“You could get a real job. Or you could just work in advertising.”
Yes, I’ve actually heard this said a few times over the course of my career, both by people in the business and those curious onlookers that perceive advertising to be one endless boondoggle after another. And thanks to shows like “Mad Men,” some even think that the three martini lunch is still alive and well. The truth, however, is perhaps a bit more difficult to explain, where the ratio between “work hard” and “play hard” has certainly placed a much stronger emphasis on the former rather than the latter.
That said, there have been a number of moments in my career where I’ve stopped and marveled at how exactly did I get myself into some rather remarkable situations. Like getting to see Brett Favre, then (and always) a Packer, play two Monday night games in a single season at Lambeau Field. Or the time I was taking some clients through a ghost tour of Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh, Scotland. Or having the opportunity to read the script for the first Transformers movie before the movie came out. And as I thought about my thirteen years in advertising (!), I thought it might be interesting to ask a few of my fellow Meers co-workers about their interesting experiences or strangest stories from their advertising careers.
Needless to say, the question spurred some fun conversations and what follows are a few of the best stories.
Dave Thornhill // Creative Director
I have a confession to make. I’ve helped a major consumer brand sell ice cream to children. Yep. And I’ve helped another company get soda in the hands of more kids. Oh, and I guess I should mention creating ads for the nations largest retailer to promote clothing and electronics not made in the United States. I am straight up guilty. I plead partial opportunist and with a slight case of capitalist. The sentence is life in advertising with no chance of bail.
Fast-forward 5 years. The current agency is 3 years into a rebrand and reposition of the March of Dimes, a not-for-profit that is focused on bringing strong, healthy babies into the world. My roll is to convince mothers-to-be to take care of themselves so their baby can be born healthy. And if these mothers feel good enough about this organization that wants them to take care of themselves, maybe those mothers will join in the effort to encourage other mothers take care of themselves. Shouldn’t every parent have the welcome of a healthy baby? I happen to believe so.
Today, this effort still lives with me. If I have discovered one thing my career that I can articulate without thinking, it is this. We have all been given a gift. The challenge is to somehow use this gift and find balance between work that we need to do and work we want to do. Discovering and utilizing this gift can be the greatest award of all.
Sheree Johnson // Director of Business Intelligence
Having worked with many great BtoB clients over my career, I had the occasion to go to functions sponsored by Forbes Magazine for its advertisers and agencies. So I went to an event on The HIghlander IV while I was working in Chicago in the mid-80′s which toured around Lake Michigan for the evening. Then in the mid-90′s, the magazine flew a group of Kansas City marketers and agency professionals from Kansas City to New York. We flew on The Capitalist Tool (Forbes private Boeing 727 Trijet all decked out like a chic lounge with private bedrooms), to go to an event in New York City on The Highlander V. It was so surreal being on these two yachts and the plane which over the years has hosted a distinguished crowd of executives, celebrities (e.g., Elizabeth Taylor), Presidents, Kings and Prime Ministers. One can only dream about being this wealthy to travel around the world on yachts and private planes.
While entertaining customers at this level has long subsided for many publishers/vendors, I always think how ironic. but lucky it is that I’ve been on two different Highlanders at two different times in my career. And oh by the way, the group from Kansas City all decided to see how many people we could sit on the bed that Elizabeth Taylor slept in. I think there’s a picture someplace of this accomplishment (but maybe not).
