6. New Writer on the New Business

By Richard N. Anderson

If this were going to work, Alan would need a new writer on the business. The Trans US Airlines account was manna from heaven—the question was could they get the international routes? This was Alan’s specialty, new messages for existing brands. But finding writers was hard under normal circumstances. And since Wally left, the pace of things had exploded.

He’d have to start with the employment agencies who would sift through the resumes of people with bad reputations and frequent job changes to find that unlucky person with a great resume and terrific talent lost in the pile. Times were uncertain in the agency business, rules of form and tone in sales messages had been replaced with fast and loose. Evocative images told the story. Sometimes what the clients wanted seemed to Alan to be racing towards the absurd. So maybe he’d find some guy thrown out for taking a risk, or a guy who’d finally lost his cool. If nothing else a screenwriter, someone fresh from the coast or a humorist with some credits. He needed someone different.

By Wednesday he hadn’t had any luck. After lunch with Landon at the Bull and Bear he strolled up Third for a few blocks. The stripes of sky between the buildings were murky gray, the air cool and welcoming. At the light he spotted a headhunter he’d worked with before his job at Dunaway. Alan turned and checked his reflection in the window of a stationery store. He hated these people. Their business was gossip. The light changed and he crossed. He nodded a greeting to the lumpy faced fellow with the shiny green suit on the opposite curb.

“Hello Murray! Alan Robinson, J Dunaway Advertising.” He put out his hand. “Glad I ran into you.”

“I understand Gary Winters is in trouble at Pando-McCabe,” Murray said, cocking his head to one side in a way that reminded Alan of an agitated reptile.

“Didn’t know,” Alan replied as they walked west on 52nd street. “I know they lost some business but they’d be nuts if they let Gary go.”

“Well they’ve got a new creative director.”


“Yes, Don Mitchell. They got him from Levin and Moles.”

Levin and Moles was supposed to be a “hot creative shop.”

“I hear he’s a prick.” Alan stopped at the corner open-air fruit market and picked out an enormous red apple.

“Oh?” His companion looked at his watch and Alan enjoyed a long moment. He knew he’d violated the subtle etiquette by disparaging a potential client.

“Incidentally I’m looking for a writer. I know I’m supposed to go through the copy department manager but since I’ve run into you, any ideas?”

“How much?”

That was always the first question.

“Oh twenty. Twenty two,” Alan replied.

“Let me call you this afternoon.”

“O.K. But do me a favor. Nobody with Volkswagen proofs, please. Particularly Volkswagen trade ad proofs.”

Alan stood eating his apple slowly as the personnel guy walked away up Lexington Avenue. Alan knew full well the kind of writer the guy’s agency would have available. Not only Volkswagen proofs but Talon zipper proofs as well. People who didn’t know the first thing about selling stuff.

Back at the agency Alan dialed the Holly Gelb Agency. Holly had a reputation for dismembering one agency’s creative department and putting it piece by piece into another agency. Her company flourished by selling the talents of young creatives who had won awards. It was like representing actors or actresses the day after they’d won the Oscars. The salary would skyrocket as agencies vied secretively for their competitor’s new starlet and Holly was on the receiving end of every negotiation.

Alan liked her. Unless it was about business, Holly didn’t care what anyone thought. She was homely in appearance, but she dressed exquisitely. She had an incredible memory for salaries and who was working where.

Alan dialed.

“Holly Gelb please hold on,” the telephone operator-receptionist spat the words out over the phone as though she were working in the emergency ward at Bellevue. Alan held on. He reached down into his refrigerator and took out a can of Coors Beer he’d brought back from a trip to Denver.

“Holly Gelb Agency,” the emergency room lady said again.

“Hi. This is Alan Robinson, is Holly in?”

“One moment please.” The operator shunted him to an assistant whom Alan told he’d wait.

Alan took off the snap top of the Coors while he held the phone between his shoulder and his ear.

“Hi Alan.” It was Holly in her strong New York accent.

“How you doing Holly?”

“I just opened an office in London. That was them on the phone.”

“That’s terrific. Holly, I need a writer.”

“You’re not looking?”

“Christ no. Things are fine. You want to have a drink later so I can tell you what I’m after? I hate to talk about matters on the phone and I can’t stand that cattle car office of yours.”

Alan pictured the alcoves and booths at Holly’s office where art directors and writers made out their employment applications. The most over-art-directed office in New York. People called it the Steve Frankfurt Memorial Personnel Agency. A place Alan hoped to avoid.

“Sure Alan, but do you mind if we go to the Stanhope.”

The Stanhope was all the way uptown on Fifth and 81st Street across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Why the Stanhope? I thought I’d take you to the Sherry Netherland.  You’d look so right there, Holly.” She didn’t pick up the tease.

“Well, I’ve got an appointment with my gynecologist at seven. And he’s right next door to the Stanhope.”

Alan chuckled to himself

“O.K. The Stanhope at six.”


© Lisa Anderson 2015

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