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"I like risk. I like doing things that haven't been done before. It's a fault. It's a character fault, I think."
Jane Newman made that statement with a laugh, as if she were quite willing to live with that little defect.
She's taken a lot of risks in her life, and most of them have worked out—to the betterment of the advertising industry and poor children in Africa.
Jane admitted to having "an amazing life, fantastic life. I'm very goal-oriented. I live on lists. I love lists. I love crossing things off lists."
One item she got off her list that day was her video interview with me prior to her induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame.
Jane Newman made her mark in the ad world as an account planner -- first for the British ad agency Boase Massimi Pollitt then for Chiat/Day in the U.S.
Jane had been in the U.S. for three years before Jay Chiat called her "out of the blue and said he wanted to introduce account planning to Chiat/Day…to make sure his great creative was relevant."
Before she took the job, she "got him to agree to certain things when we started." One was that all the advertising would be researched before production. And the other one was that the team on any piece of business would consist of the account manager, the creative team and the planner, and they would have equal responsibility. The creative department, Jane said, was not put off by her provisions because "they knew that if I did anything that started to erode the creative part of the product then Jay would just get rid of me."
Her first encounter with the Chiat/Day creative process involved ads for Apple. "When we walked in the room, the entire wall, all four walls, were plastered with print ads. It was the most unbelievable waste of productivity that I've ever seen.
"Every conceivable strategy they could think up had a campaign behind it. We went through it with Jay, and Jay pulled out three ads out of 250 there." One was "Think of it as a Maserati for the mind." Another was "Why it's not called AZ222" or something like that. And the third was "Why 1984 won't be like 1984."
The rest of them, Jane said, were trashed. "I said to Jay, 'That's what I can help you with, because these guys should never have been working in those other areas.'"
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Of the three ideas that were kept, "the common denominator between [them] was to be sort of accessible and friendly and human. … And if they'd been given that thought as a strategy before they started, they would have been able to go much further."
Proper account planning, she says, "stopped the creative people spinning their wheels."
Jane said the 1984 ad had been "kind of kicking around for a couple of years." She brought in MT Rainey from London to run the Apple account. "She's brilliant. She's fantastic. ... And just a great, great advertising person. She did focus groups on the computer for the rest of us, for the human race."
The focus groups "justified that stance so when the creative people all said, 'Well, we should do this,' she was able to persuade them to stay on task."
Jane said Ms. Rainey "managed to keep the whole of Apple focused on that single thought." She called the ad brilliant and said it was clearly the creative product of Lee Clow and Steve Jobs but "if it hadn't been for MT, that ad would have been bastardized in some way."
After Chiat/Day, she took another risk. On April Fool's Day in 1993 she cofounded Merkley Newman Harty with Steve Harty and Perry Merkley. The agency was organized around brand teams rather than departments. Nine months after opening the doors, the agency won the IBM PC account.
Jane has her own views on what constitutes good advertising, based on her "planner's mantra." It should be "relevant and distinctive." Distinctive "so it gets noticed" and relevant "so it can be effective."
Jane believes being in the right place at the right time is the story of her life. She was one of three trainee graduate account planners at BMP, and then Jay Chiat "didn't have any alternative when he wanted to set up planning."
Jane left Merkley Newman Harty in 1998 to take yet another risk, this one pretty drastic: She moved to Kenya to found the Thorn Tree Project to help children in northern Kenya attend school. And if her car hadn't broken down outside the village of the Sambura tribe, it might not have happened. The classes took place under the largest thorn tree around with the most shade. "There would be a blackboard against the tree trunk and a warrior with his spear in one hand and a piece of chalk in another, and that's how the kids learned."
The project has provided dorms and full-time schooling for more than 1,300 boys and girls and this year celebrates its first university graduate.