Monday, July 27, 2015

Edgewater 10

The NYC interview at One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in 1982 marked the beginning of my illustrious career as a big time advertising man. The skills I brought to the business turned out to be more than appropriate but the nature of the business was not entirely predictable. Wes bought himself a pinstripe suit and went into battle from the Hoboken railroad flat that he shared with his wife Lynn and their baby girl Lindsey.

The junior account executive was a success in breaking into a highly competitive ad biz and as such witnessed from the inside the launch of Diet Coke – an historic event that engaged an embarrassing number of celebrities in an atmosphere that felt like the academy awards meets the Nobel peace prize. The genius tag line for this blockbuster extravaganza: “Introducing Diet Coke. Just for the taste of it.”
Meanwhile my job included the periodic messenger/check pickups, trips to the distributor to pick up product in Grogan’s green Cadillac, carrying a TV monitor/VCR as side kick to Grogan on brisk walks to the client’s office (taxis apparently for wimps). It also fell to me to write the official internal strategy for the Van Munching account. The LINK document was a series of cleverly designed sheets that folded into sections suggesting a linear and logical flow of activities: competition, communication/message, media, promotion, marketing etc. (No-one ever read this document as near as I can tell.)

The low man on the totem pole doing this planning document was my first exposure to the reality that so much of the brainy tools were more about appearances that anyone really focusing on strategy. Every account at the agency allegedly had a completed LINK document that captured the important facts leading up to a brilliant brand positioning. So, in hindsight I wonder how the number one imported beer in America ended up with a relatively bland tagline, “Come to think of it, I’ll have a Heineken” and executions featuring "hero" product shots without even hinting about any demographics of the customer.

Leo Van Munching was convinced that hero product photography and a focus on a handful of major markets like NYC, Chicago, LA, SF and Miami was the way to go -- particularly as his company rolled out Amstel Light. It’s hard to argue with success, but time will tell. The the number one imported beer (Heineken) and this aggressive brand launch (Amstel Light) sold more than a few barrels. 

In hindsight vision is 20/20. It’s remarkable however how much you don’t see. Up close and personal, you want to believe that a global advertising firm with all that Lever packaged goods marketing credibility would be smarter. What would I do differently in hindsight? Probably nothing. Because the reality is that advertising in the early 1980s was revealing itself to be a greedy business. It was not at all about the fantasy that I embraced -- creative excellence, being smarter than the competition and appealing in a relevant and compelling way to consumers who ultimately choose the brand that tells the best story. Chosen even if they are in a category with a preponderance of parity choices.

This was a lot to absorb in my first experience in the ad biz. I went on to hop scotch around from agency to agency over the course of the next fifteen years on an impressive list of brands at top flight agencies. I was never shrewd enough to secure my own position however. Accounts come and go. Agencies merge and fold. Brands die. The world is much more fluid than I ever imagined.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Edgewater 9

One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza

Skyscraper National Park

Wes Morgan arrived in New York City with nothing. He just knew it was the Advertising Capital of the World and Kurt Vonnegut called it Skyscraper National Park. The kid from Edgewater Drive couldn’t help looking up at the buildings as he made his way to One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Second Avenue for an interview with the HR director Bill Timm at SSC&B:Lintas. It was 1982 after Lever International Advertising Services (LINTAS) had just been folded into this Interpublic agency.

I rode the elevator to the 39th Floor and made myself at home. Bill Timm was gracious and invited me into his office. The meeting was one of several I managed to make happen. This one was by virtue of name dropping David Schropfer’s name in a letter along with a resume. Schropfer was director of account services at Mike Sloan Advertising in Miami but was once hired by Bill Timm somewhere in the Interpublic system. Anyway the Miami connection, the MBA and the rationale that the agency needed more male account people added up to my getting an offer. I would be paid $21,000 a year to be assistant account executive on the Van Munching & Company of New York account. Leo Van Munching was the exclusive importer of Heineken Beer in the U.S.

