Most of my readers will not know of Ned Viseltear. You would have to have been in advertising during the sixties, seventies and eighties. Ned was a brilliant and unsung copywriter; he was also my partner when I had my agency.
Ned passed away recently. I didn’t want his passing to go unnoticed. Ned was one of the true, unheralded greats in the business; he had won every possible award and was well known in the creative community. His obituary is worth reading. As my daughter, Liz Gumbinner, posted on-line yesterday, this obit is the kind of thing we all would like written about ourselves. But I would like to go a little farther and share a couple of stories with you.
Ned was one of the most talented writers in the business. His ability to cut through issues in order to come up with a solution was astounding. He was also the fastest copy writer I ever worked with. Ned could be difficult, strange and demanding, but that was part of his charm.
Ned made me a better account guy by demanding that I knew my accounts at least as well as my client. The reason he was so good was that he needed to know and understand everything about a client and its situation. He couldn’t put it together unless he had the entire picture. I can remember many times trying to explain strategy to him when he just didn’t get it; it was my fault. But I learned to spell things out completely because if he was missing one part, he could not arrive at the whole. He was simply asking of an account person what every creative needs in order to come up with great creative solutions.
I won’t list his campaigns or ads now, because they have long since been forgotten. What is important is that Ned was known throughout the industry for his brilliance and his eccentricity.
Ned was truly eccentric. He couldn’t write if his office wasn’t perfectly clean and in order. I remember him once obsessing about his inability to work because he was out of Kleenex. He didn’t have a cold, but he could only work if everything was in its proper place. On that particular day he had a deadline to meet and our office manager had been tied up doing something else and hadn’t had a chance to go get his tissues. I realized that it would be easier for me to go get it myself so that he could start work. Within a few minutes after his tissues were placed precisely on his desk, he delivered what he was supposed to.
Ned was the fastest writer I ever worked with. He was so fast that he often came up with solutions within moments of agreeing upon direction. He would then have me wait four or five days before telling the client that what they had requested was ready – he didn’t want to spoil clients into thinking he could always produce so quickly.
Ned could be outrageous. There were several stories about him in Jerry Della Femina’s book, “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor” (must reading for anyone who loves this business and wants to know what it used to be like in the Mad Men days; the book is still available on Amazon). What I am about to describe happened, but Ned was always embarrassed by it and often denied its truth because he was as honest as the day is long. In the days when both Ted Bates and Benton & Bowles (subsequently, DMBB) were located at 666 Fifth Avenue, Ned, who worked at one of them, took a job at the other. When he went to resign, his boss was on vacation and the boss’s boss was out. Ned never resigned and just went to work - at both.. He worked at both and got away with it for almost a year because the agencies were on different elevator banks. He never missed a deadline or meeting at either agency. Ned eventually got caught and was fired from both agencies. But he put a ton of money away in the interim.
Ned, always kept his sense of humor. There is another story in Jerry’s book. It is the story of how Ned worked at Grey for three hours, but was taken out for lunch by the creative director of another agency to celebrate his new job. During lunch he was offered a job at higher pay, a better title and on better accounts. Ned accepted on the spot and went right to work at the new agency immediately after lunch.. He called Grey and asked for personnel (not human resources in those days). He told them he had worked there for three hours but was resigning. He also wanted to know if he had accumulated any vacation time and, if so, would they send him a check. The personnel person was speechless. It is true.
As a partner, no one could ask for better. He always kept his sense of fun, no matter how serious things were. We had two Texas clients, one in Houston and one in Dallas. Not coincidentally, I had a girlfriend in Houston. One Wednesday, I got a call from my Dallas client asking me to have dinner with him the next night in Dallas; I thought we were going to get fired). I immediately called Paula in Houston to ask if she could see me for the weekend. Unfortunately, she was busy. So I flew to Dallas and waited at the revolving restaurant at the Hyatt for my client. It was before cell phones and I waited for over an hour and he never showed up. I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t have his home phone and he had left the office. At 8pm, when I was at my wits end, in walks Paula with a big grin. Ned had sent me away for the weekend. Even the client was in on it. That was Ned.
I still keep the portfolio of his work (our work). If anyone wants to see stunning creative but highly strategic work, come to my office and I will share it with you.
Ned will be missed for his good humor and great work. He was a lifelong friend.