ADVENTURES IN ADLAND #4: The P.T. Barnum of Advertising

I worked at Bozell & Jacobs in Dallas for three years, one month and eleven days.

The Southwest Division, which included offices in Dallas, Houston and Phoenix, was headed by the agency’s Chairman, J. Liener Temerlin, who ruled his world much the same way the great movie moguls of the 30’s ran their studios... as a benevolent dictator.  I joined B&J as EVP/Executive Creative Director after 13+ years at Ogilvy & Mather… and imbued as I was with the “ethos” of O&M, getting to know, understand and appreciate Liener’s business style took a while.

He was raised in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and was very fond of recounting how he “crossed the Red River into the promised land” (of Dallas) to look for a job in advertising.  When he interviewed with Mr. Glenn, who owned the shop that eventually became B&J/Dallas, Liener was asked “are you Jewish?”  His answer: “Not necessarily.”

Of course, he got the job, eventually becoming President and owner of the Glenn Agency before merging it with Bozell.

When American Airlines relocated to Dallas in 1978, Liener bought the house next to the home of the airline’s Chairman, Al Casey, installing one of his EVP’s there so “the wives could bond.”  Shortly after I came aboard in 1981 we were invited to pitch American, and we won it after putting on one of the most elaborate – and expensive – presentations in the history of the agency business. To celebrate, Liener threw a huge party in the VIP club at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.  Never one to do things “small,” he arranged for the University of Texas  band to march back and forth on the field below us, playing the jingles we had written for the pitch.  I found a “gift wrapped” Porsche in my driveway when I got home later that evening… quite a step up from the little Fiat I had driven to work that morning!

Liener was a showman, and every presentation featured a surprise.  We pitched Armour Foods in a fully stocked (with B&J client products) “supermarket” constructed next to the agency’s conference room.  He hired extremely good looking young people to pin comps to the walls at presentations.  “They are so beautiful they’ll make the ads look better,” he’d say.  He was infatuated with Lucite; lunches or dinners for clients arrived in custom-fabricated Lucite lunch pails, which were invariably taken home by the clients.  His motto was “first they have to know how much you care,” so he wined and dined prospects at the best restaurants, sent flowers to wives, single malt scotch to husbands, and flew out-of-towners in to catch Cowboys games in our luxury suite at the stadium.  In my first year there we won the American, Avis, Armour, Heath candy, Pace Picante and Southwestern Bell accounts, more than doubling the agency’s billings. 

I marveled at his showmanship… but I chaffed at some of the stuff he’d do at presentations. He loved to say that we “didn’t suffer from the “Picasso Syndrome,” meaning that unlike the work that came out of some other agencies, each of our campaigns had its own unique look.  When I pointed out that Picasso was the most inventive artist of all time, he sniffed and said “only New Yorkers and Frenchmen know that.”  He would sometimes get up and show clients how the theme line from “Campaign A” would work perfectly well with “Campaign B”… while the headline from “B” could become the theme line for “A.”  (Wrong!)

I finally exploded after one pitch… and threw a creative tantrum.  “Liener, you don’t know what you’re talking about!  You wouldn’t know a good ad from a cow!  You’re not professional… you’re not talented… you’re… you’re… you’re…

At which point Liener smiled, patted me on the head and said, in his best good ol’ boy twang, “Bruce, Bruce Bruce…  ah think you need to unnerstand how I see mah role here.  You see, B’zell an’ Jacobs is like a giant nuckler-pawred aircraft carrier, plowin’ through the South China Sea in a typhoon.  Peter (agency president Peter Finn) here is the Captain of the ship… steerin’ it into the wind and protectin’ the 6,000 men aboard.  And you, Bruce, you are the flight deck officer, sending planes off to bomb the shit out of the enemy.  And you’re doin’ a fine job… a fine job.  But y’see, all your complainin’ just doan mean much… ‘cause….  well, ah own the ship.”

David Ogilvy taught me most of what I needed to know about how to create ads. Liener taught me that agencies don’t stay small by choice.  And he kept everyone laughing.

Author Bruce Silverman is one of America’s best known and well respected marketing-communication and branding experts. He is writing a series of posts titled, “Adventures in AdLand” for THE FIVE. During his Madison Avenue days, Bruce was the creative mind behind “Don’t Leave Home Without It” for American Express, “Bullish on America” (Merrill Lynch), “Something Special in the Air” (American Airlines), “Not made in Nooo Yawk Ciddy” (Pace Picante), “The Shell Answer Man” and a dozen other award winning campaigns for such clients as IBM, Hershey, Baskin-Robbins, Coldwell Banker, Sizzler, Suzuki, Pabst, Sanyo, Mattel, Greyhound and Post. He currently spreads his words of wisdom, offering strategic and tactical counsel to marketers of consumer and business-to-business products and services and to advertising and public relations agencies, as well as serving as an expert witness for legal firms. 

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