It was a big job for rookie and a wild ride. My boss was a guy named John Grogan who at 37 years old was a rising star at the agency.  Tall and handsome and well groomed, Grogan seemed to be pretty full of himself. He was a marathon runner and lived in Bronxville, NY. He drove a big green Cadillac into Manhattan every day. I learned that he had been in the Navy and served at least some of his agency career on cigarette business. Grogan had enough juice at the agency to refuse the logical placement of one of the entry level trainees of which Bill Timm managed a small army of eight. Somehow, Bill Timm sold me as an alternative and placed me among Grogan’s Heroes. Grogan was VP and Management Supervisor with Heineken and Amstel Light (Van Munching inported beers), Lego Toys, and Homelite Jacobson lawn mowers under his wing. On Van Munching, Grogan relied on AE Russell Brown to provide a level of expertise from his background as a media buyer and me to do whatever Russell didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do. He was effective enough in managing up to earn himself a promotion to Account Supervisor while I struggled as low man on the totem pole.

In retrospect, the Van Munching account was not very challenging or creative. Leo Van Munching was managing a steady growth in sales as the popularity of imported beers was for the time being anyway dominated by Heienken.  

Indeed the relative success of Heineken and Amstel Light was overshadowed by the success of other Imports among them the Canadian brands like Molson and Moosehead and Mexican brands like Dos Equis and Corona.(Imports were less than 4% of the beer consumed in the U.S. at that time.)  Meanwhile the domestic battle of beers was becoming a street fight between Anheuser Busch and Miller Brewing. The regional brands like Coors, Pabst, Rolling Rock and Stroh’s were going to eventually lose share to these giants.

But when you look at things in a fixed point in time with little or no sense of market share shifts over time -- It just seemed like the explosive growth of Heineken would go on. Leo Van Munching & Company of New York was spending $22 Million on those two brands. I was even, on two occasions asked to pick up checks from Van Munching & Company offices in the  Radio City Music Hall building near 30 Rockefeller Plaza. On those two occasions I was essentially messenger boy carrying a checks from the client totaling over $1 Million dollars.        


Leo van Munching, 88, Heineken Beer Trader

Published: April 4, 1990 
Leo van Munching, the importer who brought Heineken beer to the United States, died of complications of Alzheimer's disease yesterday at Greenwich (Conn.) Hospital. He was 88 years old and lived in Greenwich.
Mr. van Munching, who was born in Hyderwyk, the Netherlands, began importing Heineken to the United States in 1933. He had been a ship's steward for the Holland/American cruise line and persuaded executives of Heineken to allow him to represent their beer in the United States after the repeal of Prohibition.
During World War II, when imports were curtailed, Mr. van Munching served as director of welfare for the Dutch Ministry of Shipping and assisted the Dutch Seamen's Home and the Dutch Officers Clubs in the United States.
He founded Van Munching & Company in 1946 and was its president until his retirement in 1980.
He is survived by a daughter, Ann Ryan of Greenwich; a son, Leo Jr., of Darien, Conn., 10 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

Advertising Age reported this recap about Heineken in 2003

In December 1933, Leo van Munching Sr. brought his family and 50 cases of Heineken beer to the U.S., having talked the Holland-based brewery of the same name into making him its sole distributor in the market. The Nazi invasion of Holland, however, curtailed exports of Heineken, and the Dutch government did not allow Heineken to restart its export business to the U.S. until 1946.

In the 1970s, the company's advertising changed under the leadership of Leo van Munching Jr., who followed his father into the business Heineken's TV spots pictured only the bottle with the tagline "America's No. 1-selling imported beer." The simple campaign ran for 15 years with subtle variations in wording and background settings, and by 1979, Heineken accounted for 41% of all import beer sales. In 1972, Heineken became the No. 1 imported beer in the U.S.

Imported beers truly came into their own in the U.S. in the 1970s, when the legal drinking age was lowered to 18 in most states, and continued to grow in the '80s as imports were taken up by young urban professionals.

In the early 1980s, Heineken introduced Amstel Light, positioned as a premium imported light beer targeted to women, with the slogan, "95 calories never tasted so good." Amstel Light was a curious introduction for Heineken, as there was no call for light beer in the brewer's home market. The wisdom of the introduction soon became clear, however, as Amstel Light quickly rose to the No. 1 position among light beers in the U.S.

By 1986, Mexican Corona Extra, which appealed to a young audience seeking trendy new products, had surpassed Molson and Beck's to become the No. 2 imported beer, and Heineken realized it needed a fresh approach to capture the younger end of the market.

