Double Jointed Jerry

If you haven’t read “From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor,” go immediately to Barnes & Noble and buy it now. 

Or better yet, download it.  If you like the TV series Madmen, you will love this book.  Jerry Della Femina is the original Madman and I would venture to say that if the TV series isn’t based on his book, it sure has borrowed a lot from it.

I first read Jerry’s book in 1987, the year I started in advertising.  I read it for the second time this week.  It was written in 1969 right at the peak of The Creative Revolution.  It’s amazing how relevant it is today.  If you’ve read it already, read it again. 

There are many jewels in this book, but this one stands out to me today.  Jerry wrote that there’s no such thing as a bad client.  Only bad agencies.  He tells the story of how Volkswagen had done crappy work for years and then they switched agencies to Doyle Dane Bernbach.  The work that Doyle Dane did was brilliant.  The management of Volkswagen didn’t change overnight.  But the advertising did.  The clients were the same clients who had been approving crappy work at the previous agency.  His point was that agency creative-types often blame clients for not allowing them to do great work.  When in fact, the clients have never been shown great work.

That’s just one small sample of the brilliance of this book.

I’m happy that I was fortunate enough to meet Jerry.  And it almost didn’t happen.

About 5 years ago, John Boone and I were walking down Sullivan Street in Manhattan with a client.  We were heading for dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi. 

We passed a Soho gallery opening and there were a few people milling around outside.  One of the guys was totally bald with a mustache and a goatee.  I had a moment of “I know that guy from somewhere,” and as we walked past, it hit me. 

“I think that was Jerry Della Femina,” I said to John.

“Really?”

“I think so.”

“But you thought you saw Madonna last night too.”

We kept walking because we were in need of a major sushi fix and there’s no better sushi in Manhattan than Blue Ribbon. 

“Well, I really think that was Jerry.”

“Makes sense.  He’s from New York.  And there are only about 2 million bald guys in New York.  I’m sure that was him,” Boone joked.

We got to Blue Ribbon and there was about a 10-minute wait for a table.

“I’m going back.”

“Back where?”

“I’m going back to introduce myself to Jerry Della Femina.” 

“And what are you going to say?”

“I’m going to tell him that he’s been a big influence on me in my career.”

“And what if it’s just some bald guy?”

“Well, maybe I’ll ask him to join us for dinner.”

I walked the two blocks back to the gallery and the bald guy was still there.  But he had his back to me and was talking to someone.  I listened to their conversation for a few minutes and I knew that it was him.  They were talking about the new Burger King work that Crispin has just done. 

When their conversation ended, I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi Jerry, I saw you standing here and I’m not in New York that much and I’m David Oakley and I wanted to thank you for being such an influence on my career. 

“What career are you in, David?”

“Advertising.”

“Oh, I apologize,” he laughed.

I babbled on about how I had started my career in New York and that now we had our own agency in Charlotte called BooneOakley.  He had never heard of us. 

“I’m sure you guys are doing really nice work.”

I handed him my business card and said, “I’m not trying to pick you up or anything, but would you like to join us for dinner?  My partner John Boone has a table at Blue Ribbon.”

“Love that place.  But this is my son’s opening painting exhibit.  I don’t think he’d like it too much if I disappeared to go talk ads.”

“Yeah that makes sense.”

“Well, David it was very nice to meet you.”

“One more thing, Jerry.  I have to ask you this, because I’ve told so many people and no one believes me.  The first year that I was at Y& R, I was invited to the Della Femina Travisano Christmas party by a friend who was in your media department.  The thing that I remember most about the party was that it was a sit down dinner and at every place setting there was a big fat joint.”

“There was only one?  Most years we gave everyone two joints,” he laughed.

As I reread his book this week, I’m so glad that I went back and talked with him.   If you ever get a chance to talk with someone you admire, I have three words of advice for you:  Just do it.  Oh wait, that’s Dan Wieden’s line.  I’ll bet Jerry influenced Dan a bit too.