The Story of Ray Markman – Part 5
by John Jonelis
Across my desk sit both Alexander Harbinger PhD and Loop Lonagan. So far they haven’t come to outright blows but their big duel is set for 5:00 pm. That leaves two hours to pick their brains.
I realize both men are waiting for my part of the story on Ray Markman, 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.” I pause and look each man in the eye. “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.”
Harbinger merely nods and looks particularly aloof. Probably a smug belief that German beer is better than Budweiser or Miller. I don’t want to take sides in their duel, which is based chiefly on nationalistic pride, so I agree:
“You got that right.” I say as 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 over the din of a lot of background noise. Some kind of construction in the next office. A lot of hammering. Then he hands 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. But then he tears a hole in the top and reaches in to get a cigarette. Of course, he’s doing it all wrong and makes a mess. His cigarette’s coming apart. The Philip Morris guy puts a lighter to it and suddenly Ray’s got a torch in his hand.”
Harbinger is leaning toward me while Lonagan is leering and I go on: “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 on the desk. 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.’ Remember, he took that spot at Helene Curtis just get brand manager experience and land this position.”
I’m having a good time telling this story and these guys are still with me. 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 this job is Ray’s dream come true.”
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