Warwick Advertising took over the account from Lintas in the late 1980s. In 1988, it introduced the tagline "When you're done kidding around, Heineken" to position the brew against a growing onslaught of faddish beer brands popular with younger drinkers.

In 1991, Mr. van Munching Jr. sold his company to Heineken, retaining operating control of the company until January 1994, when the Netherlands-based brewer took over marketing its brands in the U.S. Sales continued slow, however, in part due to federal taxes that were increased by 100% in 1991.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Edgewater 8

Pause and Recapitulation

Maybe story telling needs to engage the reader. Every story needs a logical arc (beginning, rising action, conflict, resolution and a conclusion). How do you reconcile accounts of factual tidbits and poetic license? The truth is stranger than fiction, yet a credible story cannot be accurately offered by one still living his or her life. (Not by me anyway.) What needs to happen, perhaps, to make things interesting is an artistic interpretation. Consider a tapestry, or better still a collage, or maybe an abstraction of sorts. Resisting the urge to wallow in second-guessing the reasoning of the craft and compositional strategy, Jackson Pollock had no trouble dripping paint onto a canvas on the floor. Maybe it is up to the critic to determine meaning and value. Clement Greenberg is such a critic -- best remembered for his promotion of abstract expressionism and among the first to praise the work of Pollock.

All literature and art and history ultimately intertwine. Insignificant as a single being is in the universe it seems expedient to only glance. In the room the women come and go speaking of Michelangelo (T.S.Elliot). Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. (Wallace Stevens) The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,  And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep (Robert Frost).

The ephemeral nature of being is belied as a single day seems to take an eternity. Surely time spent waiting for a bus deserves a level of quality too. A single person in pedestrian traffic crowding into a subway car has comparable value to any other spec of a human on the planet. Well then, the folly of my obsession to tell a story awaits critic, context and/or interpretation. So be it. I do not create for critical or popular acclaim.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Edgewater 7

Jet Set, Sir Speedy and Top Pay at the Miami Herald

George and Vivian were in the restaurant business in Miami when they agreed to get into another line of work. They figured, I guess, typesetting was a license to print money. The technology was more accessible. It certainly looked that way. George remembers exactly how much he paid every time he had to print new menus. Vivian was happy to move away from hiring and managing busboys, dishwashers, wait staff and cooks. Hire a graphic artist, she reasoned, and the typesetting business was a necessary step in printing everything from menus to business cards. A cash cow. George and Vivian watched every penny. Clothes pins on a line like a short order cook fulfilling tickets was a personal touch borrowed from their previous ventures. I was a graphic designer in this Miami quickie typesetting shop.

Jonathon Babbs knew he could apply his business acumen to make his franchise Sir Speedy Printing Business in West Miami the largest in the country. I was hired to be key account sales representative in this thriving business. Forms, business cards, direct mailers and letterhead.

The Miami Herald paid me to load circulars in a big machine that dropped those valuable revenue sources from retailers like Levitz Furniture, Winn Dixie and others. The hourly rate would only be increased twice before you reached “top pay.” You can tell by looking around who among your co-workers has achieved this level. They are the guys who napped on the piles of newspapers during the break intervals. No sense impressing management if there was no chance for pay increase. A part time gig -- I didn’t work this opportunity long enough to get to Top Pay.

Marquee Magazine hired me in sales. 100% commission is no way to make a living with no cash reserves. It didn’t last. Rome Advertising needed a graphic artist to spec ads for classified newspaper advertising. (I wasn’t very good at it.) The city of Miami department of Parks & Recreation was a pretty good customer for a scrappy graphic artist. (I was competent but always had to haggle to get paid.)

Jet Set, Sir Speedy, Miami Herald, Advertising sales for Miami Marquee Magazine, art direction for Rome Advertising classified advertising and freelance graphic design for the Department of Parks & Recreation. It all added up to walking around money to augment my small stipend and student loans at the University of Miami. All of that was behind me. Would that newly minted MBA be enough to set me apart from perhaps thousands of others seeking entry-level work at a big time advertising firm in the big apple? 

