Monday, October 23, 2023

My first President

I'm a Chiat guy. Always will be. Spent close to a dozen years working there. With the exception of VML, I've worked (staff/freelance) for every shop in Southern California and most the major ones in NYC. 

But without the first agency job I held, I'm not sure the others would have followed. 

Such are the trajectories of life. And the initial point for my trajectory happened at Needham, Harper & Steers in Westwood. The president of that agency was Gerry Rubin, who sadly passed away last week.

I did not know Gerry well, but I do know the legacy he built and the standards he set.

Needham, or as two clowns in the mailroom, Jim Jennewein and I called it Needless Hardons & Tears, was the perfect place to start. To this day, I can't believe how fortuitous it was that I got my big fat foot in the door there.  

In retrospect, NH&S (Gerry's place before he and Larry bravely split off and became Rubin Postaer & Associates) was like the Harvard of Southern California ad agencies. They were prim, proper and profitable, winning awards, but more importantly, winning the trust and loyalty of American Honda, their big client. 

It's been said that before you can't break the rules until you know the rules. Under Gerry's steady and gentlemanly leadership, the rules were clear, and they all focused on respect. For the client, for the people and for the work. 

For a boat rocker like myself, that felt constrictive. And formal. And not something I wanted to be part of. Hence the many, many times Jim and I opened and read the confidential memos that swirled around the agency. Then again, I was 24 years old. Stupid. And seemingly destined for a long miserable career as a restaurant line cook.

"It's 11:57, the kitchen's closed. I just cleaned up. I'm not making anyone a Tuna Melt Sandwich."

In short, I changed course (somewhat) and did a lot of growing up (an even more quailfied, somewhat) at NH&S. 

I will never forget the first Xmas party I attended -- 1983 for those who are counting. It was at the Riviera Country Club (ironically where I would show up 10 years later to get married.) Gerry wore a cowboy hat, strummed a guitar and regaled his crew (including me) with some off-key jocularity. 

He also came by my table, thanked me (by name) and handed me an envelope. Inside, there was a hundred dollar bill. For someone making $800 a month, that was quite the windfall. Later, I was to discover, it was among the most generous Christmas bonuses I ever received in all my years in the ad biz.

"An umbrella? Really? A cheap Taiwan-made umbrella?"


As this blog so amply demonstrates, I have a million insufferable memories about being in this industry. This one is etched quite vividly. Because it was an authentic gesture of appreciation, which seems all too rare and undervalued these days. 

Judging from all the online tributes I'm seeing, that appreciation goes both ways.

Thank you, Mr. Rubin.

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