The End of an Era

A Small Giant: Steve Hayden Remembers Phil Dusenberry

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Phil was the sun king of the golden age of TV advertising. He made commercials more entertaining than the shows they sponsored and transformed brands into pop icons with global reach. He hired me in 1985 to work on Apple, as I had at Chiat/Day. All of our meetings had been clandestine, in the kind of red-bolstered dark restaurants where industrial salesmen drink and ad people never venture. When I walked into his office in New York for the first time, he said, "If I'd known how tall you are, I never would've hired you." Yeah, he was a giant, but not a tall one.

Lemons and dog shit
Phil worked harder than anyone I've ever met in advertising. He would always return calls the same day, and I was often surprised to hear from him at 10 p.m. in L.A. when it was 1 a.m. in New York.

Steve Hayden

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I think he may have had a bit of insomnia, because he seemed to write all night long. Which may explain how he got a movie produced -- co-writing Robert Redford's "The Natural" -- while running New York's hottest creative department.

His attention to detail was legendary. We'd show him a cut and he'd trash it viciously. His soft voice was more terrifying than yelling or screaming, and while it's true he never uttered a profane word in public, in the privacy of his office with a creative team, he made an exception. I'll never forget the line: "There's lemons, there's shit and there's dog shit. And this is dog shit."

Creative people weren't afraid of Phil -- they were just terrified of disappointing him. His approval was the currency of the creative department, but he built a leadership team as inspiring as he was. All very different personalities, but all immensely talented at the craft. Phil defined a good day as a day when the work was good. And vice versa.

Often, all we had to do was fix a minor mix problem, put in a reaction shot that got a laugh or take out a scene he hated. Or fix the music, Phil's beloved secret weapon. And suddenly the sun would come out, and you'd get an "OK, kid. Not bad."

'Bring It Back and Do It Over'
For all of us, BBDO meant Bring It Back and Do It Over. The producers were Phil's centurions. One of them ran to the top of the Empire State Building to satellite feed a Pepsi spot to the Super Bowl at the last possible moment. Another bribed a mafia-dominated union so Lee Iacocca's birthday party would come off without a hitch. They'd do whatever it took. No excuses.

We'd regularly keep post houses open all night and all weekend to make a deadline. Phil once rented a Boeing 727 to give the creatives more time to perfect an Apple pitch. I can't think of an agency today that would even dream of doing such a thing.

Phil gave generously of his time to all his clients, especially GE, Pepsi and FedEx. He spent so much time on Apple that one of my old clients thought he lived in L.A. He'd appear at a moment's notice when management called. And since they threatened to fire us every three months like clockwork, that was often.

He gave generously of his time to his people as well. He'd never finish a conversation without asking how you were, about your family, how things were going.

He told Pytka where to put his camera
We always thought of BBDO as the best ball club in town. There were stars, there were promising rookies, there was our yearly World Series -- the Super Bowl -- and there was no challenge we couldn't take on. At most big agencies, the New York office is reviled as the center of American sell-out corruption. But at international meetings, Phil was treated like a god. Our international creative leaders, always fiercely independent and proud, would literally gather at Phil's knee to receive any wisdom he might dispense. He was a "man of respect" in a business with far too few of them.

One example: Joe Pytka was our primary director on Apple. He tore the heads off creative people and producers more regularly than Ozzy Osbourne assaulted pigeons. But when Phil came to a shoot, he could say, "Joe, I think the camera should be over here." We'd gasp in horror. And quietly the camera would be moved where Phil thought it should be. That's respect.

Once we shot a true-story spot about a girl who refused to kill a frog in her biology class. She said she'd rather use an Apple II with frog dissection software so she wouldn't harm a living thing. Director Bob Giraldi shot it and insisted that we didn't need a close-up of the frog. But when Phil saw the cut, he shouted, at about 10 decibels, "The frog's the whole point. You gotta go back and shoot the frog." He was absolutely right, of course. The frog made the spot.

There are only two creative directors I've worked for who instinctively know what people love: Phil and Chiat/Day's Lee Clow. Both could shuffle through a vast pile of ideas and inevitably pick the one that would move people most. No intellectual masturbation here. Just pure talent.

Phil's passing marks the end of an era. He was truly a giant, and I owe him more than I can ever repay. He recently said that the two biggest mistakes of his career were hiring Madonna and letting go of me. Well, in the scheme of things, those are pretty minor lapses. Madonna defined a new relationship between people and popular culture and fulfillment and opportunity. She broke barriers and crossed lines. Me? I just went to work every day.

Phil, on the other hand: He did both.

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Steve Hayden is vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. Mr. Hayden worked with Mr. Dusenberry at BBDO from 1985 to 1994 before joining Ogilvy.

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