Above: Chuck Penna, in the early Salt Lake years
Though my experience was a decade later than the smoke filled and martini-pickled ambience of the show’s 1960s setting, the Salt Lake of the 1970s could have held its own with Don Draper’s Madison Avenue.
After setting up a slew of interviews in Salt Lake, I learned I was going to be visiting shops that had been in business for 50 or 100 years. Coming to Salt Lake, I had expected the ad agencies to be very conservative—a vast departure from the liberal ‘party’ shops I had worked for outside of Utah.
The first agency I interviewed with was one of the “younger” shops, having been in business a mere 50 years. I was seated in a conference room that must have been decorated sometime in the 1940s… and not updated since. The first thing that surprised me was a very large collection of booze bottles lined up on a bar from one end of the conference room to the other. This collection would have looked at home in any NYC bar where the Madison Avenue executives had their three-martini lunches.
The doors opened and two agency partners walked into the conference room—one smoking Pall Mall cigarettes (the No. 1 cigarette brand In the 1960s) and the other with a classic David Ogilvy style pipe going. Right away they offered me a cocktail… at 11 a.m. I politely declined while they mixed up a couple of pre-lunch drinks for themselves. I was beginning to wonder if I was in Salt Lake or had caught a flight to Chicago by mistake.
As they started to review my creative book, the cigarette smoke was quickly filling the room. Looking around I noticed there were no windows and wondered if there was even a ventilation system—if there was, it wasn’t working. Soon the conference room was filled will a blue haze. My eyes started to water and my nasal passages were shutting down. As I tried to hold my breath, the agency partners, who were both easily between 70 and 80-years-old, slowly looked at every page of my portfolio.
When they finished looking at my creative samples the very senior partner looked up and asked me, “Son, are you a copy-contact or a commercial artist?” I had heard “commercial artist” as a term from the 1950s but I had no clue what a copy-contact was. I soon learned that a copy-contact was an account executive, who over lunch with client, wrote copy on a napkin and then gave it to the commercial artist to layout. I was getting an education in how agencies produced creative before DDB founder Bill Bernbach changed the industry with the set up of art director-copywriter creative teams, the format that is still used by ad agencies today.
But I explained that I worked in a creative team with a copywriter, under the direction of a creative director. Now the 80-year-old partner, while blowing pipe smoke in my face, said, “What’s a creative director?” At this point, I just wanted to get to grab some nasal spray and jump out the nearest window.
As if on cue, or perhaps just by pure luck, one of the partner’s secretaries came in. She looked and was dressed just like Doris Day from one of her 1960s romance movies with Rock Hudson. As “Doris” was standing by the door letting in some fresh air in, I saw this as my chance to escape the interview. I quickly gathered up my creative samples while shaking the partners’ hands and declining an interview wrap-up drink and started walking very quickly toward the lobby doors. Standing outside the building while taking in some deep breaths and waiting for my eyes to clear, I had to laugh about my first interview in Salt Lake and wonder what the next one would be like.
Then & now: We’re big Mad Men fans at PPBH, as you can tell. But, things have certainly changed. We’ve switched from cigarettes to M&Ms and from schmoozing clients over a three-martini lunch to lunchables at our desk over a teleconference with a client three time zones away. What hasn’t changed: the demand for problem solving, creative executions that work, late-night brainstorm sessions and deadlines.
We want to hear from you—are you a fan? Or, have you had your own Mad Men-like experience? Share it with us!