Cliff Freeman during 2005 Creative Hall of Fame Dinner at The Metropolitan Club in New York
Von Holden/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Laughs, laughs and more laughs. If anything, the late Cliff Freeman made the world fall on the floor, clutching its collective belly with his ads—for Wendy’s, Little Caesars, Outpost.com, Budget Rent-a-Car, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and more.
Within his agency’s walls were born chief creative officers, company owners, A-list directors, top-notch strategists; but many of them didn’t know they’d end up there.
“The work that Cliff Freeman put out into the world was like a bat signal for weirdos,” said Cliff Freeman & Partners alum Ian Reichenthal, one of the industry’s top freelance writers who had also served as a leader at agencies including Barton F. Graf, TBWA/Chiat/Day and Wieden + Kennedy.
Many of Freeman’s former lieutenants recall the old office of Cliff Freeman & Partners, where its namesake put on display myriad sets of interesting artifacts, from Bakelite radios to cookie jars and Navajo blankets. Add to those the people he gathered around him.
“Cliff was a hoarder of the unique,” said Laura Fegley, chief creative officer of BBDO Minneapolis, and former CF&P creative director. “He had his endless collections—but I think he also was endlessly searching for the interesting in people.”
“Advertising is the island of misfit toys, and Cliff is where you go after being kicked off the island because you couldn’t even fit in there,” added William Gelner, a former CF&P copywriter who founded the U.S. office of Special Group, where he also serves as chief creative officer.
Once the misfits found their way onto Freeman's island, they'd find an environment where the competition was fierce, yet the guffaws and snorts guaranteed—all in the hopes of getting their leader's seal of approval: “Funny!”
And for plenty of those former staffers, working with him marked the funnest and most formative and period of their careers. “I can honestly say that working for Cliff Freeman was THE most fun I’ve EVER had in advertising,” said Roger Camp, co-founder and chief creative officer, Camp + King, a former CF&P art director.
Here, more of them plus a handful of others share their fondest memories of advertising’s comedy king. Click on the arrows to read their full tributes.
David Angelo, founder and chairman, David and Goliath, former CF&P executive creative director
I remember shooting a commercial with him in the desert and during a very quiet moment on set, he turned to me and said, “David, I don't like being an owner. I just want to be a copywriter.” And he meant it. But more importantly, he lived it. >>>
Rick Ardito, former North American executive creative director/Amex, Dentsu McGarry Bowen, former CF&P art director
Everyone was enamored with, scared of and in awe of Cliff. I was personally scared shitless of him till the day he laughed at one of my dumb jokes. >>>
Rosie Bardales, chief creative officer, BETC London, former CF&P associate creative director
If we weren’t funny, Cliff had his famous way of letting us know: “Not funny!” >>>
Greg Bell, director, Tomorrow; co-founder, Venables Bell & Partners, former CF&P senior VP-art director
Surprisingly, Cliff wasn’t at all what I’d call a “funny” conversationalist. >>>
Matt Bijarchi, managing partner, Blend, former CF&P producer
He made sure everyone truly only cared about making and selling great work. And, in that way, it was a meritocracy. >>>
Arthur Bijur, founder, Wondershop N.Y., CF&P co-founder
An intensely private person, he wouldn't be too comfortable having much revealed about him. In fact, that revelation alone will embarrass him. Sorry, Cliff. So here are the revealables. >>>
Richard Bullock, director, Revolver/Hungry Man, former CF&P writer
Everyone always thought working at Cliff Freeman was a cacophony of back-slapping raucous chuckles and sitting around on fart pillows. But it wasn’t like that. >>>
Paul Caiozzo, founder, Interesting Development, former CF&P art director
He ate salmon for lunch every day. He wore a bright orange t-shirt. He collected antique toasters. He didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in advertising but he always knew if something was fresh. >>>
Doug Cameron, founder, chief strategy and creative officer, DCX Growth Accelerator, former CF&P strategist
He literally took me in off of the streets, hiring me when I was just a street musician living out of a suitcase. >>>
Roger Camp, co-founder and chief creative officer, Camp + King, former CF&P art director
It was truly a magical place to learn and create, and where some of your most outrageous ideas would get produced. >>>
Adam Chasnow, chief creative officer, Fortnight Collective, former CF&P VP-associate creative director
He relished taking on challenger brand clients and even had a whole philosophy about his agency being “The Giant Killers.” >>>
Tom Christmann, founder, Mongo Industries, former CF&P executive creative director
This is a picture of how I imagine the moment Cliff came up with putting the words “pizza” and “pizza” together. >>>
Laura Fegley, chief creative officer, BBDO Minneapolis, former CF&P VP-creative director
He truly believed every detail could make or break success and trained a whole army of us to care and think about these details. >>>
Nick Felder, founder, Felder Media Ventures, former CF&P executive producer
His certainty that bundt cake pans were funny, while hedge trimmers were not, always stuck with me. >>>
Kirsten Flanik, president and CEO, BBDO New York, former CF&P group account director
Cliff also had a quirky, soft side. Just after 9/11, we all had to take pay cuts. He felt bad and to make up for it he brought me in a leather couch from his home for my office. He was so thrilled to give me that couch. >>>
Jason Gaboriau, chief creative officer, Doner L.A., former CF&P associate creative director
We were pitching Mohegan Sun and Cliff always wanted the creatives to present their own work. For a young creative to be allowed to be at a pitch is rare… I am presenting my campaign and I get to the end of the script and instead of saying, “Mohegan Sun,” I say, “ “Cut to logo… come to Foxwoods.”>>>
William Gelner, chief creative officer, founder, Special Group U.S., former CF&P associate creative director and writer
He would find the most random things in your scripts hilarious while the jokes you spent days crafting not funny at all. And he would always be right. >>>
Gerry Graf, co-founder, chief creative officer, Slap Global, Cliff Freeman superfan
I sent my book to Cliff five times. I got rejected four times. The fifth time I got a job offer and turned it down. >>>
Dan Kelleher, chief creative officer, Deutsch, N.Y., former CF&P associate creative director
YELLING = FUNNY
FALLING = FUNNY
OVERUSED FARTS = NOT FUNNY >>>
Anne Kurtzman, freelance executive producer, former CF&P head of production
The most rewarding sound was when Cliff laughed—in the office, on the set, in the edit room. When Cliff laughed, you knew you had gold. >>>
Ari Merkin, founder, Ari & Friends, former CF&P associate creative director
One day I was working with Cliff in his office when a frustrated staffer burst in, went on an expletive-laden rant then stormed out in a huff. A bit freaked out, I looked at Cliff, who was smiling ear to ear. Without a hint of irony, he said, “Isn’t he just great?” >>>
Steve Miller, director, Radical Media, former art director at CF&P
