I am a recovering mad man. I managed the art and design studio of the Chicago office of the venerable ad agency J. Walter Thompson from 1996 until 1999. I was involved in nearly every new business pitch. And while the requests for each were ridiculous, rarely sublime, there is one in particular that stands out.
In 1997 we were in pursuit of a giant computer account (think cow spots) whose billings would be in the $150 million neighborhood. That would make it the largest account win in the agency’s history
About 30 people worked Saturday before the pitch. Another 50 joined us on Sunday. The team grew larger still on Monday.
My boss pointed out that the studio was going to likely put in a lot of time during the week. She reminded me that there there was a hotel in our building and that we should rent two rooms–one for the guys, one for the girls–which would allow for naps and showers.
Uh..the hotel was the Four Seasons. A few of us went to look at the rooms—they were suites! The type of room that President of the United States might sleep in. Maybe even Robert DeNiro.
Sad thing is, I napped for about four hours during the entire week, so I hardly remember the room. Don’t recollect if I got to lounge around in the monogrammed fluffy robe.
I do remember falling asleep momentarily slumbering on a conference room floor. Until I sneezed myself awake after inhaling some pretzel-crumb-size particle from the carpet.
We kept hearing that the presentation was going to be in a room that was the size of airplane hangar. And that all the visual materials had to be “HUGE!”
I kept asking “HOW HUGE?” I kept hearing “REALLY REALLY HUGE!” Thus, when asked by studio techs and art directors for a scanning resolution, my response was “HUGE!”
I chose to err on the side of caution and mandated that all materials would be scanned at 600 dpi.
Before I knew it we were scanning a gazillion images. I heard groans from the studio techs as they tried make clipping paths, and unsharp masks on their Mac 7500′s.
Somebody screamed “the server’s full!!” That was exaggeration, it still had 700 Kilobytes (roughly a Word document) of storage left. I spent the next two hours in my office archive files to tape, JAZ, CD and any media I could get my hands on.
Our color printers were overwhelmed. I had put in several requests to upgrade these; however I was told these weren’t capital expenditure priority. We had one that was so old that the processor actually had a green-LED screen . The other was quite a bit faster, though barely able to chew through the massive volume of jobs.
Well on Monday, the “new” printer crapped out. It was after business hours so the chances of getting service were nil. I was told that I could do “whatever it takes” to get a printer. So after six months of being told that upgrading the printer wasn’t a budget priority, suddenly it was.
I spent over an hour on Kodak Inc’s phone trees, pinching my Amex Card, ready to read off the number. I wasn’t able to buy a printer that night, but isn’t it pretty to think so?
So the printer service tech arrived the next morning and he began printing out hundreds of solid color pages: cyan magenta yellow black. Somebody started taping them together and we laid them on the floor in sort of a Candy Land fashion.
The rest of the week is a blur of Pad Thai dreams and sweaty, bellicose account executives. There was one event around 4:00 am, when a blowhard A.E. our Toronto office managed to parlay my then-lack of knowledge with PowerPoint into a jag against the computer I was working on. I remember him screaming in my face at one point “Apple is a dead company! When we get this Gateway business, we’ll get rid of this pieces of crap! Apple will be out of business within six months! You mark my word!”
He was so close at to me at this point, I could smell the peanut sauce on his breath and I swear I could feel his chin whiskers on my Adam’s apple.
I truly wish I had recorded that exchange, I would enjoy listening to that on my iPod.
On Thursday that week, the new business team delivered the pitch at the Gateway offices in South Dakota. A few days later, the account was awarded to a different agency.
I logged about 115 hours that week and I wasn’t even close to being the agency’s top-biller There were a couple of other folks that crossed the 120-hour mark.
During a new business pitch you tend to have an abundance of David Byrne moments when you may ask yourself “How did I get here?”
In my quiet moments, I also several “Eric Burdon” moments when I would catch myself singing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” in my office.
Eventually I did. In 1999 my wife and I moved to Michigan and I got out of the agency business. In strange sequence of events, the CEO of Gateway is now my governor, so I guess in a sense that I am the client now.
Occasionally, I look back on my “Mad Man” era, and grimace or clench my jaw. But far more often, I laugh; sometimes a quiet giggle, sometimes a guffaw. Those were good times with good people.