BELL ALWAYS TAKES BULL BY THE HORNS

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H oward Bell is my kind of trade association guy.

I've always had the most fun-and gotten the most information-from American Advertising Federation meetings. Let's be honest: The Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies for the most part put on boring, stuffy confabs.

For my money, AAF is the heart and soul of the advertising business, and for 23 years Howard helped make it that way. The people you meet at AAF functions know how to make an impact for their products and services, even on small ad budgets.

In most people's eyes, Howard's chief claim to fame is that he is the architect of the advertising industry's self-regulatory apparatus.

But that's not what sticks in my mind. As I said at his roast a few years ago, "Howard, though he has other good traits, is a disaster carrier like Typhoid Mary. Everywhere he goes, trouble happens. He has gotten me into so many jams our wives have forbidden us to hang around together."

I was blissfully unaware of Howard's affinity for calamity when my wife Merrilee and I dutifully attended a Western AAF conference in San Diego. I must admit we fueled up on margaritas on an evening bus ride across the border in Tijuana to watch-or so I thought-800-to-1,000-pound training bulls make a few passes at a couple of free-lance matadors.

But once we were there, we were encouraged to jump in the bull ring ourselves-and Howard and I didn't need much encouragement. Since I was appropriately dressed for the occasion in a bright red silk sports coat, I abandoned the innate caution that governs putting my body in any kind of jeopardy, and Howard and I jumped into the ring, as did a dozen or so other foolhardy conventioneers. Howard and I made one or two successful passes at the bulls (who up close and personal didn't appear to be in the "baby" category), and then those bulls in training knocked us on our keisters. Howard bounced back up like one of those punching-bag dolls, flung his hands over his head, and the adoring crowd yelled as one, "Ole! Ole! Chavo Bell."

As for me, I picked myself up-I was feeling little pain-and headed for the exit. Merrilee came rushing down from her seat and yelled, "Oh, Rance, I was so worried. Is your jacket OK?!" At that point the jacket and I had about the same number of holes in us, but we both survived, and Merrilee's favorite jacket occupies a special place in my closet today.

Last week, Howard was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame, so I guess from now on I've got to treat him with the respect such a lofty honor deserves.

In his acceptance remarks, Howard said his hope for the future is that the advertising industry "can find a way to generate the same kind of public acceptance for itself that advertising creates for so many products, services and public causes."

Ole! Chavo Bell. Ole!

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