I would venture a guess that just about all of us that were fortunate enough to work for him would say he was the best boss we ever had. Of course we all found him hilarious, but what many may not realize was just how caring Cliff was. >>>
Dan Morales, creative director, screenwriter, former CF&P VP-creative director, writer
Sometimes I felt that Cliff started his agency just so he could spend every day laughing with brilliant people. >>>
Guy Shelmerdine, director, Smuggler, former CF&P art director
I'll cherish the presentations we had in his spectacular corner office and the blank look on his face when he didn’t get the gag. He’d throw his hands up, “Ohh no! Why? Guy? You think that’s funny? I just don’t think that’s funny.” >>>
Eric Silver, former North American Chief Creative Officer, McCann
There were no boundaries on the comedy. If it made Cliff laugh, it was a go. >>>
Neal Tiles, management consultant, former EVP-marketing, Fox Sports/Fox Sports Net
“I think we can do great work together,” Cliff said in that distinctive Southern drawl of his. “It can be totally different from what ESPN is doing.” >>>
Anthony Vagnoni, President, Avagnoni Communications, former editor of Creativity magazine
Every time a cassette arrived from Cliff Freeman & Partners, we would stop what we were doing and head into the conference room to watch it. Our expectations were that high and rarely dashed. >>>
Matt Vescovo, co-founder, Gifytube, former CF&P senior art director
One or two frames longer on a reaction shot of someone after they got hit in the crotch was what he’d obsess about and that’s what made him great.>>>
Scott Vitrone, chief creative officer, Fig, former CF&P art director
We produced a lot of radio back then. Whenever we finished a spot we'd have to get a cassette tape made for Cliff. He'd listen to it in his car on the way to the office. That's how he reviewed radio...I loved that. >>>
Taras Wayner, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R, New York, former CF&P associate creative director
You had one job when you worked for Cliff. Make Cliff laugh. >>>
Maresa Wickham, freelance executive producer and head of production, former CF&P senior producer
Just to go to work and laugh all day, every day was a gift. >>>
Angelo shared a piece he wrote when Freeman was inducted to the One Club Hall of Fame, excerpted below.
We knew him as The Big Cheese. Not only because of the gold sign that hung above his office door. Or the amount of cheese he wrote about in his countless Little Caesar’s commercials. For those who knew and worked with Cliff Freeman, he was a much larger-than-life figure, a creative superhero who inspired everything and everyone who came in contact with him.
I had the honor and privilege of working for and with him for nearly five years as one of his ECDs, not to mention his own personal art director. Those years played such an instrumental role in my personal and professional life and continue to serve as a standard moving forward.
His creative taste and sensibilities were undeniable. Of course, we all know him as the maestro of magic and the head honcho of humor. He shared his secret sauce with anyone who dared to push the work. For instance, if an actor’s performance wasn't funny enough, he suggested it would improve if they spoke with a little food in their mouth. It may not sound tasteful, but in the edit room, it was comedy gold. Or, if an old actor seemed too tired, he would have them shout their lines at the top of their lungs. My guess is that’s where the infamous “Where’s the Beef?” was born. I was witness to many of these amazing antics and I remember them as vividly today as when he first said them.
He pushed the work to the point of exhaustion. He would edit a 31.6-second commercial and then lexicon it to a :30. This enabled us to get all of the funny gags in while adhering to the allotted time. His bag of comedic tricks was endless.
He was the king of one-line zingers. Award-winning taglines such as “Pizza, Pizza,” “Where’s the Beef?,” and “Sometimes You Feel like a Nut,” to name a few, were legendary. In fact, he was also the voiceover for “Pizza, Pizza.” I remember calling him on Thanksgiving from my parents' house just so they could hear him recite the line.
He was a champion for the little guy and believed in challenging the conventions of the big and boring. And he did it quite successfully and repeatedly. Helping brands get beyond their fears and reach for the stars. His passion for helping small businesses was very well known. I remember a new business pitch where he literally jumped up on a boardroom table and enthusiastically read a script to a potential new client. Needless to say, we won the business.
He was no ordinary leader. In fact, he never even liked being called one. He was a creative, just like all of us, and the type of founder I had dreamed of working for and someday becoming. I had many conversations with him about this. I remember shooting a commercial with him in the desert and during a very quiet moment on set, he turned to me and said, “David, I don't like being an owner. I just want to be a copywriter.” And he meant it. But more importantly, he lived it.
He was the type of person who loved being in the trenches. He loved the work, all aspects of it. He watched all the casting tapes and attended almost every single shoot. He would walk around the agency with his wooden baseball bat looking for anyone who had an idea worth sharing. In fact, he carried a small notepad with him everywhere he went. His scribbles were gems of genius — big ideas, taglines, you name it. He made everyone better. And we all knew we were in the presence of a legend. One who could lift us, and the work, to a whole other level.
He impacted so many people. Individuals who took their amazing experience and went on to become directors, to lead other agencies, or create their own.
He had an amazing effect on me and my life. And the agency I created 22 years ago. His inspiration lives on in me and the people I impact.
I’m not alone in saying this: I wouldn't be where I am today without Cliff Freeman.
The man. The myth. The legend. The Big, Big Cheese.
Some years back, I presented work to Cliff—and he said, “That’s not funny. Let me see your book again…”
I really loved Cliff, and even when he was shitting on your work, he was still hilarious.
Everyone was enamored with, scared of and in awe of Cliff. I was personally scared shitless of him till the day he laughed at one of my dumb jokes.
Ardito also shared an ad from a favorite campaign for Budget. Created with former partner Grant Smith, it featured faux ads rejected by the client:
It wasn’t even so much we were brave, as just insane. But nobody else was brave enough to be insane, except for the folks at Cliff Freeman & Partners.
And if you were to ask me what one thing Cliff said to me that both guided and haunted my career over the past 20 years, it would be when I was going on my first ever shoot, for Staples. Cliff called me into his office and simply said, “Don’t fuck it up.”
He then smiled at me. It was the best advice I ever got from anyone in advertising.
He also gave me one of his watches, which I’m gonna sell one day for a lot of money.
I learned fast that Cliff Freeman is all about the work. Nothing could get in the way of doing it as well as humanly possible. He talks about it articulately. It drives him. Then I learned what being funny meant to him. You can't talk about Cliff and not talk about funny. It's part of the Brand.
