Tuesday, July 21, 2015

An Advertising Story: How DKG Didn't Get Mexico Tourism

This is a true story.  I was there.  And it was told at the memorial service for Shep Kurnit some fourteen or 15 years ago.  Shep ran a very successful creative agency during the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Delehanty, Kurnit & Geller (DKG) was a fabulous agency which did amazing work and had majorly talented people there who went on to great success. This story is the diametric opposite of the story I told about how Carl Ally won Piper Aircraft

Shep Kurnit was one of the most charismatic and funniest people I ever met in advertising.  He had a big voice and a twinkle in his eye.  And he was always quick on his feet.  Always.  The agency, aside from being creative with stunning work, was a fun place. I have many stories from my few years there.

DKG made it into the finals of the Mexican Tourism Board account.  For unknown reasons, the three finalist agencies were to meet in San Antonio (don’t ask) for a final presentation.  We had already presented creative and strategy; this meeting was for the client to meet the full account team.  So a whole bunch of us flew to Texas.

The three finalists (I forget who the other two were, but they were both very big, very straight agencies) drew straws.  We were second.  We assumed we would get the business because our creative was excellent.

As I recall, each person in the room introduced themselves.  We each had a two minute, well-choreographed presentation.  As the account executive, I went first.

The Mexican Minister of Tourism was there with two of his minions; the room was a casual conference room of some sort in the hotel.  I remember all  of us sitting on couches and plush chairs.  When we had finished our presentation, the Tourism Minister looked at Shep and said that he had a question.  Of course, said Shep.

The Minister of Tourism said to us, but to Shep in particular, “If I give you our business, what will you do for me?”  But he said this with the universal gesture, rubbing his thumb against the other four fingers, in a sign of money.  Shep, incredulous, asked him to repeat the question.  He did and again rubbed his fingers against his thumb.  There was no issue as to his meaning.

Well, Shep being Shep, didn’t miss a millisecond.  And with a straight face, he looked at the Mexican Minister and said, “I’ll tell you what.  If you give us your business, we will give you back Texas.”  The entire room broke up. We couldn’t help it. The three officials from across the border didn’t laugh.
We immediately left.

Now, to this day, I cannot remember which agency got the account.  But I do know that whoever got the account did not answer the question in the same way!


  1. Sounds a lot like a Jerry Della Femina story to me. Witty, funny to some, yet almost suicidal.

    Shep Kurnit (who I once met) telling the Mexican Minister that we'd give Texas back after stealing most of California from them was a great example of not knowing or understanding your audience.

    Crack a joke like that to Netanyahu today about Israel Tourism and see how far you get in the pitch process. LOL, Bill Crandall

    1. Bill, you missed the entire point of this story. It has nothing to do with suicide or misreading the audience. We were all appalled at the suggestion of a kickback. There was no way that the agency would do business with this client. It was the perfect rebuttal to a corrupt client. And it certainly has nothing to do with Israel or Netanyahu, which is irrelevant to this story. The point of the story is how quick Shep Kurnit's wit was and how well it was handled.

    2. You said it Paul! Today however I'd give back California.

  2. Paul ... Touche! BC

  3. Another good one, Paul. I think we should have a forum dedicated to Madison Ave tales. I don’t believe any other industry could recount such entertaining episodes. Of course, contributors would have to be at least 40 year veterans. I mean, how many unique and funny stories stem from SEO, SQL, Big Data and Ruby on Rails?

    1. I agree. Send them to me and I will publish. I love ad stories. And you are right, there are really funny stories from years ago, but I don't hear too many current ones. Too bad.

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