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.

Advertisements

Oreo — Double-Stuffed With Good Ideas

Image

Those clever Oreo creatives! They get the best ad during the Super Bowl for FREE! (Remember when they tweeted during the blackout!) They are killing it in social media. And then, they delight my Monday addled eyes with a splash of fun and color in the oldest media form known to mankind (next to carving ads in stones). Art direction! Copywriting! Media planning! Bold thinking! They blast a full page ad in the … newspaper! It’s different. It’s fun. It’s bold. It doesn’t matter what it says. What it says is, “We’re Oreo, we’re here, we’re proud, say it loud!” And it made me think an Oreo might just go well with coffee at breakfast.

You might say it’s a wake-up call.

Ricketts Wrigley Field — A Modest Proposal

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or on the South Side of Chicago, you no doubt have heard about how the owners of the Chicago Cubs baseball club want to take the most beautiful inner city ballpark in the country (yes, that includes that park in Boston) and dwarf it with a television screen the size of a Boeing 747. It is upsetting to the baseball purists, the neighbors, just about everybody — except, I think, advertisers. Ricketts sees dollar signs. And that is only fair. It’s his park, he can do with it as he pleases. He who pays the piper calls the ads.

But if you take a look at the Cubs, a team that manages to pull in the crowds without winning, I think Ricketts is missing a huge opportunity. Get rid of the team altogether! Get rid of the stadium. Just put up the largest flat screen television on earth and SHOW ADS FOR CAR DEALERS ON IT!!! Why stop with that parcel of land on Addison and Clark Street? Take over the entire north side of Chicago. I could see a Bob Rohrman ad extending from the Lincoln Park lagoon to Waukegan. Make that screen so big astronauts can see it from space!

Maybe they can even show some movies about baseball teams that win on it.

Me and Coach Parcells

I noticed future Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells on TV the other day and I thought, “geez, he’s looking older. But at least he’s keeping the weight off.” And I flashed back to the campaign we did together for New York’s Tri-State Cadillac Dealers. He was a little heavier back then. Coaching the Jets. But a really nice guy to work with. If you didn’t know he was a maniac football coach, a tough leader of men who could, at any moment yell out, “drop and give me 40!” and half of Fifth Avenue would obey, you’d have thought this guy was a professional TV actor. He did a lot of sponsorships in those days. He had an agent right out of Jerry McGuire, complete with bad-ass wrap around shades and slick suit.

And what these guys did was pack all of Bill’s commercial production into one week before the start of summer training camp. I remember meeting Bill at the shoot on a Monday and he went through his schedule: three commercials for Cadillac today, two for this auto parts company tomorrow, flying to California for two commercials Wednesday, and so on. Back to back commercials.

We had some radio to do, along with the TV spots. He arranged for us to walk from where we were shooting, in front of the Plaza Hotel, to a radio studio next door and record over lunch. I thought, this is going to be a disaster. We are sunk. We had TWELVE COMMERCIALS to record. In an hour. And we’d been shooting a TV commercial since 5 that morning, and would be shooting another into the night after the lunch break. I was worried. This was going to SUCK!!!

Walking to the studio, I said to Parcells, “You sure you want to do all TWELVE? We can cut it down to three.”

Parcells said, “No problem,” and went back to joking.

Who was I to argue? And when he went into the booth, HE DID IT! He knocked them out perfectly. In one take. Masterful. As he left the booth, 47 minutes later, I gushed about what a great job he did.

He paused, looked at me, and said, in total seriousness, “Oh, that was nothing, yesterday I did 30 in an hour.”

And he walked away chatting and laughing with his agent.