Cliff has a philosophy about how advertising works and he has never wavered from it because no one ever proved him wrong—simply, that to connect, advertising must entertain. Over the years, this credo, and more importantly his talent to achieve it, has created historic successes. It has also drawn like-minded people to the agency and to his fandom. And, befitting a Hall of Famer, it has fueled some of the most memorable work of the last couple or three decades. "Sometimes you feel like a nut," which he created in the '70s at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample with then longtime partner Fred Massin, is unbelievably still on the air. "Where's the beef?" hit a national nerve and Mondale ran with it, figuratively and literally. Probably the most famous advertising line ever written, it pops up frequently in the news and pop culture. Intentionally or not, those three words captured an encyclopedic volume of human dissatisfaction. Our lives are woefully short on "beef." That's a pretty depressing insight. Cliff made it hilarious. ...
An intensely private person, he wouldn't be too comfortable having much revealed about him. In fact, that revelation alone will embarrass him. Sorry, Cliff. So here are the revealables. He has Mississippi roots, played a little high school basketball, partied a little, partied a little more at Florida State and has a bunch of brothers and sisters. Ready for something funny? Cliff started in the business as an account guy. He didn't find that amusing at all so he became a copywriter. After a stint at McCann in Atlanta, where he won the first of his 93,376,128 awards, he moved to New York. There he met and married the talented and irrepressible Susan, his other half, his muse, and gifted design maven; check out our offices sometime...
No Cliff notes would be complete without a word about his enduring influence on the business of advertising. Somehow, he has created a Petri dish for infectious ideas. Cliff Freeman, both the guy and the agency, have shown legions of advertising people (inside and outside the agency for that matter) where the bar ought to be. Then some pheromone he emitted into the air infected a lot of them with an ability to reach it and even nudge it higher.
His fame is owed primarily to his true calling. His writing. But everyone who works with him knows he is also a terrific editor, thoughtful planner and keen observer of human behavior. Most will say he is a genius. Others say he's eccentric. Some just say funny. They are all right.
In the world of advertising, you never have to ask, "Where's the beef?" Cliff's got it.
I can honestly say that working for Cliff Freeman was THE most fun I’ve EVER had in advertising. It was a combination of the man, the culture, and the amazing talent that he brought together to create a kind of perfect creative storm.
It was truly a magical place to learn and create, and where some of your most outrageous ideas would get produced. We were challenged by Cliff to come up with insane, rule-breaking work—but he also had the ability to get that work made. Couple that with being surrounded by so many good-hearted and talented people all trying to one up each other with practical jokes and you can see why CF&P was so special. And maybe the ultimate testament to the man and the agency is the fact that so many careers were launched from CF&P.
I worked for Cliff for six years and looked up to him not just as the industry's greatest talent, but its kindest soul. He literally took me in off of the streets, hiring me when I was just a street musician living out of a suitcase. Even when I was just an intern, Cliff would regularly invite me into his office, tell me to put my feet up, and talk about the different ways that the agency valued my work. He was like that with everyone. Cliff's egalitarian spirit permeated the culture of his agency as well as the agency's work.
I've since come to see Cliff as the Charlie Chaplin of advertising. He was in equal parts comic genius and humanist. He hated snobbery and loved celebrating everyday Americans and others not typically given a spotlight. He loved writing and approving ads that celebrated the likes of blue collar workers, pizza deliverers, flustered dads or the elderly. Just as the media was celebrating yuppies and slick MTV youth in the 1980s, Cliff countered by giving the spotlight to an 81-year-old manicurist named Clara Peller.
There’s genuinely not enough words to describe what a privilege it was to have worked with him and be a part of probably one of the most exciting and entertaining eras in advertising.
To wake up and go to work in the morning has never been such a joy. It was like walking into a sitcom everyday. Whoever made the best jokes, won.
And if we weren’t funny, Cliff had his famous way of letting us know: “Not funny!”
I always knew then I was incredibly privileged to have started my career at Cliff Freeman & Partners but I never knew how far the influence of those years would take me.
I remember very fondly, Cliff, on the day I resigned after many years and decided to take my first giant leap to work abroad. He said to me, ”Go for it kid. Shoot for the stars.” And I did.
For that, and a mountain of hilarious memories, brilliant encounters, the baseball bat he carried, the vintage radios he collected, and the many lessons in the persistence of greatness—I will never forget Cliff Freeman.
And I thank him for having been a great mentor, a tough boss, a friend, and a real legend.
As a bit of background, I was the first fresh-out-of-school junior Cliff had ever hired for CF&P. It was 1992 and he referred to it as an “experiment.” In the following years he’d consistently employ platoons of twenty-somethings to generate the work, and he was very much a father figure to those young creatives.
The early years I spent at Cliff’s are easily the most memorable of my career. No one ever questioned if we were doing “funny” work. It was the shop’s DNA and that’s what we did. 30-second comedy television ads, specifically.
It was an “all hands on deck” creative department, and inherently competitive because all the teams would get briefed on the same project at the same time, then scurry off to our separate offices. The office was so small you could literally “hear” the creative process in action. After about an hour of murmurs, intermittent bursts of laughter would start to emerge from behind various doors. It was a bit of a contest to see who could present to Cliff first. You’d hear a team go into his office and oftentimes not get a big response. Things would go quiet again, sometimes for several minutes. Then inevitably full-on guffaws would erupt. There was no way of knowing exactly what the excitement was about, but oftentimes some out-of-context phrase would get repeated over and over again to ever-increasing hysterics. Things like, “We should’ve gotten the pizza!” or, “Everyone agreed—it was the worst thing (pause) they ever tasted.”
Cliff had an endearing hubris. He was quite confident that his was the very best agency in America. Financial success had nothing to do with it, and I don’t think any of us thought of him an elite businessperson. Sometimes we would churn through small accounts at the speed of high school dating.
It was the work, and only the work that mattered to Cliff. More specifically the “reel.” In my time there, I saw some of the same spots played literally hundreds of times (for new business and whatnot), and watched Cliff laugh literally every single time. He simply loved these creations of his. And the world did too.
Being on a commercial shoot with Cliff was fascinating. He would appear to be oblivious to politics, schedule and money. Sometimes, he would stare at the monitor, clearly deep in his thoughts, then call for something out loud even if the camera was already rolling. I’ll never forget him imploring “HIT THE DUCK!” to the P.A. hurling wadded pages at an overflowing trash can for a Staples spot. It took a beat for us all to realize he was talking about targeting the small wooden duck prop on a background bookshelf.
