ADVENTURES IN ADLAND #6: "God Bless Zippo"

In the fall of 1967 I was the least important person at Ogilvy & Mather. 

I was a traffic router, an exalted title for messenger boy.  I ran type proofs and the like from the traffic directors to the copywriters, art directors and account executives, each of whom did something with them, though I wasn’t altogether sure as to what that was.  I had joined the agency on August 27th; I was just 22 and still very green.

Most of the traffic directors hadn’t even bothered to learn my name.  They literally called me “Runner.” So I was pretty surprised when the phone on my desk rang and the voice at the other end asked, “Are you Bruce?”

I was instructed to come up to “Mr. Vincent’s office.”  Mr. Vincent was Account Supervisor.  “Uh, oh,” I thought.  “What did I do wrong?”  It was literally the first time I had ever gotten a call to come see a “big” executive.

I ran up the stairway from the 6th to 11th floor; the elevators in Ogilvy’s old offices on 48th and Fifth were notoriously slow.

“Hi, Mr. Vincent.  You wanted to see me?” I think I stuttered a bit; I was completely terrified. 

“Look, we have a problem and I hope you can solve it for us.”

(What kind of problem could I possibly solve for him?!!?)

“We need to get Zippo’s approval for their Christmas ad in Life within the next two days.  Their offices are in Bradford, Pennsylvania.  Can you go?”

I probably looked like a deer caught in the headlights.  “Me?” I said. 

“Look, NOBODY else is available.  I can’t go.  The account exec can’t go.  The assistant account exec can’t go. The art director can’t go.  The copywriter can’t go.  I tried to get Ruth (the traffic director on the Zippo account) to go, but she’s got a date.  She suggested you.”

“Me?” I said… again.  Vincent must have thought I was a moron.

“Look, all you’ve got to do is bring the mechanical, dye-transfer and prog to Zippo… show it to them… and take notes about whatever changes they might want.  Just don’t let them actually touch the artwork.  Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, probably very tentatively.  How on earth was I supposed to get to Bradford, Pennsylvania… wherever that was?  And what was a prog?

“Great.  We’ll get you an airplane ticket; the flight from LaGuardia leaves at 6:30 tonight.  So we don’t have much time.  Do you live in Manhattan?”

I was making a $1.25 an hour.  Of course I didn’t live in Manhattan. 

“Okay, go down to petty cash.  I’ll call them.  They’ll give you enough to buy what you’ll need for the trip.  Korvettes (the E.J. Korvette discount department store that was across the street from the 47th Street entrance to the agency) is cheap.  Get a white shirt, a tie… whatever else you need.  There’s a drugstore on Lex; buy a travel kit for yourself there.”

Tom’s secretary, Kate Lunsford, handed me a “pizza bag” that had all the stuff I needed to show the Zippo people neatly packed in it.  “Buy a small suitcase, too,” said Kate.  “You don’t want to show up with your laundry in the pizza bag.”  (Good advice.)  “I’ll make sure you get enough money for taxis and the hotel and meals, too.  Keep track of everything you spend, you’re going to need to fill out an expense form when you get back.”

I ran back down the stairs, explained to my boss why I wouldn’t be at the office the next day, and headed off to Korvettes.  I was feeling very grown-up.  I was about to go on my first business trip.  I had an expense account (albeit for one day).  I was going to Bradford, PA… wherever that was.


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