Today’s Lesson from Pat Kelly: Ideas Are Like Balloons, Let Them Go…

Four point seven million years ago, when I was a baby copywriter in NYC, I was lucky enough to take a TV writing class from Pat Kelly at the School of Visual Arts. Thank goodness I kept copious notes. This hippy spouted wisdom like Old Faithful spouts water — or steam, or whatever it spouts.

I am thinking of Kelly because last night I was lucky enough to hang out at one of his alma maters, The Leo Burnett Agency. The thought of this bearded beatnick facing St. Leo himself in a creative review board is enough to give me pause. But I am really thinking about Pat (author of, most famously, the original genius iconic Federal Express Campaign) because the evening was devoted to IDEAS. A panel of Creative Circus grads who work at Leo were talking about ideas and the business today.

When these nine or so men and women, and their instructor Dan Balser, were talking about ideas, The Leo Burnett Agency did not seem like any kind of dinosaur to me. On the contrary, it seemed to soar. Good visuals. Strong concepts. Rule-breaking. Failing better. Fun. Risk. Responsibility. Zaniness. As far as I could see, those values are still being cherished over on Wacker Drive. 

I don’t know about the organization, but as for the people and their brains (and guts) ideas were the star. Which brings me back to Kelly, finally.

I remember sitting in his classroom, angry and fuming and working like a banshee on some ads for his class, and for my job up at Fort Ogilvy at 2 East 48th Street, clutching my fledgling ideas to my breast  in a fury. And Pat, in his calm, easy-going, possibly medicinally altered fashion, saying — “hey, ideas are like balloons. Just let them go. You’ll always come up with more.”

And I remember thinking — damn! how can this guy who has come up with so many of the most amazing ideas EVER be so casual about them!!!??? That doesn’t make sense??!!

And I remember how long it took me to work that generous way of idea making thinking into my work habits (I’m still doing it.)

Because the irony of both believing in the flow of ideas, as well as the preciousness of the great idea was on full display.

Somewhere Leo, and Pat, are smiling. Together.

Mayhem — The Leo Burnett ‘Critter’ as anti-critter…

He’s there. Right alongside the Pillsbury Doughboy and The Jolly Green Giant and Tony the Tiger and Charley the Tuna. That snarly, bearded, with little piece of band-aid tape above his eye purveyor of all that is wrong with the world known as “Mayhem,” spokescritter for good ole’ Allstate insurance. Espousing all the little things that go wrong, this critter has taken his proud place among the greatest that the Leo Burnett agency has ever created. How do I know? I heard him ripped off this morning. On the radio. Some health company was touting some undecipherable disease and they gave that disease a persona just like Mayhem. But not as good. By a longshot. But still, boxed into a corner, the agency creatives reverted to the ultimate sign of someone having come up with a “big” idea. They ripped it off. (I could almost hear the cash registers ch-chinging at the Allstate company!) Another winner for Leo. And I thought, would Leo himself have approved of this downtrodden anarchistic force of evil as a spokes-critter? I do believe he would have. See, he liked the sounds of ch-chinging too.

Leo does it again.