Today, April 1, 2011, marks a special anniversary in advertising for the Old Copywriter. Thirty years ago today, I started my career as a junior copywriter at Crume & Associates in Dallas. (The ad pictured here is the first ad I ever wrote. It won a Clio, when Clios still meant something and long before a bunch of hooligans rushed the stage stole after being told they the show wasn’t going to happen) along with a pencil, CA certificate and the Art Directors annual.
I didn’t start out in advertising. I was a sports writer for seven years out of Texas Tech. First at a small paper in Vernon Texas before eventually moving to Dallas.
While working at the Dallas Times Herald, I saw a headline about how a local agency, Crume & Associates, had “dominated” the local Addys, or Tops as they call them here. I tracked down a gentleman named Ben Vergati, who was at the time the creative director at Crume. I didn’t have a book to show him. I brought along my newspaper stories as well as a list of “country and western” songs I had written. He musta liked what he read, because a few days later I was meeting with my soon-to-be partner and first mentor, the legendary Rob Lawton. We had lunch at restaurant that was inside a bunch of train cars. During the interview, I managed to insult Rob. He told me a story about his “present wife”. Being hard of hearing, I thought he said, “prison wife” and asked him how many years he was in the pen. At first, he was pissed. Then he laughed that great signature laugh of his and told Ben to “hire him”, meaning me. Before you could say Bill Bernbach, Ben had offered me a job. It paid $11,000 a year, which was a big cut from the money I was making at the paper, but I took it. Even then, that was not much dough, ray, me.
I loved working at Crume. Rob and Ben were great bosses. I also met a man that would be a life-long friend, Wally Williams, the founder of Tequila Mockingbird in Austin. Wally held the title of Copy Supervisor, which I thought a bit odd since I was the only “junior copywriter” in the agency. I showed my work to Wally who showed it to Ben. (I also worked with a young lady named Janet Ruttman, who became Janet Bustin, who became the president of DDB/Dallas years later. There was also Larry Talley and Dennis Strini and Patrick Sandlin, all very, very talented creatives.)
I remember calling my friends at the paper and telling them that I had two weeks to write one headline! We were used to putting out entire sports section in four hours! I also remember one time that I was given an assignment to write a 16-page brochure. I interviewed the client, sat down with my notes and wrote the entire piece of collateral in a little over an hour. I turned it in. A few minutes later Bill Crume, the owner of the shop, came into my office and handed it back. I was afraid was about to be fired. “It’s great,” Bill assured me. “There’s only one problem. We get paid by the hour on projects like this. You need to rewrite this about 60 more times for to make any money….”
I was at work about ten minutes which was 9:10 a.m. (probably the only time I was ever on time for work) when the assignment for Saf-T-Mark landed on my desk. Rob told me he wanted 100 headlines written by the end of the day. I gave him one headline. He asked me where the other 99 were. Being a arrogant prick, I told him from what I knew about advertising, you can only put one headline on a page…. and this was the one. He didn’t laugh that signature laugh. He told me he’d be the judge of what goes on an ad. I worked all night and had exactly 99 lines on his desk when he walked in. He’d worked, too. He showed me the layou with the headline “This isn’t just another middle of the road paint” on it. He knew it was a winner. In three years there, I never did a TV spot, only print and collateral.
Lots of fond memories not only a Crume but also Leo Burnett, DDB/Dallas, Y&R/NY and Jake:Ferguson. Hard to believe that 30 years ago today it all started when an a work order for a company that manufactured road paint was put on my desk only ten minutes after I started…