Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: The Most Expensive Client Dinner

This is one of my favorite family stories.  Back in the day, my dad and his brother had an agency. In those days it was called Lawrence C. Gumbinner (subsequently it became Gumbinner-North and then it was gobbled up by Interpublic).  Their biggest account was Tareyton cigarettes.  In the late 1950’s they spent, as I recall, about forty  million dollars to advertise the brand, making it a huge account, one of the biggest accounts in the country. (Remember, in those days agencies had about ten people per every million dollars in business – that meant four hundred people worked on the account.)

My dad and my uncle took the president of American Tobacco and his wife out for a luxurious dinner.  The dinner was at the now long defunct Forum of the Twelve Caesars.  Before I tell the story I have to explain the restaurant since there was nothing else like it before or since. The interior of the Forum was designed by a noteworthy architect and designer. It was opened by the Brody Company, which opened very elaborate restaurants at that time – including the Four Seasons.  At The Forum, the room won many awards for its grandeur.  Everything in it was themed along the lines of ancient Rome, including the wait staff uniforms, the menus and, of course, the food.. The table settings were immaculate and awesome; they included, salt and pepper cellars which were a sterling silver elephants with salt and  pepper on their backs. The room exuded power, wealth and opulence.  Caviar, which apparently was served often, came on a huge and elaborate ice sculpture which was wheeled to the table and then served elaborately (in those days a service of Beluga cost about $6 or $7).  Dinner, in those days, with wine, cost an unheard of $25 or so per person – an outrageous sum of money in the late 1950’s or early 60’s.  The food, the menu and the prices were extraordinary, probably the most expensive in the country.

They obviously had a wonderful dinner.  When the bill came, my father took it.  Instead of costing $150 or so, there was a $100 item on the bill, making it about $250 (to put it in perspective, this is equivalent to.over $1,800 in today's money)  My father called over the maître d’ and discretely asked what the outrageous item was.  The maître d’ whispered to my father and nodded in the direction of the client’s wife, “It is for the salt cellar which is in madam’s pocketbook.” My dad was floored but paid the bill without saying anything.

Knowing my dad, he spent the rest of the evening fuming. 

Shortly after arriving at the office the next day, my dad got a call from the president to thank him for the lovely dinner.  As my dad told me the story, he had no intention of saying anything about the salt cellar, but he was so angry it just came out; my father regretted saying anything since it was such a large and important account.  The president was gracious and apologized profusely. 

But, no kidding, about twenty minutes later, a messenger arrived with an envelope.  My dad opened it and found a personal check for $100.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: Why Creative People Don't Trust Account People

Historically, in advertising there has always been a conflict between account managers and their creative counterparts.  Creative people accuse weak account people of caving in to their clients and account people accuse their creative teams of not executing agreed upon strategies and excluding them from the creative process.

A creative director recently told me this stunning story; it completely explains why creative people often don't trust their account people.

Two agencies merged, the bigger taking control; the bigger agency had a creative reputation while the smaller agency, while worldwide, was primarily known as account dominated.  The EVP creative director of the dominant agency supervised a new campaign which was to be presented to the smaller agency's biggest client.  It was a  major brand name, world wide account.  The account person had worked with this client for a number of years before the merger and had a good relationship with the client. When the creative director showed the work to the account person, it was accepted enthusiastically.  The account person called the client to set up a presentation.

The creative director presented the work and the meeting went well.  In fact, the client was effusive in their praise of the work. Everyone went back to the agency happy and excited, as happens after a great meeting.

The next day the account person came into the creative director’s office.  At first she hemmed and hawed.  Finally, she told the EVP that the client actually hated the work.  She also admitted that she knew that would happen, but never said anything because she did not want to offend the creative director on their first assignment together..  The creative director was furious. It seems that the weak account person, after accepting the work, had actually called the client and torpedoed the campaign prior to its presentation.  She told the client that the new creative director and her people were sensitive and that, in order to keep the creative group enthusiastic, the client should feign enthusiasm.

The creative director was furious.  She explained to the account person that she had intentionally ruined any relationship she might establish with the client in order to protect her own relationship with the client.  But then the CD did something completely unexpected.  With the account person sitting in her office, the EVP Creative Director called the client on the speaker phone.  She took matters in her own hands by explaining that it was her job to sell the client’s product and that she didn’t get to be the creative director without having a lot of work approved – and a lot rejected. She said that she was a big girl and could take rejection and criticism.  She explained that if the client had an issue, they could speak up and their problems would be immediately addressed. She told the client that they were partners and asked the client what the issues were.  The client explained their issues and it turned out that the desired changes actually were minor and could easily be accommodated.  

At most agencies, the account person would have been fired, but in this case she was kept on the account with a stern warning. 

Within a short time the creative person established a great relationship with the client.  The account person became minimized.

This is a perfect story about why and how account people can sell out the creatives.  When I heard this story, it confirmed something that I think happens frequently because many account people are weak and don't know or understand their own jobs. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Adventures In Advertising: My First Client Lunch Was A Disaster

My first account as a full account executive was WABC-TV (Channel 7 in New York).  My client was a wonderful man by the name of Leo Collins.  Leo was their director of advertising and promotion. He was close to 50 and I was all of twenty-four or twenty-five.  In those days their offices were on 54th Street and Sixth Avenue.  

One day I had a late morning appointment to see Leo.  We liked each other.  It was close to lunch so I asked him if he would like to grab a bite to eat.  He agreed.  I asked him what he liked in the neighborhood.  There was a French restaurant on 55th Street. I forget its name, but I will never forget the lunch.

The menu was all in handwritten French.  I spoke a little French and wanted to seem like I knew more than I did.  Leo ordered something.  I ordered rognons de veau.  I thought it was some kind of veal scaloppini, but when it was served, it looked odd, I realized it was something completely foreign to me.  I took one bite and almost retched.  It was veal kidney.  I couldn’t eat it.  

I called the captain over and told him it was not what I wanted.  He took my second order, but told me he would have to charge me for the extra meal.  I said yes. Leo never said a word, which was very gentlemanly of him. But I was mortified.

We had a delicious lunch, despite my complete and utter embarrassment.

I paid the bill with my Amex, which I had just gotten.  In those days, the three meals cost about $36.  When I got back to my office, I actually deducted the kidneys from my expense chit because I was so mortified. When the CFO saw my receipt he came to my office and asked why I would deduct part of the bill from my expenses.  I told him the truth.  He paid me for the whole check.  

So much for my sophistication.  But I learned a very valuable lesson – never to go anywhere where I (or my client) might be uncomfortable. 
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