Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Needless Hard-Ons & Tears

Last week the agency I'm working at, RPA, threw a party to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It's a little ironic that I find myself working there now as this was the very first ad agency where I got my very first ad job.

At the time, they were Needham Harper & Steers. And I was hired to work in the mailroom, where we -- the over-educated/underemployed mailroom clerks -- called the agency Needless Hard-Ons & Tears.

The mailroom clerk position gets glamorized in many rags-to-riches movies, after all it's where many great captains of industry got their start. Everyone from Michael Eisner to Barry Diller to Simon Cowell. But make no mistake, it is a menial job with little pay and even less dignity. (This was a hard pill to swallow for a college graduate who thought his $30,000 sheepskin would garner more than 8 hours of moving boxes, resupplying the coffee machines and delivering mail to a bunch of overpaid "creative" types.)

But, as it turned out, the mailroom was a perfect place to learn the ad business. Particularly the part about having your dignity stripped away.

Years after pushing that damn cart around the office I had landed a real copywriter's job at the now-defunct Abert, Newhoff & Burr. And sold my first television spot for a car. And not just any car. This was a spot for the newest Japanese import, the three cylinder (that's no typo), fuel-injected Daihatsu. It wasn't so much a car as it was riding lawn mower with a glove compartment and a radio.

But that was hardly important. What was important was that my partner and I had sold a spot and our portfolios were about to grow by leaps and bounds. Or so we thought.

Having just finished my breakfast burrito and settled into video village for an exciting day of filming, I was approached by the Creative Director. He pulled me aside for what must have been a difficult chat.

C.D.: Listen, when the director starts blocking the shots and gets the camera rolling you're going to see some unfamiliar things.

Me: Unfamiliar? (this was my first real car shoot) How so?

C.D.: Well, there were some changes made to the script.

Me: Changes?

C.D.: The client requested some changes.

Me: OK, what changed?

C.D.: Everything.

Turned out the clever slice-of-life in a Daihatsu script we had written had been swapped for 27 seconds of running footage and a cheap rendition of a bad Julie Andrews song.

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. And found myself yearning for the mailroom days when I still had a shred of dignity. Sensing my despair, the Creative Director found the only silver lining in the day.

C.D.: The craft service people are great. For lunch I hear we're having Chilean Sea Bass.


Jeff said...

I hear you also worked at Chiat\Day & Night and down in Irvine at Y&R - Yes sir Right away.


You finally found a way to use it -- NEEDLESS HARD-ONS & TEARS. Those were the days. Plus we had the Wall of Shame. And that one receptionist who shall remain nameless. JIM