Monday, August 12, 2013
Many of you will recognize this as Nakatami Tower, the location for the original Die Hard movie.
It was also the home of Abert, Newhoff & Burr, where I got my first real advertising job. (I'm going to ignore the three weeks I spent working at Bear Advertising, writing copy for guns, fishing reels and doe urine.)
I bring up AN&B, because last week my wife and I were escorting our daughter on a casual tour of colleges in central California, including UCSB and Cal State San Luis Obispo. While checking out these potential recipients of my life savings, I received an email with some very upsetting news.
One of the founders of the agency and the man who literally gave me a start in the business, Mel Newhoff, had passed away.
For those who don't know their Los Angeles advertising lore, Mel was part of the original team that made Chiat/Day, Chiat/Day. He was a writer's writer. At a time when craft and persuasion trumped technology and technique.
In piecing his father's memorial together, Mel's son had asked me if there were any quotes or words of wisdom that Mel had imparted. I wish there were. But Mel was a man of few words. He seemed to be saving the good ones for his clients and always let the work do his talking.
That's not to say I don't have any impactful memories. I do.
When the agency won the Daihatsu account I watched it grow. And when the agency lost the account, I watched it un-grow. It was a painful process because it inevitably meant saying goodbye to colleagues.
There were layoffs, followed by more layoffs. Until finally my partner and I were the only creatives left in the department. Mostly because we were the most junior and the only ones they could afford.
But the agency death spiral is an unforgiving beast, and eventually our time came.
Mel called me in the office and told me to shut the door. I knew what to expect. Or at least I thought I did. Mel apologized. He wished things had gone differently. And that he had made some better decisions. He told me not to worry and that he had already been making phone calls with other Creative Directors to get me my next job.
And then he reached in his top drawer to retrieve an envelope. And while he was handing me the severance check I could see he was visibly nervous. He was truly empathetic. I'm probably not doing it justice, but as menschy moments go, this was about the menschiest.
Later on in my career, I "got quit" several more times and come to put the whole thing in its proper perspective.
As the recent mega-mergers and the drive toward financial "efficiencies" have shown, the corporate world can be coldblooded, predatory and heartless.
Mel Newhoff proved it didn't have to be.