It sounds like great fun, and of course it was, but working at Cliff’s was as stressful and humiliating as any creative ad job. Just like anywhere else, 95% of our creative output would be rejected, either internally or by client. The standards were high, and the sea of shiny ad trophies (on the floor) taunted you daily. Yes it was about laughs, but not necessarily your own. I think that was what brought his creative people so closely together. It was being in the trenches together fighting for laughs.
After a new business loss Cliff would be pissed like the rest of us, exclaim how “dumb” the client was for not going with us, then forget about it by the next day. One poetic thing he said to me in his drawn-out Southern twang, “Greg….. advertising is a series of ups and downs, highs and lows. This… (long pause) is a low.”
Cliff would be deeply offended when a creative would leave the agency, often trying to dissuade them. When I left the agency to join my fiance on the west coast and a position at Goodby, he told others, “He’s throwing away his career for that girl!”
The only thing that seemed to matter more to him than the agency was the attention of his wife Susan, whom he adored. Cliff had a rule that he would take Susan’s phone call, any time whether day or night or in the middle of a new business pitch. This is not an exaggeration. He would stand up and simply leave the room immediately. I thought it strange at first, but I grew to admire it.
Surprisingly, Cliff wasn’t at all what I’d call a “funny” conversationalist. (Anyone that saw him emcee the One Show Awards (or was it Clios?) that time in the ‘90s could attest to that). He didn’t tell jokes. Cliff’s superpower was his charm. It was his fantastic Mississippi drawl (that we would all impersonate sooner or later), his extensive vintage cookie jar collection (housed in glass cases while the creative awards were sprawled on the floor). It was his occasional burst of short and quirky typewritten memos to give office kudos or announce promotions. It was his habit of walking around the office carrying a vintage golf club, which he’d gesture with frequently. It was the ultimate compliment when he pointed it handle-side-first at you, and said with a faux-serious tone of voice, “I like that.”
Cliff had that same infectious charm that was always evident in his casting, arguably the true secret weapon of all his work. The characters were lovably odd, good-natured, never mean-spirited, and strangely “real.” Lesser ad creatives would cop that style of unusual casting but regrettably use them in ways that made fun of them. Not Cliff. His humanity and his heart was on display in almost every one of his agency’s ads.
Cliff was, and still is, absolutely an advertising unicorn. Nobody could do what Cliff did, which was 30-second commercial comedy so well and so consistently, and doubtful ever will again.
Cliff was brilliant beyond compare. Fearless. He built a company that was singularly focused on making work that was funny and smart enough to earn its way into popular culture, long before “earned media” was a badge of honor.
It was a very competitive working environment, especially for the creatives. But there was also a loving camaraderie that I haven’t seen since. He had a unique ability to find and cultivate talented, interesting people.
That was the thing about working there: he made sure everyone truly only cared about making and selling great work. And, in that way, it was a meritocracy. You really had to focus and put in a ton of effort to add any value. I was so lucky to work there as a young producer.
Everyone always thought working at Cliff Freeman was a cacophony of back-slapping raucous chuckles and sitting around on fart pillows. But it wasn’t like that.
When things we wrote were deemed to be funny, that word was uttered quietly. It was funny distilled as a business. When my partner Reed Collins and I were interviewed in Cliff’s corner office in New York, I think we sat and watched a recent reel. Not ours, his. It was beyond great. Hit after hit of the world’s most famous work. There were no poker faces from us. Cliff had us. He was totally committed to what he loved. It was a small and hard-working agency with a concise bullseye.
I always felt like we had the full support of Cliff. I remember on one occasion we’d worked for months on a Super Bowl campaign. A big deal for a young writer then and now. The day before the Super Bowl the client got cold feet and shelved the entire thing. I was pretty crushed. The next time I walked in the office Cliff had set up a screen at the end of the hallway. He had the campaign playing on a loop for the entire day. Maybe he really loved the work, I’m not sure. But I knew he had my back.
The favorite thing I kickstarted was the Budget press campaign. Among all that wonderful TV work, yes we made press at Cliff Freeman. Basically it was the worst possible ideas you could think up sketched as mock-ups and hit with a red" REJECTED" stamp. It ran for ages. It was the most horrible idea you could think of that no client in their right mind should approve, with an official "REJECTED" stamp, then bought by the client. Very meta.
The launch ad involved Charles Manson saying, "You’d have to be insane to miss this deal." It crashed the Budget rental line with complaints and bookings. Complaints were generally viewed as high praise.
However, my favorite pieces of work honestly came from the other guys. They were all such talents. To this day there’s campaigns there that are the best we’ll ever see. So many hit songs. There was just something in the water at Cliff.
Cliff had peopled the office with an amazing cast of characters. Many of us are still in contact or remain colleagues and we keep the Cliff Freeman legacy alive in our shared stories. But the band Cliff formed created very special things in its day.
It was such a privilege to work for Cliff. Good people doing good work. His passion, energy and the opportunities he gave me were life-changing. Without Cliff my career and life path would have been a lot less interesting.
Working at Cliff Freeman was my dream. In school I’d think of different stunts I could do to get his attention because I was 100 percent sure my book wasn’t good enough. It took me about a year to get hired after I graduated.
I wasn’t there long—about a year and a half. It was a weird time for the agency. A little bit past the heyday. It didn’t matter to me. I was living my dream. I got to know Cliff, I was a little obsessed with Cliff. I couldn’t believe that he liked me also. I genuinely loved his company. He was weird and funny and smart and a mentor. I watched how he adjusted scripts. How he made things funnier. How he fed his brain tons of interesting things. How he didn’t really care how other people did things. Any things. He ate salmon for lunch every day. He wore a bright orange t-shirt. He collected antique toasters. He didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in advertising but he always knew if something was fresh. He had the best eye for talent in history.
He truly was himself. Weird, fascinating, confusing, kind. He had a slow Southern drawl that made everything sound funny and serious at the same time.
After I left we stayed in touch. Mostly email. Sometimes a phone call. He’d often switch phones in the middle of a call. “Let me call you from my other phone.” No explanation why.
He had a book he wrote called “Funny = Money.” It was really good. I hope we can get it published now.
When I came back to New York after years of being away, we pitched him on this idea—“Cliff Freeman comes back for 30 seconds,” where he’d write a commercial for one of our clients. He came to the agency. It was like hosting a celebrity. We met a few times after that to talk about it but we never made it happen. I just wanted to work with him again and have an excuse to see him more.
