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After Work: What I Miss About Work

…Advertising agencies don’t attract the most stable people in the world. The business is fast on its feet, somewhat shallow and glib. There is often a strong smell of snake oil. It swallows its young whole and puts elders out on ice floes….

Dona Gibbs pulls back the curtain to reveal the workings of the folk who make the ads which make us buy. For good measure she tells the tasty – er, no – the messy – come on, let’s get this right – the tastily messy tale of what happened to a huge cheesecake.

After reading Dona’s revelations you will inevitably want to sample more of her words. You are welcomed to do so. Please click on After Work in the menu on this page.

Jocks. Cheerleaders. Geeks. Freaks.

The egos. The ids. The super-egos.

That’s what ad agencies are made of.

Time has mellowed me and I look back to my time spent in the creative departments of advertising agencies with heaping cupfuls of wistfulness and a soupcon of regret. Now if only I knew what a soupcon was.

Advertising agencies don’t attract the most stable people in the world. The business is fast on its feet, somewhat shallow and glib. There is often a strong smell of snake oil. It swallows its young whole and puts elders out on ice floes.

People who thrive are those with talent, thick skin and the political skills of a lead sled dog at the Iditarod. Those who win-- but more importantly—those who bay the loudest get the most meat at the end of the race.

That’s how it seemed to me at the time.

Where should I begin? There was the old, old story of an art director in his thirties who whispered to me, a very young, naďve writer me in her twenties, “ Stick with me, baby, and I’ll put your name in lights?

He said this without irony after I handed him a rough sketch of a visual and a headline, which he then quickly re-drew and lettered. And later presented to our boss. Without me.

Nah, those stories are so rampant in any business they’re boring.

Advertising has the trappings of a real business. With teams. Projections. Accountability. And many, many meetings with pie charts.

The art directors and writers are given the task of coming up with concepts based on marketing briefs cooked up by clients and account executives. Then they must determine whether the ads created are on target. Given the complexities of the demographics and the image of the brand, will the ads sell product? That’s simplified, the non-business school version, as I understood it.

There seem to be some timeless truths in the ad business. There is always a conflict between the account people and the creative people. The account people are too literal and boring. The creative people are too whimsical and irresponsible.

The agency people believe clients don’t know what’s good for them. An abiding belief, in spite of the client’s attaining instant name recognition, gaining tremendous market share and earning a gazillion dollar.

The creative staff always turns the statement of “If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t rich” into” If you’re so rich how come you’re not smart.”

Of course this was said was in the privacy of our cubicles, far, far out of earshot of our beloved clients.

As a writer I spent hour after hour with whatever art director I was teamed up with at the time. We would stare at each other’s shoes. We would flip through magazines, gossip about our co-workers, sneer at our boss, order lunch, and belittle our clients until—until inspiration struck.

Consequently I know a lot about my past co-workers.

There was the recently married woman who would clean and then re-clean her diamond ring. Two and a half carats at least.

A cynical and witty television producer proclaimed the diamond so large,” the Pilgrims could’ve landed on it.”

Then there was the bon vivant, another charming talented producer with an unmistakable belly laugh and French heritage.

“Ho, ho, ho” would reverberate through the open halls of that old cast iron faced building in New York City’s West 20s.

And we then nodded at each other sagaciously. We knew he must be talking to a woman.

Truly the most remarkable person was a woman art director whose hair color would change each week. One week, Ronald McDonald. The next week, tortoise shell cat, dabbed in black and orange.

She had changed her name from Gertrude to something film-noirish because as she said she could never imagine anyone whispering “Gertie, Gertie,” into her ear in throes of passion.

The most remarkable of stories among all the strange tales she told between those long, long silences of shoe gazing was The Cheesecake Story.

Back in the old days, art directors received Christmas presents from subcontractors-- photo retouchers, illustrators and photographers. Note: writers never got loot because they didn’t really buy anything from subcontractors. My Christmas stocking was empty and so my hands are clean, alas. Way, way back when, ad people might have gotten television sets, VCRs--- all kinds of swag.

Budgets and tax laws tightened and the most ad people carried home were fruit baskets, wreaths and donations to charities in their names.

So it came to past that my aforementioned co-worker received a cheesecake. A huge cheesecake.

One fourth of it was glazed with blueberries. Another with strawberries. And the other with cherries. And the last with sour cream.

It was enormous.

There was one problem.

She didn’t really care for cheesecake.

So she put it in the fridge. It was too big and too expensive just to toss out.

Then came the night she had a few friends over for her birthday. Not one of the biggie birthdays. Just a yearly time’s going by birthday.

After dinner, she asked if anyone would like cheesecake.

All demurred.

She brought it out anyway.

And sat in it.

“Yes”, she said, to my fellow art director and producer and me, “I sat in it.”

We had many questions. Most having to do with clothing.

There was only one she would answer.

“I sat in it first. It was my birthday.”


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