What Selling Hamburgers Taught Me About Advertising

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BART CLEVELAND: “I’m not young enough to know everything.” I love that quote by Oscar Wilde. It reminds me that at my age I’ve lost the ability to do anything. I remember my attitude toward my older, more experienced co-workers when I was young. I felt anyone over thirty years of age was just too far removed from modern society to recognize a great creative idea from drivel. Fortunately, I had patient mentors who helped me learn better.

My greatest mentor wasn’t even in advertising. His name was Sam Young. Sam made hamburgers, or more specifically Samburgers in my hometown, population 6000. Sam sold about 800 hamburgers a day. That meant he fed approximately 10% of the population of the county every day of the week. It was pretty obvious to me that Sam knew a thing or two about business. I have used what Sam taught me continually during my advertising career. Selling ads is like selling great hamburgers. If you make your clients ads with great craftsmanship and show you genuinely care about them, they keep coming back for more. Sam made such an enormous difference in my life I named my youngest son after him. The importance of a mentor should never be underestimated.

In reading Jeff Goodby’s comments in the forward of The Book of Gossage I learned that Howard Gossage, an advertising creative pioneer of San Francisco in the 1960's, was Jeff’s muse, his mentor in effect. Think about the myriad of people that Jeff Goodby has similarly mentored over the last 20+ years. Gossage mentored Goodby. Goodby changed the way we looked at advertising in the 80’s and 90’s. We all started trying to do ads better because of Goodby's agency. Mentors are a chain of influence that improves our industry. We need more of them.

Just because you’re a small agency doesn’t mean you can’t have a great mentor. Make friends with people like Jeff Goodby. When I worked at Sawyer Riley Compton in Atlanta our mentor was Lee Lynch. He was incredibly generous in sharing his wisdom and experiences to help us become a better creative agency. The year SRC won the O’Toole Award along side Carmichael Lynch I felt that Lee was a big reason we were standing on the stage next to him. He didn’t have to mentor us. I’m not sure why he did, but I won’t ever ignore an appeal for advice because of Lee Lynch.

I asked Lisa Francilia, a former CD for TBWA in Vancouver who recently moved to EA Games how she mentors others. “It's hard to say... I had a really bad manager at one agency and what I learned from that person is the kind of manager I never want to be. I never want to steal other people's work (as I know I have my own ideas). I never want to take all the best projects because anything can be an opportunity if you look at it the right way. And lastly I never want to sell out. If you want your teams to respect you, you can't fall victim to the pressure…” said Francilia.

Obviously, mentoring has a lot to do with just doing your job well and being an example. It also has a lot to do with unselfishness. I think the real opportunity in mentoring is one’s own growth. Anyone who has mentored knows who learns the most. If you’re a small agency find a mentor to help you learn the things that will help you succeed. And be a mentor to another. You should give something back for what you have received.
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