I hope he knows how much he meant to so many people. And how big an influence he had on advertising. On some of its best and most talented people. He was truly one-of-a-kind. It’s an amazing thing when you can write this much about someone and not mention that they made the most famous commercial of all time until the last sentence.
We are all very sad to hear about Cliff’s passing. I had stayed in touch with him for years. We would talk about once a year, usually after he and Susan received my family holiday card. He would always call or send a funny note critiquing the card (and complimenting my kids) every February. I looked forward to that.
What did we learn from Cliff?
Well, we were all already students of Cliff’s before any of us started working there.
It was unbelievable to get a job there. Not just because of all the award-winning work. But also because there was so much being made there, so fast. At all times. For all kinds of brands. It was an amazing opportunity in comparison to the testing, slow timelines and bureaucracies at big agencies of that time.
Marketers came to Cliff Freeman & Partners expecting something funny. They knew what they were getting into. And they bought that kind of work. So there was that. Cliff really created a brand. He relished taking on challenger brand clients and even had a whole philosophy about his agency being “The Giant Killers.”
Working there was exactly as you would have imagined it. Just lots of fun. Silliness. And not taking ourselves too seriously. Sure people worked hard and it got competitive. But there was so much camaraderie. We all knew, even at the time, that it was the most fun you could have in this business.
Briefs were dead simple. Not a lot of nonsense. Yes, there were strategists and strategy. But ultimately the strategy was to get to a direction that would yield wildly entertaining work.
Cliff or his deputies all looked at the work through that lens. Together we would workshop the hell out of every idea. Constantly revising and making them funnier. In his office and at edits.
We also learned:
Casting is everything. We would strive to find the most original and memorable people and faces that would make our stories that much more funny.
To get crazy amounts of coverage on shoots. We were all taught to try so many things on set.
Editing is also everything. Fine tuning take after take. Meticulously placing music cues and sound effects to get the biggest laughs at the right times.
Collaborating with like-minded comedy directors over and over led to better and funnier spots.
Don’t be afraid to sell. Look at some of the lengthy product sections in those Little Caesars and Wendy’s spots, for example. Cliff knew how to do something hilarious that would work wonders and still make the clients happy. He wasn’t just a funny man. He was an ad man.
But all this painstaking attention to detail didn’t drive people crazy. Because it was always in service of making something funnier. And it did.
Back then, we would all discuss how when we interviewed at other agencies or talked to a headhunter, and they would ask, “Do you have any work that isn’t funny?” And we were all shocked at this question. Because why wouldn’t we make something funny? That’s what we did there. And that’s when I started to realize how much of a privilege it was to be at a place where comedy was everything.
So many of us are still great friends. And even today many of us still work together in lots of different ways.
On his favorite campaign at CF&P:
My favorite campaign that I worked on, and partially because this was directly with Cliff as the only CD on it (Taras was my partner), was Church’s Chicken “Maybe it’s your cooking.” It won Gold and Bronze Lions. I remember finding that out by reading USA Today when we were shooting Coke spots in Nebraska during the SAG strike (Cliff was on that shoot.)
Everyone has their stories of what Cliff had deemed “Funny” or “Not Funny.”
He truly believed every detail could make or break success and trained a whole army of us to care and think about these details because these are the things that will get others to care about our work and make it successful. I’ve never seen anyone go more on their gut than Cliff, and he taught me to trust my instinct. You can over logic things but your gut will usually be right.
I think Cliff was a hoarder of the unique. He had his endless collections—Navajo blankets, cookie jars, Flair magazines, but I think he also was endlessly searching for the interesting in people. I remember working at Cliff for about two months when Cliff’s assistant Loraine told me “Cliff wants to find time to talk with you.” I feared he was going to tell me I was fired. But I went in and after a little small talk Cliff asked “Did you see the movie Adaptation? What did you think of it?” That was the point of our meeting. I don’t know if I passed the interesting test but I was honored to get my at-bat.
Fegley, and her partner at the time, art director Dawn McCarthy, created this 2003 DSW campaign that likened women's show-shopping rituals that those of wildlife:
My favorite memory of Cliff was how he assigned innate comedic ability to inanimate objects. We’d be discussing a project or pitching something in his office, and mention a detail like a lawn mower, and he’d pause the conversation and declare “Lawn mowers ARE funny!” Or “Egg holders are ALWAYS funny.”
Or, if he disapproved of the prop, “C’mon guys, computers are just not funny. What else you got?” Which would prompt us all to riff on swapping in an abacus or calculator or chalkboard, and just crack jokes and make up new gags until he threw us out.
But his certainty that bundt cake pans were funny, while hedge trimmers were not, always stuck with me. And the crazy thing is that on a weird level, he was usually right.
In 2001 when I moved to NYC, I went to work at Cliff Freeman. I targeted it with a fierceness, because at that time it was the epicenter for breakthrough, hilarious, and incredibly famous work. I remember interviewing with Cliff like it was yesterday—I was so eager and told him all about why I thought I was a strong account person.
He listened and then just looked at me and said, “I don’t care about any of that, we make the best advertising in the world, do you want to be a part of that?”
I, of course, said, “Yes.”
Working there was immediately a shock to my system. It was chaotic, crazy, unconventional and tough. But at its core, creative was all that mattered. My stint at Cliff Freeman was incredibly formative. It introduced me to the world of advertising in NYC and toughened me up.
But Cliff also had a quirky, soft side. Just after 9/11, we all had to take pay cuts. He felt bad and to make up for it he brought me in a leather couch from his home for my office. He was so thrilled to give me that couch.
It makes me sad sometimes when I tell younger people in our industry that I worked at Cliff Freeman and they don’t even know that it existed. It defined, started and inspired so many amazing careers. I was fortunate to meet and work with some of the best creatives in the industry—creatives who all went on to have an incredible impact on our industry and have become lifelong friends.
It was a special time, with amazing talent. Working at Cliff Freeman is a special club in way. If you worked there, you just know. If you never did, you really can’t explain it to anyone. You had to be there. And I’m glad I was.
When I first started working at Cliff Freeman and Partners, I noticed he had all these odd things throughout the agency on display. Blankets, cookie jars, Bakelite radios and more. Cliff collected things, seemingly random, that he found truly valuable, and we were all part of his collection. Such a large group of talented, weird and wonderful people were assembled by Cliff over the years. Advertising is the island of misfit toys. And Cliff is where you go after being kicked off the island because you couldn’t even fit in there.
