August 16, 2009
Ray Trapp is a legendary Dallas adman, as well as a former boss/mentor. (See story of how I talked him into the job!)
We chatted recently about his career start in New York and the world depicted in AMC’s Mad Men and the Sterling Cooper agency.
Is the TV show an accurate portrayal of the times?
The staging, business attitudes and general culture are very realistic for the mid-1960s when I was an Account Executive – an actual Mad Man -- at Ogilvy & Mather in New York.
How did you get to Ogilvy?
I was recruited straight out of the MBA program at Northwestern, now known as the Kellogg School of Management. I started in a training program with six others selected from the most prominent Business schools. I was there from 1964 to 1970.
Why advertising as a post-MBA path?
Here’s a dose of career advice: Look for situations where you can make a big impact in as short a time as possible. I was young, cocky, and ambitious! Advertising was a hot field and paid very well. My studies had been balanced between finance and marketing, so I could have gone either way. But I had a love of the arts since childhood.
Why did you choose Ogilvy?
At the time, advertising was in its golden years with David Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and Bill Bernbach ruling the world with fabulous reputations for ‘’breakthrough’’ campaigns. I received two agency offers, as well as one from General Foods – all at the same starting salary. But I chose what I saw as the fast track in advertising at the best “shop.’’
Why did Ogilvy choose you?
I had a strong combination of academic excellence, dramatic writing skills, training in the arts and an outgoing personality. This seemed to me, and apparently to them, as a natural background for Madison Avenue.
First impression, first day on the job?
Nice offices, but not extravagant. A low key start. Meet other trainees, get processed by HR. Then, a series of interviews with 6-7 executives as a get-acquainted process. We were then assigned to 6-week rotations in various departments before moving to permanent assignments in Account Service. The culture was pleasant, welcoming and reserved. It was all very professional.
Drinking in the office?
I never saw it – physically in the office, that is.
We typically just ate at our desks. One day, a supervisor invited me out for lunch and I found him sitting in the bar of the restaurant. I proceeded to have a drink or two with him, thinking this was a prelude to moving to a table. He kept ordering more martinis. I soon realized, ‘’this is lunch.” On the walk back to the office, we stopped at a deli. He ordered a sandwich and carried it back to his desk. He was a five-martini-and-tuna-on-rye lunch guy.
Even more prevalent was the 5 o’clock ‘’whistle’’ when executives headed out to get the train or bus back home. For many, the routine was to leave the office, stop at your favorite bar and belt down a few.
Many a Mad Man got into big trouble at home if he had a few too many and ended up partying with the office crew until midnight. He got to sleep in a hotel for the night and in the dog house for a week or two afterwards.
If your client came in from out-of-town, the evening dinner proved to be a bit more adventurous. It was normal for everyone to have a cocktail or two before dinner. Wine was not such a big deal in 1964.
In general, smoking and drinking hard alcohol was very expected for the times. It was not unusual at a neighborhood party to have at least one or two husbands need help home. Occasionally, one of the housewives would have too much and get sick or get the giggles. But no one thought of it as that unusual.
Womanizing that you observed?
The typical male-female office protocol in the mid-1960s would hardly be acceptable today. Guys said and did things that would probably get them arrested today!
Love affairs sprouted quite easily. Don Draper is not the only Mad Man to view himself as young, virile and bullet-proof. I worked for two bosses, both of whom later became ad agency presidents, who had office affairs with female associates, got divorced, left small children at home and married their new loves. Those second relationships have lasted to the present day. As a first wife, Betty Draper should definitely be concerned!
How many women were in higher-up positions?
Men dominated the business at the time. I knew no women in any account service roles at O&M. All media, research and management staff were also male. Women were making inroads into creative -- writer, art director, production and mechanical art staff positions. But it still was truly a male-dominated business in the 1960s and well into the next decade.
What accounts did you work on?
I was fortunate to work on accounts with very big multi-million dollar ad budgets that were considered the cream of the crop in packaged goods marketing. I oversaw accounts for Metrecal Diet Foods, General Foods and Lever Brothers: Dove dishwashing liquid soap, Dove beauty bar, Imperial Margarine, Lucky Whip toppings, Start Instant Breakfast drink which was a big introductory campaign and more.
Your impressions of David Ogilvy? What did you learn from him?
He was a true gentleman, a good businessman and an avid student of the art of persuasion as expressed in advertising. He frequently came to our 6th floor cafeteria to purchase a sandwich and sit with the staff at tables where anyone, even the lowliest traffic mail delivery person, could join him. He was a very open and engaging individual. He loved what he did and inspired us to make our work more effective and more successful.
When did it all change?
I think the advertising world became too successful for its own britches. In 1965, the agency went public and David Ogilvy put a lot of money in his pocket as a result of the IPO. Many other agencies followed this path. My theory is that this brought a lot of attention to the financial side, as all earnings were now publicly disclosed. Clients suddenly began to focus on what ad agency profit margins were. Big client CEOs learned that agency presidents were making more than them. AND THEY COULD NOT STAND IT!
So the word went out: “Cut those agency revenues and bring them back to reality. Stop paying them 15% commissions. It is obviously too much for these fat cats. Let’s start paying them fixed fees that cap their profits.”
And the grinding began.