"My father would always tell me one thing: 'Don't take shit,'" says the Kentucky-born 40-year-old, whose boyish, Adam Sandleresque vibe belies his 20 years in the biz. "That's been my philosophy throughout. If somebody's giving me shit or holding me up, I find a way around it," which perhaps explains why Waldman can't seem to sit still when creative passion strikes. "People started calling me 'the beverage king,' and I wanted to do other stuff just for my own peace of mind," he says, which is why he started moonlighting in the first place. But it seems like the Colgate grad and former SVA student's career was a bit on the renegade side from the get-go. He hopped around for eight years at agencies like Ammirati, DDB and Scali, because he couldn't get where he wanted to be fast enough. Things started to change when he found inspiration at Chiat/Toronto, freelancing with an all-star team that included Marty Cooke and Izzy DeBellis, then he landed at BBDO, working on Pepsi under Garfinkel, whom he eventually followed to Lowe. It was with Garfinkel that Waldman finally reconfigured his approach to the business. "Until then, I was trying to impress my ad friends and show them how funny I was. I didn't really care if anything sold. Lee would constantly say to me, 'Make sure everybody gets it' - unlike creative people who do ads that will win awards but never sell anything, and then they lose the account."
Today Waldman continues to multitask outside the agency network, partnering with shops like DCode, Streetsmart and Big Chair on campaigns for NYSC, Entertainment Weekly (see p. 20) and Sam Adams; and directing out of Harvest, where he's helmed spots for Amstel, Mini Cooper and Universal Studios. His smartass humor continues to run rampant in his creative, although his main motivations echo lessons he learned at Lowe. "In the end, I'd rather be able to talk about how well a campaign did as far as sales go, because I assume - I hope - that people like it already. I'm much prouder of the fact that my clients are happy and stay with me for years, that "Obey Your Thirst" is still the Sprite tagline, and New York Sports, Amstel and Heineken are still going - that the campaigns I worked on are still working today. I like that as much as the fact that they did win awards."