Guest review by Jeff Saperstein of The Insanity of Advertising: Memoirs of a Mad Man, Fred Goldberg, Council Oak Books, 2013
The TV series Mad Men has popularized the notion that advertising professionals were cads, clowns, and deviants who beguiled their clients and bedeviled a gullible public into wanting products they did not need.
This may have been true of some, but there always have been dedicated advertising professionals who practiced their craft in service to their clients and contributed to continuous product/service innovation for improving peoples’ lives.
Fred Goldberg, who was a significant player in the Bay Area for 18 years until 2000 when he sold his agency Goldberg Moser O’Neill, presents a no holds barred memoir of his work journey. A good storyteller, Fred knows how to play hardball; he evens scores with those who “done him wrong”. He goes after some of the high and mighty of the era such as his nemesis Jay Chiat, Founder of Chiat/Day and John Skulley, who forced out Steve Jobs from Apple Management. Fred’s agencies Chiat/Day and Goldberg Moser O’Neill were important catalysts to enable the rapid growth of emergent technology companies such as Apple, Cisco, and Dell. Fred was at the table with the giants such as Steve Jobs (Apple), Larry Ellison (Oracle), John Chambers (Cisco), and Michael Dell (Dell) among others who defined the Silicon Valley ethos.
I have known Fred Goldberg for over 30 years, observing his style and work both up close and from afar. He is brusque, direct, and sometimes crude (this book has some of the best put-downs of pompous asses, pretentious braggarts, and liars I have seen in print)—the antithesis of the smooth, glib Don Draper like characters portrayed on screen. But there was never any question that he was a solid businessman, dedicated to his clients, supportive of his best workers, and a relentless driver for great advertising.
While those in the ad business who have aged into Medicare will be familiar with both the situations and personalities profiled, this book has value for every entrepreneur and innovator today. Great advertising forges a bond between advertiser and consumer informed by insights about motivation, and executed with relevant communication with great production values. Anyone who is involved with innovation, or start-up enterprise creation, or industry disruption must also sell the conceptual abstraction of intangibles (ideas) that hold promise in performance—to help others see what is not yet visible, but will be transformative. Isn’t this daunting in any era or industry?
Each is a stunning example of client risk-taking to approve truly distinctive and disruptive advertising that helped to both brand and leverage the respective companies as leaders in transformative change. Fred lifts the curtain with great descriptions of who was responsible for approval on the client side and how the process of protecting the idea was so essential from creation through actual broadcast airing.
Through all the stories, Fred alludes to important questions that business management involved in innovation should be asking:
- How do business cultures nurture or strangle ideas?
- How do great ideas that disrupt convention get developed, protected, and sold so they can live to achieve breakthroughs?
- Why do so many mergers and acquisitions—management transitions as well—squander the business opportunities the risk takers created that built the business?
Fred quotes a term that captures this conundrum: Cultricide.
Cultricide is the loss of an enabling business culture that once created value, and has become a bureaucracy that stifles value creation. The risk-takers and visionaries who build the business such as Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, or advertising managers, who are themselves visionaries, such as Pamela George at Cisco, create a culture of entrepreneurship that pushes the envelope and encourages ideas. Inevitably, those more inclined to risk-aversion take charge as the business scales or just good people leave and their vision leaves with them.
An essential question in the innovation economy: How to keep an innovative business culture thriving with new ideas?
Some of Fred’s management principles will be helpful to any entrepreneur.
Build the team with quality people, reward excellence, and keep standards high
By far the best part of the book describes how Fred negotiated his deal to buy the agency from Jay Chiat, and then built his team with the best quality people he knew, who stayed with him. He gives gracious credit to his partners and is particularly effusive about his COO and strategist Mike Massaro, whom he credits with much of GMO success in the tech industry. It was Mike’s knowledge of tech that enabled the creative genius of Mike Moser and Brian O’Neill to flourish. Fred used the analogy, “It is not the Army, it is the Marines” to guide his compensation philosophy to reward handsomely the performers who go beyond the expected rather than just give everyone similar salary increases. Great way to raise the performance bar!
Watch expenses; profit can be easily squandered
Consciously, Fred was diligent and careful with expenses, keeping overhead low. He paid and rewarded his best people gleefully, but was quick to fire laggards. Even travel and entertainment were scrutinized with an eye to show the client that the agency was not extravagant with client money.
Fight for great ideas
Fred conveys many anecdotes showing how he fought for and prevailed for ideas that would have never been produced. One of the foibles in advertising is that many clients often do not know how to comprehend and evaluate ideas. In every business, management should be aware that ideas face a gauntlet. Too many good ideas are strangled in the crib because they are screened out or modified to mediocrity before senior management can evaluate them. However, this would have been a stronger book if Fred had ‘fessed up to the reality that being on the cutting edge can also mean great failures get recommended and approved with the same ardor as the successes. The illustrious Chiat/Day creative team Lee Clow and Steve Hayden, who conceived “1984”, the following year also created the 1985 Superbowl spot Lemmings . One of the great disasters in advertising annals!
Be prepared, work hard, and know the client’s business
Good client partnerships are necessary to build the trust to create good advertising. Fred built solid client relationships and worked hard to keep them. He set a personal example for his management team; they in turn devoted themselves to their clients.
One can debate whether the era of brand image advertising has really passed its time. Certainly the mega-companies that have defined customer in use experience of technology delivered products and services such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and even Apple no longer see brand image mass media advertising as core to their business growth. However, that does not diminish Fred’s accomplishment to build an advertising service business from a small company with annual revenues of $58 million to $500 million in just nine years. He was at the helm, an inspiration for any entrepreneur. If the Ad business is insane, then Fred showed there was definite method to his form of madness.
Jeff Saperstein was employed at FCB assigned to Levi Strauss & Co advertising between 1978-83. He is co-author of Service Thinking: The Seven Principles to Discover Innovative Opportunities, Business Expert Press, 2013