Many of my memories as a young adult living in Southern California are bittersweet. For most of my twenties, living on the fabled Strand of Redondo Beach, it was a time of personal bliss and sporting conquest mixed with intense professional productivity.
On the career front, I had the extraordinary good fortune of finding myself working as a business development lead and account supervisor for Smith-Hemmings-Gosden, at that time the West’s largest direct marketing agency. Even more lucky, I reported directly to Freeman Gosden Jr, one direct marketing’s true pioneers and the architect of the infamous “40-40-20 Rule” for direct marketing success.
Armed with Freeman’s formula and many other immutable marketing principles, he and I often found ourselves in boardrooms pitching direct marketing campaigns for some of the West coast’s most coveted accounts — Williams-Sonoma, Hilton Hotels, Pacific Bell Telephone, Time-Mirror Cable TV, JD Power, Universal Studios, Hughes Aircraft, Weider Fitness, and others. Heck yes I was lucky, maybe the luckiest direct marketing apprentice on earth, at least in my naïve, small world.
My good fortune, flashy and heady though it was, came at a hefty price. Nail-biting pitches to stone-faced executives, deep dives into mind-twisting data, incessant production schedules — it all seemed high-pressure, yet somehow exhilarating and freeing. Except for Freeman, his alter ego, his inimitable and imposing persona. To me and the devoted groups surrounding him, somewhat like my own father, he was insufferable.
To this day I hold Freeman in the very highest regard, beyond my affections for even the most innovative pioneers with whom I’ve served on the frontlines of mine-filled marketing battlefields. Sure, it took its toll on me — sleepless nights, hours of time and money in therapy to soften the duress. But would I do it again if given the chance? Absolutely, in an instant. Those years gave me a million dollar education, and as a result of Freeman’s insistence I adhere to a foolproof linear planning and execution methodology, my DM campaigns have mostly yielded good results throughout my 30 year career, long before the mainstream adoption of digital marketing.
If my early career under Freeman’s mentorship gave me anything it was a quest for knowledge. Knowledge to create, and the courage to experiment with ideas and concepts, mixing and matching industry practices and cultures and applying them to seemingly random or sequential categories in polar opposite directions. He taught me to passionately embrace paradoxes, with an eye toward discovering new combinations of creative iterations and product offers by testing what people actually do (make purchases), not what they say they’ll do (focus group discussions).
Whether it was this endless pursuit of marketing perfection (along with the headaches it caused), or my nearly constant submersion in the deep waters of art and copy created by the agent’s talented graphic designers and writers, I found great solice doodling in my own free time. As therapy, as self-discovery, as survivals.
Most of my initial drawings were crude carry-over ideas from my college sketching days, kitschy images of the European Alps my grandfather had so deftly painted in his own youth. Or the caricature of a swiss dairy herdsman with deeply-etched, weathered skin. Yet whatever the subject or medium (mostly pencil or oil paints), I almost always created with a special person in mind—my mom, my girlfriend, youth pastor or neighbor — which in time – after chain-smoking cartons of Marlboro Reds along the way – turned into a holiday greeting card of some sort.
Christmas was always a big deal at our home, especially in those years when Pop could rest between flights from his seldom-home career as a Pan Am pilot. On those rare occasions when he’d have a continuous stretch of two weeks leading up to Christmas and carrying on through the new year, our home was decked out like Santa Land.
On the surface our family was akin to the Cleavers from the TV show Father Knows Best. But beneath the surface often brewed a dark concoction of family dysfunction.
Continued with blog post / accompanying photo #2 shortly…