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25 Years.…And Still An Interloper.

Liberty placeI came to the Philadelphia area in 1989 when I joined ad agency Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro, a firm no longer in existence, as its President. I joined 25 years ago, on March 13, 1989 to be exact. (Who says people don’t remember their work anniversary date?)

While I claim in the headline that I am still an “interloper” (and I am), that comment is not a condemnation of the Philadelphia area, but rather a reflection of where my heart is—New York. Always was and always will be. I grew up in Northern New Jersey, went to college at Rutgers (undergrad) and NYU (grad) and was living in Northern New Jersey and working in New York through the 70s and 80s. I was working at BBDO/New York when I joined Earle Palmer Brown’s Philadelphia office, then called Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro reflecting the acquisition of Spiro & Associates in 1987. Within a few weeks of my arrival, we moved the agency to Liberty Place, shown here, which was then still a new building.

People would ask me “Aren’t you glad to be out of New York?” I think they were looking for an opportunity to hear some New York bashing. Alas none was forthcoming. I said, “No, not at all”, I would reply. “I love New York. I came here for a career opportunity.” Indeed it was, as I was a 36-year old senior management representative at BBDO/New York, rising quickly but with several senior management rivals, and I joined 100+ person Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro as its President. Furthermore, I silently thought that if I didn’t like Philadelphia or the agency, I’d just go back to NY quickly anyway. So when I did not put down New York as a place to work & live, I think made others even more wary.

I was not a jerk however (I realize that may not be universally accepted wisdom). I did not talk a lot of NY smack, except about my Yankees of course. I realized that business eyes were on me expecting a raft of New Yorkers to show up within a few weeks and replace many of the Philadelphia staffers. While we did hire a small handful of people with NY agency backgrounds over the next several years, there was never a massive influx of NY talent, nor was it ever my objective. There were lots of talented people already at the agency and more would join during the seven years I was its President.

When I first joined Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro in March 1989, I did not immediately move to the Philadelphia area. I commuted from Edison, NJ taking the train from Metropark to 30th Street Station or driving 75 miles each way. Obviously this was a major schlep. But I wanted to be sure I hadn’t made a bad career decision and wanted a logistical “out” that would have allowed me to return to NY without another physical move.

I did in fact have some initial reservations. Philadelphia is not New York. It’s a city with many wonderful qualities (and some bad ones too), with many nice suburbs. I knew little about Philadelphia other than the Liberty Bell and heart in the Franklin Institute before we came to the market. I also knew little about city neighborhoods and suburban towns, culture and was not a fan of its sports teams–still not. While living in Northern NJ, I would occasionally trek down to see a Dead show at the Spectrum or see the Knicks play the 76ers, but my visits were largely short. When I first came to the market, I felt out of place for several months. But the market did win me over, and I liked the agency, our staff and was very proud of what we ultimately accomplished. We were a very talented agency.

So six months after joining Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro in 1989 we took the plunge. Time to move to the region, I thought. My wife, Beth, and our then infant daughter, Carolyn, moved in October 1989. We chose to live in Southern New Jersey, closer to the Jersey shore (northern shore of course, where we have a place in Belmar). We bought a new home in Voorhees, NJ a nice suburban town where we still live today. Our son Carl was born here a few years after we moved.

Is Philadelphia area a nice place to live? Yes, there are many wonderful communities. Beyond the geography, we have made many terrific friends. I like Southern NJ, come into Philadelphia multiple times weekly, have clients throughout the area, and have been involved in area Boards, and charitable and business organizations. I try in my own way to contribute to the Greater Philadelphia community. Even so, Philadelphia is not fully in my heart.

There are many nice qualities that Philadelphia has, yet I feel the market has always had a chip on its shoulder. I recently saw many people post the article 31 Reasons Philadelphia Is The Most Underrated City in America Many of the reasons were bogus (except #31 Wawa). Fly, Eagles, Fly song and The Wing Bowl were two of the reasons…..come on. I do think the Philadelphia market is little mentally twisted in that it needs to convince itself that it’s a special place. It really doesn’t need to. Philadelphia is a special place, for those who feel it. One thing you’ll never see is a similar article about New York City, which may in fact have 31 Reasons Why It’s Overrated. But it’s also the best city in the world, with the best (and worst) of everything. But one thing’s for sure…New York has no inferiority complex.

My heart remains in New York, while my body resides in Southern NJ. I’m OK with that. I’m also OK with making the 200-mile round trip trek to Yankee Stadium 15 times each season. It’ll be extra sweet to do so this year to watch Derek Jeter’s last hurrah and hopefully World Championship #28 (more on that in future Strumings–oh boy, you say).

Car and GirardiAnd it’ll be nice to see most of those games with our daughter Carolyn, shown here with her buddy Joe Girardi, Yankees manager. Carolyn now resides and works in New York City as a social media Community Manager for a terrific PR/marketing firm, Taylor. I guess those first few months of her life living in Edison, NJ helped frame her love for New York–also the words “Yankees Welcome Carolyn Strum” which I would put on the scoreboard when she was young may have helped as well.

Philadelphia is a good place. But New York has my heart. That will never change. An interloper I remain, and I am not ashamed to say so.




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One Comment

  1. Cheryl Baker says:

    Great article, Lonny…and I share some of your sentiments. I shared the other column on Jeter’s last year on facebook, and especially with my daughter, Lauren, who would probably rival your Carolyn’s love of The Yankees/Jeter. It’s sometimes cold and dark when you stand in the shadow of a giant…but there is much to love here in Philadelphia. Best to embrace the exemplary qualities and work together to improve the rest.

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