Monday, December 13, 2021

From Russia with love

Heard from my old Chiat/Day art director partner John Shirley last week. 

John had been cleaning out the garage at his mom's house, where she had been storing the leftovers from his storied career in advertising. Sadly, his mother had just recently passed away -- may her memory be a blessing. 

Like myself, John had recently become a full time caregiver. He, for his mom. Me, for my wife and my uncle.

It is not an easy responsibility. However, I believe that special adversity reveals, in an exponential manner, the true character of a person. I know I see John, and even myself, (both of us self admitted narcissists in the Before Times) in a different light for rising to the caregiving challenge. I tip my sweat-stained University of Colorado baseball hat to anyone handed that difficult assignment.

Back to John's mother's garage and what he found there. As the picture indicates it has to do with the Wall Street Journal. And flashbacks to our adventures pitching that business in 1999. Or 2000. Or 2001, it's all a blur to me.

Coming off the success of our yellow campaign for ABC, Lee Clow asked us to work on this media-adjacent account. It wasn't a huge revenue maker, but WSJ was certainly high profile. And the pitch included several trips to NYC to swap palm sweat with the big wigs at this famed institution, which I will readily admit was not on my reading list. Nor John's. 

As he often remarks, "I like picture books."

We toured the very staid editorial suite, walked through the newsroom, and broke bread with the movers and shakers of the financial world, exclusively older white men with silver hair who look identical to the founders of the John Birch Society. 

Then we'd leave, wash up at our fancy businessman hotel, and go out with the Chiat/Day team to an outrageously expensive restaurant, order Market Price menu items, single malt whiskey and discuss the latest episode of The Simpsons.

"Good sir, I'll have your second most expensive steak stuffed inside your most expensive steak, thank you."

That's how we rolled.

We made several cuts on the first go rounds of the pitch and reached the finals where we were pitted head to head with Goodby Silverstein -- this was in the golden times before that esteemed agency lost its luster and found itself cranking out crappy spots for Sonic Burgers and Liberty Mutual

Liberty, Liberty, Liberty.....Liberty.

We came breathtakingly close to winning the Wall Street Journal. 

This, despite one last chemistry check when the WSJ team came to visit our offices in Playa Vista...technically Los Angeles, and were greeted by 1000 employees, including Lee, reluctantly donning serious business attire. Note to self: eschew any stupid pitch theatrics.

It's a shame, because we had what I believe to be stellar work( that I had long forgotten about). I know it's not fashionable to say things like that, but given the decline of the industry in the last twenty years I'm going to indulge in a little back-patting and let the naysayers have at it.

These were three outdoor posters that would, in typical Chiat/Day fashion, have plastered the walls at construction sites, dominated train stations, and smothered New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other major cities in an unabashed celebration of capitalism.

But, like the 1000 shares of MCI Worldcom that were going to make me a filthy rich man and then went underwater, it was not to be.

This work, like so much other unrealized ideas, now live in the ether, or more specifically, not in Manhattan but in John's garage in Manhattan Beach.

1 comment:

Sonny Rioja said...

hey rich, i used to work with you at chiat — back in 2005 when i was a lowly intern. still lowly, but not an intern anymore. wanted to thank you for continuing to write. writing is a lonely endeavor but less lonely for those lonelier than you.

we never crossed paths, but i do read your posts. thank you and best of luck. no idea what's happening but one quote inspired me when i was going through a similar patch, "things don't happen to you; they happen for you."