Cliff was the arbiter of funny. Everyone knew that. But it was impossible to predict or decode what he would ordain as funny. He would find the most random things in your scripts hilarious while the jokes you spent days crafting not funny at all. And he would always be right.
Dan and Mark [Schruntek] created a wall. One side was “Not funny” and the other side, “Funny.” It was a collection of all the things presented to Cliff he said were funny or not. There were hundreds. One set came from a meeting where I presented a script and he pretty much dismissed the whole thing but then his eyes lit up and said, “Did you say brown shoes? Brown shoes are funny. Black shoes are not funny. Go on.”
To the advertising crew I hung out with in the beginning of my career, Cliff was a god. Everyone wanted to work at CF&P. In fact, I knew a team that worked at BBDO full time but freelanced for Cliff at night for free in hopes of getting a job there. They did. I sent my book to Cliff five times. I got rejected four times. The fifth time I got a job offer and turned it down, I think out of spite.
We all loved him because his ideas transcended advertising and became not just part of culture but part of history. “Where’s the beef?” was said in one of the presidential debates. But he didn’t make pointless content. It transcended and sold hard at the same time. “Where’s the beef?” is about the size of Wendy’s hamburgers after all. I’d say he is one of the most influential people in my advertising career because of that. Because of Cliff, I’ve always tried to make my work a piece of entertainment, a piece of culture, something more than an ad while selling hard as hell. Cliff showed me that was next to impossible but not.
MUSIC SUDDENLY STOPPING = FUNNY
CHARGING A CUSTOMER $7,652.23 FOR A BURGER = FUNNY
SAG HAND MODELING = NOT FUNNY
ELEVATORS = FUNNY
GEL = FUNNY
MOUSSE = FUNNY (Even funnier than gel)
GRUNTING = FUNNY
PEOPLE HIDING UNDER DESKS = FUNNY
PENCILS IN ANY ORIFICE = FUNNY
TIRESOME = NOT FUNNY
JOKE’S ABOUT RIC ARDITO’S HAIR = TIRESOME*
THE WORD "GROIN" = FUNNY
TOLL BOOTHS = FUNNY
CHICKENS = FUNNY
HUMILIATION = FUNNY
WHEEZING FROM SMOKING TWO PACKS A DAY = FUNNY
PRESENTING TO ARTHUR WHILE HIS WIFE IS GIVING BIRTH = FUNNY
INCONGRUOUS = FUNNY
TEACHING PEOPLE A LESSON = FUNNY
BALD HEADS = FUNNY
KIDS CRYING = FUNNY
PRANK PHONE CALLS WHERE YOU IMPERSONATE AN IRATE MAN = FUNNY
AC/DC TICKETS = FUNNY
BBQ STAINS ON WHITE GLOVES = FUNNY
FINGER = FUNNY
ARROW GOING INTO EYE OF DUMMY = FUNNY
BOXER SHORTS = FUNNY
CONSTANTLY SWITCHING SEATS = FUNNY
LUBE JOBS = NOT FUNNY
DEATH = FUNNY
DEATH = NOT FUNNY
PEOPLE QUICKLY RUNNING OUT OF STORE = FUNNY
CLIENT COMMENTS = NOT FUNNY
HAM = FUNNY
CRYING KIDS = FUNNY
CRYING BABIES = FUNNY (Even funnier than crying kids)
BEING ATTACKED BY A LARGE GORILLA = FUNNY
BEA ARTHUR = FUNNY
MOUSETRAPS = FUNNY
PORTUGUESE WEDDING DRESS = FUNNY
TRYING TOO HARD = NOT FUNNY
SON MOVING OUT = FUNNY
HUMILIATION = FUNNY
STUFFED PEPPERS = FUNNY
HAYFEVER = FUNNY
KIDDY POOL IN STORE = FUNNY
SPEAKING WHILE IN A HEADLOCK = FUNNY
HANDSTANDS = FUNNY
NECK BRACES = FUNNY
ALMOST SOBBING = FUNNY
PAIN = FUNNY
SAYING STUFF WITH MOUTH FULL = FUNNY
HATS = FUNNY
QUIET COUGHS = FUNNY
PRIESTS GIVING THE FINGER = FUNNY
REPORTER HOLDING PROPS = FUNNY
MAKING AN NFL COACH LOOK STUPID = FUNNY
CLIFF THINKING ABOUT HIRING NEW CREATIVES = FUNNY
ACCIDENTS (NON-INJURING) = FUNNY
ACCIDENTS (INJURING BUT NOT LIFE THREATENING) = FUNNY
DESTRUCTION = FUNNY
MEAN AND ANGRY BOSSES = NOT FUNNY
PLANE CRASHES = NOT FUNNY
BEING MOUNTED BY A MOOSE = FUNNY
TOO MANY REMOTE CONTROLS = FUNNY FIRING GERBILS OUT OF A CANNON = FUNNY
BARBECUES IN STORE = NOT FUNNY
CUSTOMERS BEING LAUNCHED IN CATAPULTS = FUNNY
SPILLING FOOD = FUNNY
SAPPY = NOT FUNNY
PEOPLE BEING TAKEN OUT BY ZOO ANIMALS = FUNNY
CHEESECAKE = NOT FUNNY
PHOTO OF ACTOR IN ZEBRA-SKIN JUMPSUIT = NOT FUNNY
VACATION MEMOS = NOT FUNNY
GILDER = NOT FUNNY
BEING TIED TO A RADIATOR NAKED = FUNNY
RUBBER CHICKENS = FUNNY
OUT OF CONTROL CARRIAGE RIDES = NOT FUNNY
PORNO MAGAZINE = NOT FUNNY
MUSIC THAT’S TOO GOOD AND INVOLVING = NOT FUNNY
LEAVING AND WALKING BACK TO PODIUM = FUNNY
BOOKS ABOUT WHAT’S FUNNY AND NOT FUNNY = FUNNY
RUDE SOUNDS = FUNNY
CAT CLAWING AT SOMEONE’S FACE = FUNNY
AWKWARD SILENCES = FUNNY
LOUD TALKING WHILE WORKING = FUNNY
THE WHOLE FUNNY SIDE OF THE WALL = NOT FUNNY*
*After World Trade Center
I was lucky enough to begin producing for Cliff Freeman and Partners in 1987 working on Little Caesar's Pizza, Staples, Clusters Cereal, Comedy Channel, Miller Beer, Ronzoni Pasta and other clients who understood and appreciated what Cliff's brand of humor could do for their brands. Cliff felt that if you truly amused someone for 25 seconds, you could sell anything. And the jokes were rampant.