Allisyn Wheeler // Director of Channel Strategy
Being a media professional often requires that I make extra effort in squeezing in meetings with my beloved media reps throughout the day. Sometimes we meet for coffee, other times they swing by the office, whatever is convenient for us to have a quick chat about the client’s goals or what is new with their publication, station, etc. In any case, I want to point out what to some might seem like the obvious – all parties are fully clothed. As much as I enjoy the media reps I work with, I never thought nudity would be an issue. Little did I know…
Several years ago, I was on a market trip to Las Vegas to meet with local media reps and to attend a handful of radio remotes for one of our clients. While on the “Tour de Desert,” one of our reps (whom I had never met) suggested that she treat me to a morning at the MGM Grand Spa before going to lunch. Obviously, I was thrilled at the chance to relax and be pampered a bit! However, I was not aware that the media rep would be meeting me at the spa and enjoying some services herself there as well. I think “It will be a great chance for us to meet and get to know each other” were her exact words. I pictured a lovely conversation between the two of us as we lounged in comfy robes waiting for our spa aestheticians to bring us each back for our facials.
It didn’t occur to me until I walked into the spa that morning when I saw women lounging in dipping pools that towels (the primary source of bodily coverage) not only optional in this environment, but definitely not the norm. Never before had I felt so ill-prepared to meet a media rep, who consequently embraced the full spa experience…without a towel. I’m sure she thought I was the most intense media professional she ever met – I locked eyes with her and never wavered as we sat and discussed the weather, client business and all that Las Vegas had to offer. Beyond what turned out to be an amazing facial and massage, it turns out that this experience taught me to expect the unexpected and to maintain composure in even the most uncomfortable circumstances.
Sam Meers // President
When I was 27, I inherited an account due to layoffs at Fletcher/Mayo. My first assignment was to create a 24 projector slide show with original music. We had hired producers in Nashville to write the song and score, and it was my job to get the music produced. First, I had to fly to Ohio and let the client listen to a tape of the talent singing the song solo with just a guitar. Since I had not been involved until about a week earlier, I couldn’t answer any of the client’s questions about the song, the talent or the actual production. I was just to get her to approve it and meet me in Nashville a week later. I had no idea to what extent the music was to be produced. For all I knew, it was going to be a single artist singing and playing the guitar, but in a studio.
The client approved the music. One week later, we met in a studio in Nashville and the production started. Over the next 24 hours, the producers brought in over 30 musicians to lay down tracks for final score. I had never seen anything like it. Horns, harmonicas, lead vocals, backup vocals, guitars, banjos, violins, wood winds, piano — it was nothing short of amazing. About 10 hours in, my client turned to me and said, “I guess this is more than just one guy on a guitar, huh?” and smiled.
It taught me several lessons. One, know what you are getting into. Ask the questions you know your client is going to ask. Two, understand the parameters of the project. I should have known it was going to be a 24 hour session. I didn’t prep the client to wear something other than a skirt and panty hose. Nor did we have hotel rooms or a place to sleep except the couches in the studio.
The moral of the story? Always understand the parameters of a project. Don’t assume anything.
So my story?
A few years ago I was working with a client that was very active in co-promotions with major Hollywood films. One of the biggest they did during my time on the account centered on a certain well-known swashbuckling archeologist and his final return to the big screen. Needless to say, the request to join the client and a number of agency partners in San Francisco for briefing and brainstorming session on promotional tactics was met with an immediate booking of flights and hotels. Pulling into the gates of the Presidio, I couldn’t help but crack a grin at what the day would hold.
As I was walking the halls of George Lucas’ Letterman Digital Arts Center with one of my creative directors — both of us desperately trying to maintain our cool — he turned to me and said the only words that could summarize the experience: “everything cool that I ever cherished in my childhood was created by these people.” Turn one corner and you’ll see Yoda’s light saber. Turn another and you’re face to face with the animatronic puppet of Slimer from the Ghostbusters movies. One more and you’re walking down a hallway lined with matte paintings from everything like Die Hard to Star Wars to Jurassic Park. I think my chin still has the marks on it from dragging along the floor that entire day. Somehow we managed to keep our cool all day, which included a script read and a preview of the then-unreleased Star Wars animated series. For me, it came down to this: in those moments you find yourself in the company of greatness, act like you’ve been there before.
So what unusual or unbelievable situations have you found yourself in due to your job? And what did you learn? Share them with us!