My first “real job” wasn’t in real estate. I was the man in the gray flannel suit.
I rode the subway downtown every day to the famous birthday cake building at 375 Hudson Street, headquarters of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. It was great learning experience and a strange tumultuous time to be in advertising.
We had 3 or 4 computers in one office on the top floor of the about 10 floors we had in the building that had internet access. I would go up there to browse and be the only one in the space. Pages took minutes to load and there wasn’t much content to find. Something was coming but no one knew what.
It was still a world dominated by the three classic departments of the advertising biz…account executives, media planners, and creatives. Account executives were the client people, the supposed hubs of the wheel, pulling together the resources of the agency to deliver a strategy and a product.
The media folks were the data geeks of the industry. They spent their time talking about reach, target audience, demographics, impressions, and Nielsen ratings. They were sequestered on the lower floors with messy offices, but they got invited to some cool parties hosted by television networks and magazine publishers.
The creatives had it the best. They were the precursors of today’s tech cultures. They had no dress code, no real work hours, and anyone who went up to their floors had to be careful not to disrupt their creative flow. They had ping-pong tables, leather couches you could nap on, and I’m pretty sure they had a beer fridge. They came down, rarely, to see the suits to show off their latest creative genius. You had to be careful not to bruise their egos if their product wasn’t good.
The clients were freshly minted MBAs from Kellogg and Wharton and Michigan. They worked hard. As far as I can tell they were expected to live in their offices at corporate headquarters and compete with their colleagues and peers viciously for a bigger chunk of the company’s marketing budget. I worked on the Johnson & Johnson account, selling Children’s Tylenol. It was and is a great product. But its world was being rocked by the introduction of pediatric ibuprofen. It was the middle of the great Advil vs. Tylenol marketing wars. It felt important.
One of my main responsibilities as junior account executive was to race to the nearest FedEx dropbox every night before the last pickup so that a strategy memo or sample of new creative could be delivered to the client the next day. We used the fax sometimes for memos, but the resolution quality was low on that slippery paper that rolled up and fell to the floor when it came of the machine.
I did go through the MTP, the legendary Management Training Program. It was like a fifth year of college. All the new account execs and media planners were like a freshman class. We were expected to stay late and work on semester-long projects for presentation to senior management by the end of the class year. I can remember getting a little loopy one night and realizing the modern idea of a brand comes from a cattle brand. A brand is a way to say this is mine, this is what I stand for, these are my qualities and attributes.
It was a rewarding experience though I only stayed two years. I couldn’t wait to get to back to the mountains of Colorado after a couple of years in the city. I’ll write more about lifelong business lessons learned in future blogs.
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