The operator told me there was no such listing! I hung up, called information again, and lo and behold, this time there was a listing.
A couple of hours later I needed to talk to John again (I was interested in getting more information about a Four A's conference the other week in Florida, where a guy talked about "mutant" brands). Of course, I had forgotten the Four A's phone number, so again I dialed 212-555-1212, and again an operator dutifully reported there was no such listing.
I said to the guy the Four A's was one of the oldest, biggest and most powerful trade associations in New York. He looked again-isn't this on a computer?-and he still couldn't find it.
I asked the guy where he was located. He said in Arizona!
Did I want to speak to his supervisor? Yes, indeed I did, sensing this could be a scandal of major proportions. I have heard that the phone companies sometimes farm out their directory assistance business to other companies, and they often had out-of-date listings. True, the Four A's had moved around the corner about a year ago, but it had retained its tried-and-true number.
Anyway, the supervisor came on and reiterated there was no listing for this mighty trade association. I got on my high horse and demanded that the guy tell me who his real employer was-he insisted it was AT&T-and right in the middle of the conversation a computerized voice cut in giving me the Four A's telephone number.
Did the telephone information service have the Four A's number all the time? Did they call another information supplier to get the number? Do they really work for AT&T? Is the Arizona heat cooking their brains?
When I finally reached John, who is senior VP-public affairs of the Four A's (and a very able Advertising Age alumnus), I told him about my ordeal and asked him to call one of his out-of-town friends and ask him or her to call 212-555-1212 for the Four A's number. Maybe my experience was an isolated incident.
So John asked a buddy in New Jersey to make a call; there is good news and bad news in his experience. The good news is the information operator gave him a listing; the bad news is that it was for the American Association of University Women!
Am I unfair about my expectations? Is it expecting too much to be given correct information the first time? Or should I take the attitude that times have changed, and I must accept-just as people are telling me about the advertising business-things are fundamentally different?
What made me think that I might be a trifle out of touch with the new reality is a delightful letter I received from Andrea Giambrone, senior VP and senior creative director at Lois/EJL, Los Angeles.
"You are a wonder," Ms. Giambrone wrote me (I liked the letter right away.). "Ads that work? Unique Selling Propositions? Creative that sells? You're so young to be so out of it" (I'm glad I've resisted updating the photo that accompanies my column).
"I, on the other hand, have been in this business for 30 years. I've been told I (a.) look it; (b.) act it; (c.) should probably get out of it.
"I have the damndest habit of pissing young creatives off with questions like, 'What's the concept?' 'Why is this type unreadable?' 'Where's the client's name?' Makes 'em nuts. That's usually when the epithets fly. ('I'm so old fashioned'; 'Don't I know it's different now?' "
Ms. Giambrone said she's been at the same agency for 30 years. She put Price Pfister Pfaucets-"the Pfabulous Pfaucet with the Pfunny name"-on the map. I get the impression that over the 12 years the agency has had the account she's had her share of battles to keep the campaign running.
Come to think of it, I haven't seen many of those ads lately. I would guess her admonitions sometimes fall on deaf-albeit hip-ears.