Dinner With a Few Small Agency Bloggers

A Brief Glimpse From the Big Easy

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Phil Johnson
Phil Johnson
Be warned, you will derive no business value from this post. On July 14, I met my fellow Small Agency bloggers -- Bart Cleveland, Marc Brownstein and Tom Martin -- in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel in New Orleans. Jennifer Modarelli would have joined us but we didn't know that she was in town. We all got in Tom's white Escalade (remember this detail) and drove to Clancy's for dinner. We were in town to participate in a panel at the first Ad Age Small Agency Conference, and this dinner was a chance to get to know each other before Ad Age's Ken Wheaton interrogated us on our panel the next morning.

Although I'd been reading their posts for years, I'd never met any of these guys before, and I wondered what were the chances of liking three strangers. Odds were one of us would be insufferable. Since you may not meet any of these people in person, I'll share a couple of observations.

Only one person surprised me. Based on the passion and playfulness of his writing, I expected Bart to be a wild man. You couldn't meet a more pleasant, attentive, soft-spoken guy. The passion and intensity, however, emerges when he talks about the power of creativity and the supremacy of ideas. He shows little patience for trendiness that obscures great thinking and places a premium on advertising that makes an emotional connection. Bart's dinner: iced tea, house salad, and red fish.

Interesting fact: Tom's and Bart's fathers were carpenters, and Marc's and my grandfathers were carpenters. I may be stretching the coincidence, but I like to think it explains the respect for craftsmanship and lack of pretension among the group.

I've got experience getting together with agency leaders, and it's not unusual to see some one up man-ship, you know, who's bigger, more famous. Didn't happen. Tom did blurt out that he didn't realize how old the rest of us were, but we forgave his youthful exuberance.

I cannot emphasize this point enough: Marc is a well-dressed, well-groomed guy. He did not even break a sweat in the New Orleans heat, and made at least me look like a slob. Readers probably know that he's the second-generation family member to lead Brownstein Group, and there's an incredible pride in the history of his company. Mark's dinner: pinot noir, chopped salad, and soft-shell crabs.

Tom just left an agency where he had been president to launch a new consultancy. He's landing corporate clients, but he has also built an active practice helping other agencies build out their digital and social strategies. Bart and Marc went right into consultative mode, making suggestions about business models and capabilities. Like the best agency people, they couldn't stop brainstorming. Tom's dinner: bourbon, pinot noir, crab salad, and red fish.

Some things you just shouldn't admit in front of a group of fellow bloggers. I foolishly confessed that it took me four hours, sometimes six, to write a blog post. Everyone looked at me with disbelief and a little pity. Seems that one to two hours is the average. My dinner: seltzer with cranberry juice, pinot noir, Boston salad, and soft-shell crabs.

Now, about that Escalade. One of us asked Tom to explain his LKYSHOT license plate. It seems that at a school function for one of his kids, they picked Tom's raffle ticket, and he got one shot at half court to win the grand prize. Not withstanding a number of beers before the live or die moment, Tom sank the basket. All net, he claims. Sounds like one of those marketing stories.

Phil Johnson is CEO of PJA Advertising & Marketing with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco. Follow Phil on Twitter: @philjohnson
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