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The Interoffice envelope: Where Have You Gone?

I worked at BBDO/New York as an account manager moving up the ranks for 12 years from 1977-1989. Many of my views of marketing were developed during that time, even though I don’t believe every TV spot needs a $1 Million+ production budget.

In hindsight, where all the issues of yesteryear fade into the darkness, BBDO was a great place with many terrific and talented people. As I look back, I know I was fortunate to have spent so many years there. There were so many interesting and intelligent people at BBDO, even those who I disliked were characters. Among the people for whom I had a particular warmth were two fellows—David Parker and Fred Moore. They shared the same malady—they talked funny, so I thought. At a minimum, they we clearly not “New Yawkers”–that’s because they grew up down South, David was from North Carolina and Freddie was from Tennessee. They were both really bright young Assistant AEs, who’ve gone on to bigger things.

I’ve been fortunate to recently reconnect with Fred Moore, who still talks funny, but since he is now the CEO of a terrific agency in Richmond, VA, called Big River, I don’t think his speech is an issue any longer.

More importantly, Fred has never gotten his due of being the “father of social media” because back in the 80s Fred was an assistant AE dreaming of new ways to communicate with many people with a single keystroke along with a “social” interoffice envelope, while the same time his fellow Volunteer, Al Gore, was inventing the internet.  

Today’s Strumming  is Fred’s story of the Origins of Social Media from his blog, Fred Moore or Less. It’s about the well traveled interoffice envelope. Good story, well told.

Remember the classic old inter-office envelope?

Those nasty dirty yellow, re-usable envelopes that sealed in ‘important’ documents via a straggly, yet tough string wrapped snugly around a cardboard disk.

Those wrinkly, old envelopes were really the precursor of social media – right?  In my mind, they were early vestiges of LinkedIn —before LinkedIn was cool.

They used to carry the old inter-office memo.  A well crafted, typed out position paper that utilized proper English and little slang or certainly no short cuts (such as LOL, BTW, etc.).  They were well crafted POVs focused on  business, procedures or other such important items.  These memos were key.  If seen by the right person, at the right time – they could be career changers.

Bosses and other management would receive these business memos, scratch a couple of words in the corner and either return the memo to sender or forward it on.

Social media, right?  Getting your POV circulated around to others was good – back then as it is today.

But, as we all know – social media can also have it’s ‘dark side’ and sometimes  be… well ….cruel.

This was certainly true during these “social media” evolution days.  Let me explain.

While I was at BBDO in New York and working on the Pepsi account – I had an extremely telling “social media” event occur that has impacted me forever.

I was the very low man on the Pepsi totem pole.  Assistant Account Executive.

But boy, it was a blast. We were actually in the midst of shooting the Michael Jackson “Choice of a New Generation” campaign (No. I know what you are thinking.  I was not the one who lit Michael’s hair on fire!)

Anyway.  One of my high vaulted jobs for the Pepsi account was to make sure the talent (secondary actors and actresses) got paid and that the client got billed for all these talent charges.

Remember the “concert scene” of the Michael Jackson commercials? We’re talking about hundreds of ‘on camera’ talent.  That means many, many payments to the fake “fans” whose face may appear for say all of a  half a second.  I had to deal with all those payments.  Complicated, a process nightmare and expensive for our client.

I had a brief idea of how to make this process a little better and cheaper for our client.

So, I wrote a one page inter-office memo outlining my “how to make the talent payments more efficient’ idea.  Upon completion, I  grabbed one of those ubiquitous nasty yellow inter-office envelopes from my secretary Catherine Edwards’ desk (this really dates the origins of social media  as this was during the day when even a lowly assistant account executive such as myself had a secretary) I then sent the nasty yellow envelope with my one pager to my boss – Stuart Marvin (later to be head of advertising and marketing for The Sporting News)

That was that….right?

Oh no, the power of the early stages of “social media” was – little to my knowledge – just going into effect.

Fast forward -two weeks later.

I receive via inter-office mail – a nasty yellow inter-office envelope.  The contents to my surprise? – my one page inter-office memo…with multiple scribbles and notations all around the edges of my text.

Wow.  My note had really made the rounds.

And, even more easily that a modern day text chain, I could see where my thoughts had been, how it impacted thinking, and what people’s real feelings were.

Obviously, my suggestion had been a big one and prompted important business musings.

So, I began tracing the steps as I read the scribbles around the edges.

Stuart Marvin, my original destinee, sent it with a note to his boss – Jeff Mordos (now Chief Operating Officer for all of Omnicom) with a note that said something like “Example of how we are always saving the client $$$s”.

Mordos, in a underneath note, sent it to Bill Katz (later President and CEO of BBDO) that said “When are we going to have our next Pepsi team building meeting?”

I guess the appearance of my POV served as a reminder to Katz that he needed to follow up with something to his boss Richard Burnette (BBDO management representative for the Pepsi account …no idea where he eventually ended up) Katz’s quick scribble said “We need to get together on that issue that we reviewed on the plane.”

Not exactly the feedback I was looking for but…heh…my note is climbing the ranks!

Burnette then obviously made a really bold move and launched my inter-office memo with the gaining scribbles outside the inter-office environs and sent it with his note to Pepsi headquarters in Purchase, New York.  Dick had obviously spotted an up and comer in the Pepsi organization Brenda Barnes (Pepsi Product Manager and later CEO of Sara Lee) and he did not want to miss any chance to make an impression on her.  His note –  “Thanks for a great shoot.  A little example of how everyone on our team is thinking about making Pepsi marketing better. Dick”

I follow the saga of the journeying inter-office memo further.

Oh my gosh….

Ms. Barnes sends MY memo to the larger than life- Alan Pottasch – the undisputed father of the Pepsi brand!  My heart is fluttering.

It gets better.

Pottasch actually sends MY memo to Pepsi CEO, Fortune magazine cover boy, author of the best selling business book The Other Buy Blinked, and at least temporary winner of “the cola wars”…none other than…Roger Enrico!!!  Pottasch’s note?  No idea – too this day I cannot make out his handwriting.  But, hey – does that really matter at this point? We have broken the glass ceiling and are flat in the management stratosphere.

And wait.  Did Roger actually write something?!?!  Oh, my gosh.

As I hold MY memo in my hand closer.  I see it–In the top right corner of MY memo.

Yes.  Yes.  Roger the Man actually wrote something.

I squint to read his quick, CEO “ain’t got no time to mess around” almost indecipherable script handwriting.  After, a few moments, I can see clearly what this great man wrote.  I see how he summarized this two week conversation among – what would turn out to be – the true leaders of this nation’s advertising and marketing industry – in a manner that only top management can.  Cut through.  Get to the point.

My friend Roger had scribbled —-

“Who the hell is Fred Moore?”

A little crushed…I must admit.  But, now I look back with perspective.

Yes, social media can be an energizing or demoralizing experience. But, at least I was there at its inception.




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