Most of you don’t realize that I come from an advertising family. My dad had an agency, started in the late twenties and merged into Interpublic in the early seventies. It was called, at the end, Gumbinner-North. It was a big agency. At one point it was the twentieth largest agency in the world, ranked even higher domestically. It was a creative agency before anyone categorized an agency in terms of its creativity. I actually worked in the mail room there (yes, I started in the mail room) and did a year as an assistant account executive right out of college.
The agency was started by my uncle, Lawrence and a gentleman named L.S. Goldsmith in 1926. My dad, who was younger, joined them the next year. Lawrence was an account guy (merchandising), my father the producer and head of media (I used to ask my dad what he was or did and his response, right up until he died in 1981, was that he was “an advertising man”). The agency had major accounts – Tareyton Cigarettes, Savarin Coffee, Hartz Mountain Pet Food, Smirnoff Vodka, Mums Champagne, Pepto-Bismol and a slew of others.
I am too young to remember a lot, but people who know that my dad had an agency often ask me whether Mad Men is a realistic depiction of advertising in that era. Well, it is and it isn’t. Here is my perception.
My dad and my uncle did have bars in their offices, but to my memory, they were only used for clients and after work (my dad was always home for dinner by 6:00ish). They did drink at lunch however. My dad went to Gino’s on Lexington almost every day for lunch and had one vodka Gibson. Smirnoff, of course.
They were well staffed. In the late 1960’s he was very proud that they were able to get their head count down to about 11 people per million in billing. That is a far cry from today’s under one person per million.
Until the mid-1960s, the creative idea was made by the writers, who wrote it and then gave the concept to the art directors for illustration. The writer/art director team concept, as I have been told, was started in the late fifties but was not universal until the late sixties.
There were no account planners. Information was gathered by researchers and media researchers. Account people were responsible for consumer insights and worked with the research people to develop strategies and creative direction.
Clients were well entertained, lunches were long and wet. But those lunches served a very good purpose – it was about bonding and creating a tight relationship between the agency and the client. My perception is that it kept accounts at agencies longer then. Yes, there was plenty of account switching, but I don’t think it was as cut and dry as it is today. There were no search consultants. A lot of the pitching was done over lunch and became about determining if the agency and client liked each other and could work together.
New business presentations were very much made the way they show them on Mad Men – two or three principals meeting with the client and presenting their ideas about the brand or company.
Generally, the president and chairman of the client company were involved in advertising, just as it is portrayed on Mad Men. Consequently, decisions were made quickly. I can remember the presidents of several companies coming into the agency to see a rough-cut of a commercial on a moviola. In fact, my dad retired in the early seventies, but told me one of the major changes taking place was that presidents were slowly becoming uninvolved with the advertising. He thought it was unfortunate. And he proved right in that respect.
Most senior executives had a private secretary. It was a sign of success when one no longer had to share. I wish I were old enough to be definitive about the sexual escapades within the office. But I suspect there was ample messing around. Let’s just say that families were not invited to Christmas parties.