Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Tribute To Ned Viseltear, One Of The Great Creatives In The Business

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.


  1. A Wonderful Tribute to a Really Smart, Funny, Lovely, Kind, Loyal and Gentle Man. RIP dear Ned Viseltear

  2. What a nice tribute. Well done. The story about working two agencies could come right from a feature film...or might be written for one!

  3. Paul, your tale of Ned holding down two gigs at 666 Fifth reminds me of a similar finesse by an account guy at Ogilvy. "Bill" held a double digit employee number at a time the agency employed thousands. So he was feeling old while reporting to a boss half his age. The vibe at O&M was not good, so he looked around and got a great offer from Saatchi and took it. He was about to call the younger boss when his phone rings and "YB" thanks him for all his years of service and lets him go first... but with one year's severance and a promise of a second if he couldn't fund something in the meantime. So Bill is being happily paid for two jobs for a year and figures Ogilvy will stop sending checks after 12 months. But no, they keep coming and coming. Those were the days! Livingston Miller, President, Seiter & Miller Advertising.

    1. Thanks for sharing that story with me and my readers, Livvy.

  4. Condolensces to his brother Michael Viseltear of Los Angeles and his sister-in-law, Maggie Speak. As well as a host of other family and friends who will miss him.

  5. AND NOW A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE DECEASED PART ONE (thank god Ned's not editing this)

    Hello--First, I'm beyond sure everyone who has preceded me knew Ned way better than I did. Case in point, I didn't even know he died until yesterday. But I didn't feel compelled to write this because of how well I knew him...but because of how well he knew me

    So my apologies in advance for the following quasi megillah is, As i said, I felt compelled to write it, because it’s a belated and ironic thank you to Ned—belated because I just learned of his death, ironic because I ws googling his name to track him down for a l long long long overdue call...He would've loved the irony

    Anyway what reminded me to call him was work I found while going through some old boxes. It was work he did for me and luckily for me with me as well, when I was an agency CD in the 90’s and brought him in as a freelancer. FYI hiring him wasn't based on his book but on the pedigree--as in finding out “Della Femina mentions him in his book” For me, being in that book beats most any book I've seen,

    So what about that project compels me to squander a Monday morning eulogizing someone I barely stayed in touch with? To understand that you first have to understand me. I began life as a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who’s been a disappointment to his parents ever since he told them he was taking a lifetime leave of absence from law school to try this “advertising” thing…between that guilt (augmented by feelings of inadequacy thanks to two younger siblings who are a Dr and lawyer respectively) plus all the other baggage that follows you through life when you’re the oldest child of holocaust survivors, I seemed to be a natural for either the creative side of advertising or working the grill at a diner in Buffalo. This backstory isn’t for effect, its for edification. By the time I met Ned, I was in my 30’s, the CD of a small agency, was personally responsible for the creative strategy and executions for clients like Brother, JVC, Rums of Puerto Rico, a number of HBO shows, etc—in short, it would seem I had all the personal & professional yada yada and should’ve been way happier or at least way less miserable. But that wasn’t the case …one of the reasons I brought in Ned was because I felt was hitting a wall & needed fresh thinking—unsullied by second guessing yourself as you’re trying to predict the client’s reaction. And even though he was a goodly few decades older than me, his thinking was fresh & refreshing, More important, he also “got me”. He saw how I was wired and how my insecurity and negligible self esteem often worked its way into my thinking—this despite all my legitimate “cred” --to paraphrase Groucho Marx and more recently Billy Crystal—my problem was I always felt I was fooling everyone in the “club that couldn’t be legit because they accepted me as a member”.POST CONTINUES IN PART 2

  6. POST PART 2-- BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE...WORDS ABOUT NED & STILL THANKFUL HE'S NOT EDITING THIS...so where was I? oh right the Groucho/Billy Crystal reference ....

