media told me to remind the local station managers that there was a huge Chevy Spot TV buy coming up.  Wink, Wink.  WWJ-TV, the Detroit NBC outlet relented.  They signed up for The Golddiggers.  The first show was to air the following Monday at 7:00 PM!  I told my co-workers, I told the client. I also told my friends and my family.  I wanted them all to see that I was now a powerful ad guy.

Monday arrived.  It was 4:30 PM.  My phone rang.  It was the Channel 4 station manager.  I couldn’t really tell what he was saying because of all the cursing and gagging. I finally got the gist of his call.  They had just received the tape for that evening’s show.  Not only was it a terribly edited piece of crap, the program, INCLUDING commercial slugs, was only seventeen minutes long.  Oooops!  I naively suggested that he pull the show and run a George Pierrott Travel Show repeat. Silence.  Then he said, “Don’t worry , Tom.  I’ll get even.”  Hmmmmmm. Something was going to happen tonight that might delay my getting my free car.

7:00 PM.  Judgement half-hour. The program came on.  Everything seemed to be OK. Sure, the production values were crappy, the lip synch was off, and the lighting was bad.  Big deal.  The PTAR was bound to cause a few hiccups.  Then, about ten minutes into the program, while the Golddiggers were singing “Let Me entertain You,” it happened.  The tape slowly ground to a halt.  …”let me make you smmmmm… The station then ran twelve minutes of the same Smokey the Bear commercial.  No big deal for WWJ.  They completed their monthly FCC mandated public service advertising duty in one night.  As Smokey faded out, they started the tape back up. “…smmmmmile. Let me do a few tricks, some old and some new tricks…”  My phone rang.  It was the Media Director.  “Tom, what happened?  Three clients have already called me at home!”  I told him what had happened.  How the syndicator had sent a bad show.  How sorry I was.  He simply and calmly said, “See me first thing tomorrow morning.”  I immediately showered and shaved. Put on my best suit, and sat in my car until the sun came up.

I walked into his office that morning looking like a whipped dog.  I was surprised to see him smiling.  “Thanks, Tom.  You did us all a great favor.  You’re going to go far in this business.”  Huh?  What was going on?  He explained to me that the agency had fought tooth and nail to distance themselves from the Golddiggers.  Since John Delorean had blessed the project, nobody could say No.”  Only by broadcasting one of the shows on a Detroit station could the voices of reason be heard.

I guess I took one for the team.  I learned that most good deeds never go unpunished.

Next:  “Get Out!  Get Out Now!

A Manchild In The Promised Land

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GM Bldg

The “call” came four days later.  I was being summoned to “meet some people” at the Campbell-Ewald offices in the General Motors Building in Detroit.  The building, designed by Alfred Kahn, and opened in 1923, was at that time the largest office building in the world. I had been to the GM building before as a child. Where children in New York City might go with their parents to see the Statue of Liberty, we would go to the GM Building’s incredible lobby to see the new models, and visit the “Technology of Tomorrow” exhibit.  Two of the displays would entrance me for hours.  One was a rapidly spinning machine that looked something like a camshaft.  You could flick a switch and a strobe light would go on, seemingly freezing the spinning device.  You could see how high rpm’s took its toll on metal parts.  That sure made me want to drive fast.  My other favorite display was very simple.  There were two holes in a wall about twenty-four inchesGM Interior from each other.  A ball bearing would roll out of the hole on the left, drop about eighteen inches to where it hit a beveled block of metal that bounced the ball into a 45 degree arc back toward a spinning hoop.  The ball would arc toward the hoop, timed to pass through it perfectly, arc back down to another beveled block of metal that would bounce the ball straight back up, where it would disappear into the second hole.At any given time, there were four balls in the air.  I would stand there watching in dumbstruck amazement until I would realized that my drool was starting to pool on the floor!

But today, I was to put away the things of a child. The Flying Coffin flew me to Detroit, I found a nearby parking lot, and was entering the building when I realized that I had locked my keys in the car!  I ran back to the attendant who assured me that I had nothing to worry about.  I returned to the Cathedral of Capitalism.

Campbell-Ewald, most of it, was located on the fourth floor. When I got off of the elevator, my senses were immediately struck by three things: my nose sensed the mustiness of gravitas, my eyes saw a lot of marble, my ears could detect no noise. Were they closed today? I followed the signs that led to the Personnel Department. Dear reader, you’ll have to remember that this was 1971 BHR…Before Human Resources. I entered, introduced myself, and was asked to have a seat. Several minutes later the receptionist’s intercom buzzed, instructing me to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum. It would be almost another thirteen years before John Williams would introduce his Olympic fanfare, but I could already hear the kettle drums and heraldic trumpets playing in my head.  The office, the size of a racquetball court, was panelled in dark wood.  Harry Parker, Vice President of Personnel rose from his desk to greet me.  “Good morning, Tom, would you like some coffee?”  He could have been asking me if I wanted some heroin, or vodka, or a sharp stick rammed up my nose. I didn’t care.  I gushed, “Yes, thank you!”

We started the Dance of Ennui. I had a hunch this guy’s dad didn’t own a bar.  Harry explained to me how the the training program would work.  The five pauci electi would be cycled through the different departments of the agency, spending a month or two in each.  If, after a year, no department expressed an interest in retaining one of the trainees, that person would be bound and gagged and drop kicked into the Detroit River.  Harry explained that the salaries for all of the trainees were coming out of his budget.  After this pep talk, the recruiter was called in to give me a tour of the agency.  I said “Hello” to approximately 287 people.  After the tour I was dropped back at Personnel reception and asked to wait.  About ten minutes later I was summoned back into Harry Parker’s office.  Mr. Pink Pony was also there.

“Tom, ” Harry began, “we’d like to thank you for taking the time to see us today.”  Nooooooooooooo! They don’t like me.  “As you know, there are 25 men trying to get only five jobs.”  Nooooooooo!  Maybe I can my Sears repo job back.  “We really enjoyed meeting you today.”  Noooooooo! I think I saw a bar around the corner.  “That’s why we’d like to welcome you to the Campbell-Ewald Training Program.”   Nooo…Wait!!! Yessssssssssss!!  Right then, I was very happy that I was wearing a dark blue suit.

“We’re prepared to offer you an annual salary of $9400.”  Be still my heart.  That was an obscene amount of money!!  “If you work out after 90 days, we’ll bump you up to $11,200.”  The room started to spin.  Sphincter don’t fail me now.  “Is that acceptable, Tom?”  By the puzzled looks on their faces I think my answer came out of my mouth as, “Yerrrg.”  We all shook hands.  A secretary magically appeared with a Campbell-Ewald New Employee Handbook full of paperwork for me to complete.  “Can you start next week?” Mr. Pink Pony asked.  “I can start right now, if you want me to,” I blurted.  They both laughed.  “Ha-ha.  What a kidder.”

I attempted to maintain some sense of composure as I was escorted back to the elevators. The composure broke as the elevator doors opened in the lobby.  I ran to the nearest lobby payphone to call my parents. They were almost as excited as I was. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t hear my dad in the background say, “Well, that’s one launched.”  I called my girlfriend.  Her happiness for me was tempered by her concern that I was now going to be living almost 90 miles away.

Oh no!! My keys were still locked in my car.  I ran back to the parking lot, where I was met by the attendant who handed me my keys.  “How did you get them out of my locked car?”  “It’s my job,” he cryptically smiled and said.  Claude Brown wrote a novel in the 60’s, and even though I was light years from his experience, I felt like “A Manchild In the Promised Land.”

Next:  Into The Belly Of The Beast