Cliff also managed to hire and nurture some of the most talented creative talent in our business today. So many of the CF&P writers and art directors went on to open their own ad agencies or became hugely successful directors. I know all of us have kept the spirit of Cliff Freeman & Partners in our hearts as we've yearned for those halcyon days, working for clients who trusted Cliff to do right by them.
One of the things I loved about Cliff was his attention to detail, especially casting. Rarely did we use a real actor in our commercials; our most memorable characters were real people, found at bingo parlours, race tracks, square dances, beauty shops, etc, many of them elderly. Cliff used these folks over again for their remarkable deadpans and unexpected line readings.
We produced a commercial for Little Caesars called "Focus Group." The spot l featured groups of people being queried about their pizza preferences. We probably looked at over 2000 people for this commercial and cast each person as if they were the star. The main character was an autistic man named Brian who our casting director found walking on the street in West Hollywood. After the shoot, Brian took Cliff, the producer, Mary Ellen Duggan, and me out to breakfast to thank us for casting him. That was one of the moments when we felt most proud of, our work, not only making a great commercial, but adding some joy to someone's life. Cliff's work added so much joy to all our lives, while subtly doing his job --- selling the hell out of the brands smart enough to work with Cliff Freeman.
Advertising was so much fun back then and Cliff made it so. He never took anything seriously except his zest for life and the beautiful things in it.
The most rewarding sound was when Cliff laughed—in the office, on the set, in the edit room. When Cliff laughed, you knew you had gold.
One day I was working with Cliff in his office when a frustrated staffer burst in, went on an expletive-laden rant then stormed out in a huff. A bit freaked out, I looked at Cliff, who was smiling ear to ear. Without a hint of irony, he said “Isn’t he just great?”
I could see he was serious, and when he saw how confused that made me, he said, “Oh c’mon Ari, not everybody can be the same.”
If Cliff’s work was legendary (and it is), then I think it was his love of people and their differences that was the secret sauce. The fact is, there will never be another Cliff Freeman. And judging from how he lived, how he led, and the opportunities he created for others to shine, something tells me he might have wanted it that way. Rest in peace, mad man.
I suppose it was Cliff’s unique charm that drew you in, and yes, you could call it a type of Southern charm but I don’t think that quite does him justice. It was beyond warmth and gentility; it was character, and he had so, so much of it. Making him laugh would make a creative’s day. I would venture a guess that just about all of us that were fortunate enough to work for him would say he was the best boss we ever had. Of course we all found him hilarious, but what many may not realize was just how caring Cliff was.
My partner Andy Spade and I found ourselves on a late ‘80s good old-fashioned boondoggle traveling to South Africa to shoot hippos in the wild for a Little Caesars commercial. The boondoggle took a turn however, when we landed in L.A., each with a nice little dose of tick bite fever and 104 temp. Cliff and his wife Susan got one look at us, and there was a doctor waiting for us at the hotel by the time we checked in. Our industry will miss Cliff and his fearless, hilarious spirit. I'll miss that too of course, but mostly I'll miss his infectious laugh and his gentle kindness.
Cliff knew what he was doing. He wanted to surround himself with the best comedic creatives in the business and he did.
His track record and influence made him the coolest boss in the industry. Sometimes I felt that Cliff started his agency just so he could spend every day laughing with brilliant people. I can’t think of a better way to spend your time on this planet.
Now with ad agencies becoming consultancies, my peers fear advertising—great advertising— died with him.
Cliff, if you can hear me, I hope you’re finding a way to laugh your ass off in heaven. You were KING.
My favorite Cliff lesson was when he’d say the two words you’d never want him to say about your work: “Not Funny.”
This is how he made you better. I am grateful I had a chance to work with a creative legend. Rest in peace, Cliff.
The work that Cliff Freeman put out into the world was like a bat signal for weirdos. I followed it to his front door and was lucky enough to work there for seven years. The other people it attracted are some of my favorite people in advertising and just generally in life. I loved Cliff Freeman the person, and Ioved Cliff Freeman the agency, and I’m just so sad that he’s gone. We all are.
A favorite memory:
In a new business credentials meeting, Cliff hits “play” on the agency reel and sits down. While the reel is playing, he leans over and quietly says, “After they watch this, we usually never see them again. But if we do, they’re our clients for years.”
In my early 20’s I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to move across the country to NYC and work for Cliff. Although we worked long hours and weekends it felt more like a luxury cruise on Cliff's personal yacht than an actual advertising job.
Cliff was the most inspiring human and always the best judge of comedy. I'll cherish the presentations we had in his spectacular corner office and the blank look on his face when he didn’t get the gag. He’d throw his hands up, “Ohh no! Why? Guy? You think that’s funny? I just don’t think that’s funny.”
Or, once in a while, if you were lucky enough to have something worthy you might get his infectious smile, “That’s good, that’s real good. Now that’s funny!”
The spirit in the agency back then was electrifying. All the creatives were ambitious and hilarious and I am fortunate to still consider many as my friends.
I couldn’t have asked for a better education in comedy or have been given more of a helping hand into advertising. Because of Cliff and the culture he created I was able to collaborate with so many A-list creatives and directors.
And then while I was building my spec reel as a director, Cliff couldn’t have been more generous. He encouraged me to keep my office at the agency and pitch for directing gigs from under his roof until I was able to fully transition into being a director. For that kindness and so much more I will forever be grateful.
After the news of Cliff’s passing, I spent the weekend texting some of my favorite people on planet Earth. We have all kept in touch, two decades later.
It was such a fun and adventurous time. Cliff had a knack for assembling a crew of talented misfits (the best kind). We were all unified by a desire to make our boss laugh.
There were no boundaries on the comedy. If it made Cliff laugh, it was a go. A very different time for sure. There was no fear. Just experiments. I think it’s fair to say that 80% of the work that was approved during that period would never get on air today… Cliff will be missed.
In fall of 1997 I was in NYC for business, having just taken a position as EVP of marketing at Fox Sports in Los Angeles. I was there to meet with Cliff about the prospect of working with Fox Sports on a single campaign for our NHL coverage. I had just started at Fox having spent the previous few years at ESPN working with Wieden+Kennedy on some of the more noteworthy campaigns in advertising during the early to mid 1990’s.
I had seen Cliff speak at a Clio event a year or so earlier. I was a big fan of his agency’s work on Little Caesars and Staples and thought it might be a great way to differentiate the more entertainment oriented “Fox” brand from the more hardcore “fan-centric” ESPN.
