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30 Years in Philadelphia.

913241978On the morning of Monday March 13, 1989 I left my home in Edison, NJ around 6:30am and then drove 85 miles to Philadelphia. A new chapter in my business life began that morning as I was the new President of Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro, an ad agency in Philadelphia. I had been a successful 36-year-old Senior Management guy at BBDO/New York, yet this was still a new challenge as I was now running an ad agency of 100+ people. I was now “they”. I walked in the door on day one and 100 faces looked at me trying to read the tea leaves of how “the new guy from NY” would operate.  It was a strange experience, and the anniversary of this date makes me reflect on the (many) pros and (some) cons of the move 30 years ago.

Though 100 faces were nervous about what the guy from New York was like, I too had my own trepidation.

What was Philadelphia like?

What were the people at the agency like? How talented were they? What was the quality of the thinking and work?

Who are the clients?

What was this Earle Palmer Brown network all about?

Would I miss New York?

At the time, the agency was actually located in two locations in Center City when I arrived.  The offices were in the Land Title Building on Broad Street, which was the office of the acquired Spiro agency, and at 1845 Walnut street, the offices of the earlier acquired Kalish & Rice agency. Truth is the agency looked like it was caught in a 70s-time warp. It didn’t look or feel contemporary. It surely did not exude creativity. The good news was the plan was to move to the new Liberty Place that summer, combining the 2 locations. I thought the move would create a unified culture and help position the agency for the future, which it did.

In the next few months, I found the answers to my questions. First of all, I commuted from Edison for 6 months, which was painful but doable. My wife, Beth, was pregnant with our first child, Carolyn, who was born on May 1, 1989, 7 weeks after I started the new position.

However unsaid was my concern about whether this was really a good career move. That was not 100% clear to me then, or even now though I have no regrets in hindsight. I was leaving New York, at that time the mecca of the ad industry (still is, but to a far lesser extent today). I thought not selling my home immediately would give me 3-6 months to do a “test drive” of this new agency and new market. I thought (but did not articulate) that I could bail and then return to NY to BBDO or elsewhere I thought if it was a disaster. It was not a disaster so we moved to the Philadelphia area in October 1989. We moved to Voorhees, NJ into a new home which we lived in until 2016 when we departed.

Immediately people would ask me if I was glad to leave New York, assuming that I was glad to leave the NY rat race. “No, I was sad to leave”, I said. “My objective was never to come to Philadelphia or to leave New York. I came because it wasn’t too far from New York and the opportunity was right”. Perhaps not the answer that was sought. I felt then, as I do now, that many Philadelphians have a chip on their shoulder as it relates to New York. Philadelphia has many unique assets and is a wonderful place to live and have a family, but New York is unique. As I’ve said often, New York has the “best and worst of everything”. The Philadelphia market is a special place, but it was also OK that I missed New York and still do.

Another personal advantage in my move to Philadelphia area was that Beth’s family lived in South Jersey, and we would soon become first time parents. We also had a Jersey Shore place in Monmouth County in Belmar, a nice town where we had gone for years. Ironically, we had bought it in late 1988 just a few months before my move south. I am not a Margate/Ventnor/Ocean City kind of guy, anyhow. Actually given that Belmar was still only 65 miles from South Jersey, this still was my connection to my past. Furthermore, I like walking on the boardwalk and seeing Yankees hats. I am not a red hat kind of guy in baseball or politics.

I admit that I did come to my new job with an unspoken “New York bias”, that the depth of talent and work was better in New York. Didn’t mean that there weren’t extremely talented people in Philadelphia, or that there wasn’t good work either. But I tried hard to never articulate that bias, though I suspect it showed. Surely, the painting of Yankee Stadium I immediately hung in my office was a clue. My New York sports bias remains to this day. I was never reluctant to share that, then or now.

In terms of the agency, I remember pitching the Trop World (Tropicana) account in my first week of the agency. I remember immediately using slides (and very soon after computer images) rather than “boards” as the agency had done in the past. I changed the format of our presentations immediately. I also created rehearsal schedules for our presentations with 3-5 rehearsals for each pitch. This did not make me very popular, but it helped create confidence and success as we won a few competitive pitches along the way.  We won the Trop World account, though I remember having misgivings, as casino work was never my passion. (But at least it wasn’t a Trump property, because we likely wouldn’t have been paid).

I also remember bringing the late Joyce Newman down to Philly (yes, from NY) as a presentation coach when we had major presentations. She was so skilled and made everyone’s presentation better. I had worked with her at BBDO and knew she would help us improve our presentations and confidence, mine included. I miss Joyce as a professional and friend, though I am confident God is a more focused and powerful presenter with her now heavenly tutelage.

Obviously, I remained at the agency and took pride in our work, people and success. Every day was not easy. There were setbacks and the Earle Palmer Brown network was a mess and would later implode long after I had moved on. What remains are my memories of people at the agency, many who were already there, and many who joined along the way. In hindsight, I regret the level of turnover of people and clients, but some of that is the nature of the business.

I left the agency 7 years later, almost to the day. I had hoped to acquire the agency and separate it from the network of Earle Palmer Brown agencies. I was unsuccessful in doing so. Who knows what would have happened if I had been successful? Maybe very successful? Maybe not?  Regardless, I am not a woulda/coulda/shoulda kind of guy. I moved on and became the CEO of another local shop.

kidsThough I have no misgivings on moving south to the Philadelphia area, I still miss New York, though I will be returning (to the Bronx) 29 times this year, or at least that’s how many games I have in my Yankees ticket package. It begins on March 28 vs. the Orioles. Our children, Carolyn, a Marketing Manager at MSG Networks, and Carl, Manager, Business Intelligence/Analytics at Healix, an IPG MediaBrands agency, both work in New York. Who says parents don’t have influence?

I think back fondly about coming to Philadelphia 30 years ago and leading the Earle Palmer Brown office, but it wouldn’t have happened without my prior years in New York.

But I miss New York too. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…




More Strumings

7 Comments

  1. John Trush says:

    Very much enjoyed your walk down memory lane. Thanks for sharing. Go Yankees…Harper is a bum… ;) . Enjoy. JT

  2. ks says:

    I for one am glad you made that trip down I-95. I liked your “level-up” approach and find myself today reflecting your influence on teams I lead. I even allow your NY sports bias … to an extent :)

  3. Stuart Marvin says:

    You relish in the “old” New York, Lonny. The city is a mess. And the industry you so fondly recall, it doesn’t exist any more. The industry is a shadow of its former self. The principles instilled in you, me and others wrt creative development and strategy, have been usurped by data dependency. Identifying emotional drivers as a means of creating product differentiation today would be met with a blank stare or a “say what?”

  4. Phyllis Levy says:

    You forgot to mention the wonderful neighbors you met on Oak Ridge Drive…
    How the heck are you doing these days?

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Oak Ridge Drive was a wonderful place to live. Life is good for us in Moorestown. All is well.

  5. Nancy says:

    Love this! I too love that best and worst. Our son graduated Fordham in 2014 and got married there! Our daughter is doing time at Universal McCann after graduating from TCU. Yep those trips do have influence. And genetic memory!

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