Lynn said “I do” and she was in favor of moving closer to her family so we could give it the college try. We had four degrees from the University of Miami to work with (B.A., B. Ed, M.S. Ed and M.B.A.). Lynn’s incredible parents were a safety net and tremendously supportive. (Even though Lynn’s mom cut out newspaper help wanted ads for me -- Accounting Executive when what I was looking for was Account Executive.)

All of those jobs contributed to life experience that I would draw on forever. In retrospect there is learning in every crappy job and every bounce along the way. The kid from Edgewater Drive is not, after all, made of “finer clay.” Nobody owes me a living. At the same time, like Groucho, I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Misadventures in Advertising, Madison Avenue, Toys, Million dollar deposits at Chemical Bank - One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.       

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Edgewater 6

Post Graduate

A slow starter in school. At St. Luke they decided I would be best served by repeating Grade 1. High School years focused on commercial art the minimum required study of subjects considered necessary for someone who was presumed to be college bound. An undergraduate college student overachiever albeit misguided. (To me, the study of art. believing it to be a noble and necessary study for a person hoping to one day make a living in some aspect of design, communication and/or advertising. Along the way attracted to creative writing and the allied interest in contemporary literature.)

Blame my parents for the proclivity in favor of the arts. Dad made a fine living owning and operating a business offering art/advertising/photography. In his free time he was always drawing and painting. His body of work was notably cartoon balloon headed people, watercolors and larger format abstract mixed media. Mom was passionate about theater. She was intimately involved in community theater productions as actress and director. These were obsessions that became part of who I was too.

Coming to the commencement of my undergraduate college experience with the sudden realization that I knew next to nothing about running a business, the University of Miami was willing to grant me an excuse to delay becoming a grown up and pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA). 

An intensive Summer session - Program in Management Studies (PMS) would be all I needed to be considered equally qualified to Accounting Major David Goldberg. (I kid of course – Goldberg would forever be more business savvy than me. You can concentrate on the meaning of life or making a living. I still favor the former to the later. I was never pragmatic when it came to educational choices. David Goldberg and his ilk could sail through business school courses on the way to an MBA – for me and my liberal arts sensibilities it was a bit more challenging.

David Drimer was an important touchstone for me in this educational epoch. It was a graduate assistant position that allowed me to continue schooling. Drimer convinced me that forgoing the big bad world in favor of an additional educational credential was a good idea. Like me, Dave is more a student of life than making a living but a very smart dude nevertheless. He was convincing in his argument in favor of pursuing the MBA, especially since we both managed obtain tuition remission and a small stipend as admissions representatives. So over the course of two years I was able to visit 300 high schools in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the U.S. Dave traveled in the metropolitan NY and Mid Atlantic regions. So Dave, Rick, Eric, Tom and I took the UM show on the road part of the year and managed light campus duties upon return. Tuition remission, travel and a marketable graduate degree would put me solidly on the road to whatever.

So that combination of academic opportunity and travel allowed me to see places like Phillips Exeter Academy (NH), Choate (CT), Cheshire Academy (CT), The Cranbrook Schools (MI) and the Martha’s Vineyard High School (MA). So, however privileged I felt I had been growing up on Edgewater Drive was challenged by what I was able to see up close and personal – the pastoral college preparatory landscape that was nothing like my frame of reference. I already knew life was unfair but somehow I was blind to the advantages of the country’s truly elite. Had I had the benefit of this tour of college preps I might have been too intimidated to face college at all let along and MBA.

Back in Coral Gables and on campus at the University of Miami, however, I was at home and taking the classes in stride. Except for Accounting – which still eludes me for its orderliness and discipline, I remained in the part of the class that makes the top half possible. I told myself that exposure to business school thinking was a healthy dose of reality that would serve me well when and if I ever fully engaged in the world of commerce. Mind you, my brother took his Bachelor of Education (B. Ed) to work in Dad’s business. It makes me laugh a little even now. A B-E-D degree for my brother who had plenty of trouble getting out of bed. Greg would later forsake the family business for, of all things, Commercial Real Estate.

So by 1982 I managed to earn an MBA from the U. That credential was a factor that allowed me to land on mid-town Manhattan - Skyscraper National Park. The kid from Edgewater Drive was officially working for a top flight firm in the Advertising Capital of the World – New York City.

Some sidebars – Sir Speedy Printing, Jet Set Typesetting with George and Vivian, Hoboken.