“I think we can do great work together,” Cliff said in that distinctive Southern drawl of his. “It can be totally different from what ESPN is doing.” It was as if he read my mind. Walking out, I ran into an ex-Wieden writer, Eric Silver, who I had worked with at ESPN and I knew then the stars were aligned.
Over the next five or six years Cliff Freeman & Partners and Fox Sports would go on to do massively successful work for several of Fox’s Sports properties including for the NHL, MLB, NASCAR, and Regional Sports Report, which collectively garnered several “Best in Shows” at Clio, Cannes, One Club, Addy and 2 Emmy nominations. From 1997 to 2003, there was no client/agency pairing churning out better work in the world. It was truly a special time.
I feel like every few years a client and agency come together and just sync, and the trust they place in one another opens up for iconic work—Chiat and Apple, Nike and Wieden. Cliff Freeman and Partners and Fox Sports for me, were on the same level, and Cliff allowed that to flourish.
Two things I can share about Cliff and how we dealt with him. One is the simple observation that every time a cassette arrived from Cliff Freeman & Partners, we would stop what we were doing and head into the conference room to watch it. Our expectations were that high, and rarely dashed.
Also, there used to be a section of Creativity Magazine’s Upfront feature, where we singled out bits of news and new work, that we dubbed the “Cliff Freeman Comedy Corner.” It’s where we’d write up the funniest spot that had come in over the past month. Sometimes it was from CF&P, sometimes not. But Cliff once told me that having a section of the magazine named after him was one of the things he was most proud of.
The agency was in the Saatchi building at 375 Hudson. Cliff lived in Gramercy Park and drove to the office everyday. It was only 1.5 miles, but that's how Cliff commuted. We produced a lot of radio back then. Whenever we finished a spot we'd have to get a cassette tape made for Cliff. He'd listen to it in his car on the way to the office. That's how he reviewed radio...I loved that.
Cliff collected vintage cookie jars, he collected old radios, he collected Navajo blankets. They were displayed all around the agency. During a review, my partner Ian noticed a single size 12 basketball shoe on a shelf in Cliff's office. Ian asked him why it was there. Cliff said, "That's my sneaker collection." Ian said, "But there's only one?" Cliff said with a smile, "I'm just getting started."
Cliff built the most talent-dense agency I've ever worked at. It was a murderer's row of creatives. Everyone had an office. I remember working late and walking by office after office with brilliant teams grinding away. It was intimidating, it was motivating and it was so fun.
Making people laugh is one of the hardest things to do. You have to know what the thing is that’s going to resonate with them. Cliff had a thing for knowing what that thing is. Sometimes the thing Cliff latched onto was so specific, it was like he was getting psychic messages from the comedy gods. He was this conduit that they spoke through, the gods would say, “THE WOMAN WEARING THE HAT THAT IS TOO SMALL FOR HER THAT IS WHAT WILL MAKE THEM LAUGH CLIFF!” And they/Cliff was almost always right. His brain worked differently than 99.9% of the people out there and that unique perspective allowed him to have an incredibly reliable gut when it came to what was funny.
He was also one of the most dedicated people I knew, who would sweat the smallest of details because as he would point out, those are the things that make the difference between funny and not funny. One or two frames longer on a reaction shot of someone after they got hit in the crotch was what he’d obsess about and that’s what made him great.
I’ll never forget one time, it was just Cliff and I in a mix session for a commercial I wrote about a guy talking to a horse’s ass because he could relate to that horse's ass since he just paid too much for auto parts. It was late at night, the engineer was tired, I was tired and we both couldn’t go home because on the close-up of the horse’s ass, Cliff had been tweaking the fly buzzing sound effects for 30 minutes. I remember looking at him and thinking, this guy has been doing this for at least 30 years, his name is on the door and he’s tweaking fly buzzing sound effects at 11:00 at night. It wasn’t just that he knew what it was that was going to make people laugh, he was willing to do whatever it took to make it happen.
When you did, the client usually bought the work, because when you presented it, Cliff laughed in the exact same place he did when you showed him. He knew where people should laugh and he showed them.
And when you made Cliff laugh the work usually won an award or two.
But clients buying work, the occasional award and other jobs we’d get after making the work were merely an outcome.
What we all wanted was the laugh.
His laugh was infectious and pure.
I will always remember his laugh and his very simple philosophy: funny good, not funny bad.
Life can be that simple and that’s why losing Cliff is so hard.
For better or worse, Advertising is no longer defined by the personalities of the people within. It used to be that the names on the door set the vision for others to follow. Cliff pioneered a vision within that era that today’s companies are trying to recapture. Not one of comedy, but of bold unbridled simplicity.
On his favorite campaign, he recounted the Church's ad he worked on with Chasnow, what he called "pure Cliff" :
When Adam and I presented that to Cliff he almost fell off his chair laughing. He said you have to get a really old guy and he has to be completely naked in front of the family and the family has to have little girls and we have to show his dimply old ass.
He went for it every time. Pushing every button to make people laugh. And you knew when you went out to shoot it you had to come back with his vision for the ad he saw in his head.
Cliff Freeman and Partners was the Mecca of creativity and laughter. Cliff had a knack for finding the best talent, many who have gone on to do amazing things since then. We were encouraged to test boundaries and defy boundaries. I can hear him now, “(Name here), it’s not funny! …. (Fill in the blank) now that’s funny!”
Just to go to work and laugh all day, every day was a gift. It was a place that cultivated lifetime friendships. We all say that those were the best days of our lives. It was the best job of our lives. Cliff made it so for us.
At dinner last night with [David and Goliath Founder and former CF&P ECD] David Angelo, who is one of my closest brother-like friends from CF&P. He said, “We all had to bring our work to Cliff and he added the spice.” That’s so true.
The work all had to pass by him and he usually upped it a notch. He had a lot of trust in me. I’ll always appreciate that.
I’ll remember his smile and charisma forever. I remember my first time at the home of Cliff and Susan, he gave me a tour and was just brimming with pride in showing me every special piece [of their collection]. He had so much love and pride in his sweet, lovely wife, Susan, whom I spoke to after I heard the sad news. At the end of the call when she said, “We love you,” I cried. I also cried when I was looking through my book of memories from CF&P and came across a note Cliff had sent me simply saying, “Maresa—I miss you—Cliff.” He had such an impact on me.
Ann-Christine Diaz is the Creativity Editor at Ad Age. She has been covering the creative world of advertising and marketing for more than a decade. Outside of the job, she can be found getting in touch with her own creativity.