Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Do Not Enter

This is David Butler.

He is not however my David Butler. My David Butler has no images on Google and is far too modest to post any pictures of himself. But that doesn't make him any less deserving of attention.

He is, after all, one of the legendary copywriters who built the Chiat/Day name and is responsible for some of the best work ever done there.

He's also the first person I ever had contact with at Chiat. We spoke by phone, first. And then he agreed to see me and look at my portfolio. This was way before the Internet, when ads were laminated and carefully placed in an expensive leather case.

He plowed through my mandatory 15 pieces, 5 campaigns, 3 ads per campaign. He didn't look too thrilled. But he didn't BS me either. He said some of the work showed promise. And then he made copies of the work and kept it in his file. And told me to keep working on new ideas, improve the ones he liked and come back to see him in six months.

It wasn't a job, but the honesty and the encouragement were worth a helluva lot more than the empty promises of CD's who said, "This is great but I don't have any openings."

Six months went by and my book got better. A year went by and the book improved some more. Eighteen months after our initial meeting, Dave suggested I meet with an art director about a possible opening to work on the Nissan Regional Dealers, the lowest rung on the Chiat/Day ladder.

That led to another interview with Bob Kuperman, a man who suffered no fools. Bob was gruff, but also quite receptive. He told me he wanted to think things over and to call back in a week.

Which I did.

BOB: I really like your book, but right now we don't need any Art Directors.

SFX: Click.

Ouch, I thought, too shocked to tell Bob I was a writer.

But I persisted to bang my head against the legendary Chiat/Day firewall. Eventually (three years later) I got in. And owe a great debt of gratitude to Dave. And to Bob, who, years later, championed work that would have died on the vine.

I also came away with enough scars and war stories to fill a book. Or at least a shoddily-written, sparsely-read Internet blog.


George Tannenbaum said...

I had a similar experience during my "pre-career" with a guy called Shep Kurnit, who was the "K" in the great 70s agency Delehanty Kurnit and Geller. He helped me focus my work and then sent me to four of his friends. Who sent me to more people. One of whom, hired me.

There are dozens of people along the way, who through criticism, patience and encouragement helped me.

Grady Hinsche said...

I wouldn't be a copywriter if it wasn't for Dave Butler.

In the mid 90's I was working as a Receptionist at Chiat/Day in the famous warehouse building on Hampton (which, in my opinion, was the greatest of all Chiat/Day offices). After about a year, I had put together a book and somehow managed to weasel my way into a job as a Junior Copywriter in the Direct Group.

Not long after my promotion, there was a shakeup at the agency and Dave was put in charge of our little group. I was young and naive and woefully unprepared for my job. Dave saw right through me.

After months of killing my lines and rewriting my body copy, he sent me a long heartfelt (and beautifully written) email that suggested I should find some other way to earn a living. Because he was pretty sure this one wasn't going to work out for me.

Those were tough words to read, but the honesty was just what I needed. Instead of giving up, it made me work harder than I ever had in my life. I lived and breathed writing. I devoured old CA annuals, One Show award books, and any piece of decent advertising I could borrow or steal. And I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.

Little by little, I started coming up with headlines that Dave didn't kill (as often) and body copy that he said "didn't suck too badly". I think I may have even made him laugh once or twice. That was the best feeling a young copywriter could ever have.

There's no shortcut to becoming a copywriter. It's just hard work and lots of it. Dave Butler taught me that.

Thanks Dave.

glasgowdick said...

Nicely put Grady. I knew I wasn't alone. Thanks for contributing.

David Butler said...

Gosh, golly, gee whiz and WTF! What I remember thinking at the time was, "Crap, I hope I'm right about what I just said to Rich and Grady. Yep, I think so. I'm pretty sure I'm right. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. Fortunately, everything worked out in the end.

Thanks for the kind words. It was all part of the service.


Bob said...

In the late-'80s, when I was working at DDB's Hawaii office, I sent David Butler my very junior portfolio. The letter he sent back was much like the advice he gave Grady. I distinctly remember my face turning so red, people must have thought I'd developed quick-onset lupus. I, too, worked my ass off and made a pretty decent career for myself. I never sent Butler my work again, because I was just too embarrassed. Although I do keep my "If looks could kill" Subaru ad around, just in case I ever develop a big head.