Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tony Stern, My Rabbi…

Came across an article the other day about the importance of having a mentor. Not just in the ad biz, but in any business. Not sure it's going to resonate with many young people today as they tend to skate through the day thinking they already know it all.

I think we can agree, they don't.

(Hint to young unnamed copywriter, if I tell you a headline is no good or has been done a thousand times before, it would behoove you to pull your pants up and just listen.)

I've been fortunate enough to have several good rabbis in my life, none more impactful than Tony Stern.

If you work or live in the ad community in Los Angeles, you know there are two Tony Sterns. Being a ripened 44 year old copywriter, I, of course am referring to the older Tony Stern.

I met Tony years ago while he and his partner Jeff Roll (also a rabbi), were running the Nissan Regional Account at Chiat/Day. Tony needed a writer. He could have had his pick among many talented folks at the time, my contemporaries, including Jeff, the Other Jeff, Steve, Mike, Rick, Kenny and a host of others whose names I have forgotten.

And any of us would have snapped at the opportunity, because at the time getting into Chiat/Day was more difficult than getting into Fort Knox. Sadly, that is not the case today.

Tony and Jeff made sure they were getting their money's worth out of my partner and I. We did Sales Event ads, Parts Department brochures, flyers for the Fleet, and even retooled the service manual if memory serves me right. It was great training. And it was hard work.

But it was fun.

Presenting to Tony was always a gas. As a former gag-writer for the Tonight Show, he was primed to laugh. Loud. And hardy. And if he laughed at the work, he and Jeff usually sold it.

Unlike other rabbis, actually unlike other Jews, Tony likes to drink, so we hit it off right away. I remember at the conclusion of one horrendous pitch, Tony and Jeff took us for a blowout lunch at some fancy dinery on Abbott Kinney. When the 4 digit bill came around, Tony insisted on seeing the dessert drink menu and tacked on a couple of shots of ancient Courvoissier or some undrinkable cognac, bottled while the North was still battling the South.

Each one ounce glass was over two hundred bucks. It tasted like shit.

On the other hand, because the client was paying for it, it tasted like heaven.

Good times.

Most importantly, Tony and Jeff, two curmudgeonly old mensches taught me about trust. For one of the big year end clearance events, they allowed my partner and I to pitch and produce an entire unscripted, improvised campaign shot on hand held video. We brought in radio legend John Crawford and spontaneously filmed people in Los Angeles, essentially asking them why they weren't at the big Nissan Event.

It was a huge risk. And easily could have resulted in many instant severance checks.

But, in addition to being intimidating, it was different and fresh.
And with Tony and Jeff's guidance, it was funny.

I miss those days of winging and winning. Last I heard, Jeff and his wife were riding horses in Sante Fe and Tony, the tireless writer, is still churning it out for an agency in the Valley.

I'm not sure they were ever given the credit they were due. And who at Chiat/Day ever is? But Tony and Jeff mentored so many young professionals. And did more for that agency than anyone will ever know.

Not just by producing a wealth of great ads, but by producing a generation of great ad people.


Tony Mariani said...

Rich would be great to see the ad. Can you post it?

joefeldman said...

I need to find Tony, to have him autograph my copy of "Happiness is a Dry Martini."

Robert Manley said...

Tony gave me my first job as a copywriter on the Nissan regional business. He was generous, kind, and funny as hell. He was treated horribly by the agency. I lasted about four months under the new "leadership" hack.