The Story of Ray Markman – Part 5
Friday, 3:00 pm
I realize both men are waiting for me, so I report.
“I’ve got the story on the job Ray was gunning for—the one at Leo Burnett, the big-time ad agency. First let me get you into his mindset. Ray has a theory that all great companies are two men, not one. There’s Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside. The Idea man and the guy who runs the factory. Look at it this way—when Apple loses Steve Jobs—Mr. Outside—the company doesn’t just dry up. There’s a Mr. Inside who’s already running the shop in the background.”
I slap my palm on the scarred desktop. “Same thing at this ad agency. And at that time Leo Burnett himself is Mr. Outside.”
“So Ray makes good his escape from that cosmetics firm. He’s on the loose. Brand manager experience under his belt. He shows up at Leo Burnett and talks to the executive that fills the role of Mr. Inside. And the guy puts Ray through their regular jury system. That’s a set of grueling two-hour interviews with ten people.”
I sip my scotch. “Here’s where it gets good. Eventually, the personnel department sends Ray to interview with their biggest brand manager—the guy that runs the Philip Morris account. At that time, cigarette manufacturers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising. Doesn’t matter how much. The more they advertise the more they sell. It’s a direct correlation.”
“Yeah.” Lonagan is grinning. “I remember them times. Kinda like the way they sell cheap beer, nowadays.”
“You got that right.” I take off my glasses and rub them clean with my shirttail. “So here’s how this interview comes off. Ray and this guy are both standing the entire time—standing at opposite sides of a huge desk, talking other over the din of a lot of background noise. Then he gives Ray a pack of cigarettes.
Now, Ray doesn’t smoke but his father did, so he tears off the cellophane just the way he watched his old man do. He tears a hole in the top and reaches in to get a cigarette. Of course he does it wrong and makes a mess. The guy puts a lighter to it and suddenly Ray’s got a torch in his hand.”
Lonagan and Harbinger are leaning toward me and I go on: “Now picture this: There’s all this noise. They’re standing there talking at each other. Paper all over the desk and ashes are falling from that ruined cigarette. Little fires are burning everywhere. Meanwhile the guy peppers Ray with questions like a machine gun. Doesn’t pay any attention to the chaos. And Ray’s praying, ‘God, how can you punish me this way? I wanted this job.’”
I’m having a good time telling this story and these guys are still with me, so I wind it up. “Afterwards, Ray goes home to his wife and says, ‘Honey forget it. They’ll never hire me after this.’ But a couple days later, he gets a call. Come in. Tell us when you want to start.”
Lonagan and Harbinger are both grinning as I go on. “Let me give you an idea of the culture of this organization. Leo’s absolutely huge on creativity. He puts together the most august group of ad people in the industry. Then he gets four creative groups competing to win each campaign. Everybody works their asses off. Competitors say Leo Burnett’s throwaways are better than everybody else’s finished ideas.
“Anyway, Ray goes to work for them. And he submits ideas to the top man himself. And Leo says, ‘Let’s do this.’ That really shocks Ray. He sees himself as just an account guy—the low man on the totem pole and Leo Burnett himself is listening to him. Turns out Burnett will listen to anybody with creative ideas. Doesn’t matter who you are. And he gets to like Ray.”
I lean back and lift my feet to the desk. “Nowadays, they’re under a conglomerate like all the agencies. But back then it’s Ray’s dream come true.”
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