Had Katie Couric passed a job interview at Grey Advertising with flying colors back in 1979, she might have been a modern-day Peggy Olsen instead of a famous TV personality.
Her fateful day came in March 1979, when she was in her fourth year at the University of Virginia. Like so many other young women, she wanted to see if she could make it in the big city, but she was in for a rude awakening that day.
Here's how she recounted it for us: "It was a terrible, rainy nasty day. I had a very bad cold which made for an inauspicious beginning. I walked outside and had a cheap umbrella that blew inside out in the wind, I couldn't get a cab and I had mascara running down my face. I was a pretty pathetic sight. I interviewed with a couple places and nobody was interested in hiring me. But my last interview of the day was with a head of personnel at Grey. I think her name was Barbara. I got there and my feet were soaking wet. During the interview I started crying. I'm not proud of that. I was just so discouraged. And to add insult to injury she told me that I 'should consider getting a job closer to my parents.'
Years later Ms. Couric still remembers that day and how she felt clearly. And most of all she's wondered what it would have been like to work in adland. "I always laugh about it because I really thought advertising would have been an exciting career for me. I love being creative and love words and images. I wanted to be on a creative team. Basically, I wanted to be Peggy Olsen."
To get a flavor for what working on Madison Avenue might have been like, Ms. Couric visited WPP's Grey this month, returning to the very agency that rejected her so many years ago. The visit -- for which she donned an outfit much like you might see on the AMC show 'Mad Men' including a flashy pink dress, white gloves and demure bag -- was part of a segment on the ad business, which is airing on her talk show Monday April 29th. During her visit she collaborated with a Grey creative team and pitched ideas to a client from Procter & Gamble's Febreze.
When she arrived at the shop she realized how much has changed. " It's much hipper," she observed. "Workplaces are much more casual than they were back in the 60s and [the agency] had much more of hipster vibe" that she was expecting. "It didn't seem particularly buttoned up which is good for the creative process. It was fun sitting there and brainstorming with the team. And it was interesting to me that the kinds of things you see in my business -- in media in general -- are happening in advertising too, so more of reality type settings for commercials that capture real responses out in the field rather than slickly-made commercials."
Now that she got a flavor of what it's like working in an agency, does she think she was really cut out for an ad career back then? "I think it would have been something I would have really enjoyed and I hope I would have been good at. I found it really exciting and stimulating and fun. A steady diet of Febreze may get old at some point, but it was really fun to be there for the day and work wtih the people. And I think they actually thought I had good ideas."
Her favorite part of the day was the one that was the most stressful: the actual pitch. Though, she acknowledges that in real life --without the cameras and if she wasn't a famous personality-- the clients might have been tougher on her.
"I like working, obviously, in a high pressure environment and enjoyed having to give a pitch and sell something to the team," said Ms. Couric. "Let's just say I don't know what they are like in real life ... they were certainly on their best behavior."