    ...But enough about me. (for now) watching him work was like watching a Buddy Rich or Steve Gadd solo, fans appreciate it on one level, musicians on another, blind people realize they’re hearing something great, deaf people realize they’re seeing something amazing –the common denominator? Everyone realizes they’re in the presence of greatness. That was Ned. We bonded on numerous levels—I was the bandleader and ipso facto ad guy for a Catskill hotel and he was a music buff and the former agency for the Concord I was an audio buff who essentially lived at Harvey Sound in the early 80’s when they were at 2 w 45th. He apparently was the guy buying all the stuff that I could only admire from afar. He was a jazz lover, I took my life in my hands relived the “Otis Day in the “Negro nightclub” scene from Animal house—to hear the Bross Townsend trio at a small East new York club called Pumpkins (that was a long winded way of saying “I was also a Jazz lover”)

    Aside from giving me great work (no surprise) Ned also gave me a sense of validation (hence the preceding backstory which explains why validation was important to me). Once I realized and understood who he was, his validation made me feel so great it should’ve been covered by Oxford (or offered by a Colombian cartel). He also understood why it mattered to me, but despite that didn’t do it out of mercy or to “schmooze” the client (me) that wasn’t his style… he did it for two reasons—both of then based on the fact I earned it. First because he liked the fact I was quick—seems I also had the ability to shift into “headline machine” mode and come up with on the money ideas on the spot (though he taught me that “no matter how fast you are with concepts, always get them to the client slow…that way you can bill more”…until then, I always my MO was to start producing headlines and concepts in middle of client briefings as this generated compliments from clients and compliments=validation (even from clients)
    Second because he liked my work and convinced me I had talent (regardless what I thought of myself)—we even brainstormed together—something that I later found out was a rarity for him-- to brainstorm with another writer let alone someone he’d just met. He also gave me career/professional advice both back then and up to a few years ago ago when I called him to say hello and ask for his opinion career wise…in retrospect I wish I listened to him. As I was offered some opportunities to go client side—most people saud grab it… he told me, I’d never be happy on that side of the desk even with a CMO title and no matter how much “creative fulfillment” I build into my job description. Know-it-all that he is, he was right, as now I’m in the process of trying to find an agency in need of a 53 year old creative director/writer who can develop both a creative brief and the executions for it and realizes that no matter what the folks at facebook, twitter, pintrest, google & the NSA want you to believe, this business is still about the big idea—not about the “delivery systems” for it like social media, search, etc. --ONE MORE PART..SORRY, YOU THINK THIS IS EASY? ASIDE FROM THE MEMORIES I CAN'T BILL ANYONE FOR THIS...ONE MORE PART I PROMISE...

  7. POST PART 3-- THINK THAT'S ALL...THERE'S EVEN MORE WORDS ABOUT NED (and more gratitude for the fact he's not editing this)
    BTW don’t get me wrong… we weren't close in any ongoing personal sense, Ned was like 2.5 eras before me—an era I really only knew from the Della Femina book that references him…and the only reason I originally read that book was I was an electronics geek and the title appealed to me…at that point, I was a college senior who was accepted in law school and like most of my tribe, thought advertising was what Darren Stevens did. For better or worse Jerry’s book got me thinking about advertising (I think my mother still has a contract out on him)
    And while most would concede I had things “figured” out by the time I met Ned, I didn’t feel I did. Ned changed that for me (or began to, like most creative types I’m a perpetual work in progress) And no matter how much time (months or years) elapsed between our conversations, every conversation was fun—pure Ned, opinions on everything and everyone, beyond candid advice that was always what I needed to hear…even if it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. And now he’s gone. Which in a small, narcissistic way is good, because had I called him and told him he was right, and that I should’ve stayed agency side, he’d be rubbing it in until I hung up or switched topics and began to kvell about my Estonian-made speakers and Carver receiver. In any case and knowing him, he probably convinced whoever’s running that big agency in the sky to allow him to visit his former clients and bosses in hell before entering his version of heaven—which is an agency where clients and suits hate everything he does but have to approve it anyway (after all, it is NED’s heaven) and the response to the work when it runs is amazing.I wonder if he’s pitched Steve Jobs yet.

    1. @yesme: Thanks for sharing your thoughts about Ned. He was quite a guy and a great writer


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