Jim Ferguson was there on a warm Thursday night last June. But around midnight he wandered down a few blocks to the patio of the Carlton to meet his old friend and former colleague Ted Bell for a drink. I was still at the Carlton that night as well, chatting with Ted ( Y&R Advertising's worldwide creative director) and Ed Vick, Y&R's chief operating officer. Whether or not we were ready to call it a night, I don't remember. But once Jim appeared, it was clear we were just getting started. At last call for the patio restaurant, a half-dozen of us picked up our glasses and moved inside to a small bar off the lobby where they were still pouring, and where the man known to friends as Fergie was delighted to hold court.
This was one of those special nights, filled with vivid stories and easy laughter. Fergie was at the center of it all, spinning tales of his days toiling with Ted at Burnett in Chicago, his adventures in Hollywood as a screenwriter for the Spielberg-produced "Little Giants" and what it was like to grow up on a ranch in a small town in West Texas ("There were 11 people in my graduating class and I wasn't in the top 10.").
At one point during the night, Ted Bell leaned in to Ed Vick. "This guy," he said, "is the most talented copywriter in the business. We should hire him and get him out of Texas."
Last week they did just that. Fergie packed his boxes and stepped down as chief creative officer of DDB Needham's Dallas office. In mid-May, he begins his new life as president and chief creative officer at Y&R, New York.
New York will definitely be an adjustment for a man who prefers cowboy boots to wingtips. "Too many New Yorkers," Fergie told me last week, "think the world ends at . . . what the hell's the name of that river on the west side?" OK, give him a break. Once here, he's sure to fit in as easily as a cat's . . . never mind; none of the colorful metaphors that spill from this man's mouth every few sentences can be reprinted in front of the kids.
Fergie and Bell confirm that night in Cannes was the beginning of their flirtation. They met again for dinner in Texas around Thanksgiving, while Ted was in town to see his dad, and the talks got serious after the new year. "Ted and I go back a long way. He's one of those guys I know I can work for and work around and there aren't too many people like that. It's a pretty natural fit."
Bell agrees, telling me, "He's a tremendous writer. He's got an incredible sense of humor and a great soul and a wealth of emotions that he can draw on."
The truth, too, is that talent such as Jim Ferguson has (his memorable work includes the exploding mosquito for McIlhenny Tabasco sauce) belongs in the big leagues, not hidden in Dallas. Fergie admits that at 43 he's itching to "get back on the stage a little more." And while he's anxious about life in New York, he's quick to add, "What's the worst thing that can happen to me? They can't kill me and they can't eat me. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn't work out."
There's little reason to think that will happen. So far, Fergie likes everyone he's met at Y&R ("I'm too old to work around a bunch of a______s."). And the New York office "has a lot of great accounts. They just need a little help. They have two or three great campaigns and they should have more than two or three great campaigns."
He speaks warmly of everyone at DDB Needham as well, and says it's not easy to leave there. But the job he moved back to Texas for is not the one he was most recently doing, and the new opportunity is just too tempting.
Besides, if he ever fears he's losing touch with reality, he'll return to Texas-where his father still runs the ranch and his mom owns a "doodads" store-and pop a reel into their VCR. "You sit around with them," Fergie says, "and they'll be laughing their asses off at something you thought from a professional standpoint was stupid or corny."