Lessons I Learned At BBDO

FB_IMG_1495626511764 (1)I worked as an account manager at BBDO from the fall of 1977 to the spring of 1989. I was proud to rise through the ranks of account management during those years. I left for the opportunity to be the President of a Philadelphia ad agency, and while I don’t regret it for a moment, I often wonder what course my career would have taken at BBDO had I remained. Those 11-1/2 years were filled with excitement, tension, anxiety, hard work and pride. I worked at BBDO for more years than in any stint in my career (other than my own consulting venture which I am now in its 18th year, and counting).

BBDO was a creative driven and dominated agency. The talent (and accompanying egos) were world-class. I found this photo of the creative leaders recently which obviously inspired this post. They were smart, funny, inspiring, and sometimes difficult. I didn’t personally love everyone in this photo, but I respected them all. I suspected that I too was not universally loved, but hope that I was respected.

I learned so much at BBDO, about business, marketing and myself. But as it relates to the craft of advertising the key lesson I learned was directly from the late Phil Dusenberry, the agency’s creative leader, who I recall saying:

“The meetings come and go, but the film remains”

I remember being so stressed about “making the meeting” (as any good account manager should) but Phil’s comment was obviously correct. Great film is what BBDO was all about in that era, and BBDO did it better than any other agency.

I understood my role was simply to create the environment of sale for great work. Easier said than done, but I saw my job as:

1. Learning the client’s business well. I was far more interested in business of our clients than most account guys. I was also interested in the business of BBDO—manpower, profit margins, compensation methodologies, etc. (All those MBA finance classes paid off). Paid off more later when I owned an agency.

2. Gain the trust of the client. If I did #1 well, I figured that went a long way in gaining the client’s trust. But I also always tried to like and respect my clients. We are all human and there’s a direct correlation between those you like and respect and the feeling they have for you

3. Craft insightful communications strategies that were smart, and ones that allowed the creative folk to “do their thing” and create great work.

BBDO was not an easy place to be an account guy. Same was true for the media folk, research people, etc. Respect from the creative folk was slow to come and needed to be earned. I was OK with that. I understood my role:

I was an offensive lineman

As every offensive lineman knows, they are totally critical to the success of the team, but often underappreciated. Great teams have great O-Lines. Weak teams don’t. My job was to give up my body to create the opportunities for the QB/split ends and running backs of the creative department (shown in the photo) to score. The good news is that we had the talent to score but needed the big guys up front to allow them time to do so. I also learned that big ideas were fragile (like quarterbacks) and my role as an offensive lineman was to protect them.

In the end I’d like to think I was far more than a journeyman offensive lineman. I did open large holes for the running backs and they often did score. And when the team achieved greatness I was gratified, so even though all the folk in the photo were the creative leaders along with the “hardware” gained for creative excellence, I am proud to have played a small role in making that happen.

BBDO is a distant memory for me and I suspect for virtually everyone in this photo. But for that time period BBDO/New York was the best at what it did. Even today with all the changes and metamorphosis of marketing, “The Work” remains BBDO’s key focus. No doubt their clients are the beneficiaries.

I can look now back at BBDO and the memories of the angst of working there fades, but as Phil said, the film still remains.

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  1. John R Osborn says:

    Great piece Lonny. I too remember the high energy and pride that we at BBDO shared in our work. And how great to have such a strong team of creative talent behind us, for those ads touched emotions as well as the intellect, and I believe gave us an edge. Thanks for putting it into words.

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