You Don’t Have Enough Time To Make All The Mistakes Yourself

I just reconnected with an old and dear friend. We’ve been talking on the phone and doing a bit of emailing, recalling old stories about friends and family. Mentoring came up as he mentioned that his wife is involved with a mentoring program. It got me thinking of some of the great mentors I’d had including Harry Jacobs, ECD of The Martin Agency, who I mentioned in an earlier post this week.

I’ve always told my daughters that no one has enough time in life to make all the mistakes themselves. Ask for help, seek out those that are really terrific and learn everything that you can from them. I based my first professional job search on who I could learn best from. In the beginning, I chose just five ad agencies that did work that I admired most. I really wanted to work for a creative director named Mark Moffett. He was at a little startup called Siddall, Matus & Coughter in Richmond. I had a good interview with him and he liked my portfolio but they weren’t hiring. I kept in touch with him and offered to work nights and weekends if he needed a little extra help. Before long, he called and I worked a few weekends for him. Soon after, I was hired as his assistant and got an incredible education. Mark is a perfectionist and spent whole weekends working on the type spacing on one ad. Every letter in every word was carefully adjusted. He was demanding with printers and other suppliers. Often work was sent back to be redone time after time. I learned the craft needed to create beautiful work. Harry Jacobs taught me how to think big. He knew how to make impact and loved large ads, double page spreads or small space campaigns that worked from page to page.

One ad he created with Mike Hughes stands out as a good example of just what an art director can bring to a project. He and Mike Hughes were working on an ad for an electric power company. Now, we’ve all seen a lot of mundane ads created for electric companies. They approached it differently. Harry wanted to show a big shot of their nuclear power plant and discuss the good clean energy coming from it. Mike went away and came back a little later with the word bomb. A lot of art directors would have said, we can’t run that and set it aside. Harry thought about things and changed it to BOO. That word over the top of a nuclear power plant was power and simplicity itself. Strategically, it shot to the heart of the issue on people’s minds regarding nuclear power.

Boo ad for Vepco

When I left Martin and went to VCU, even the president of the university was a mentor. I’d had a great Dean who helped direct me on where to go and who to meet with to get the master’s program through the university, find the funding and a building, etc. When David Hiley took the presidency of the University of New Hampshire, I mentioned to Dr. Trani, president of VCU at the time, that I I’d lost my mentor when David left. Gene Trani looked at me and said, “I’ll be your mentor”.

Gene Trani, former president of VCUSure enough, he was true to his word. Each month, he booked a dining room at this old club on Church Hill called the 2300 Club. We’d have a two-hour lunch and I could ask him anything I wanted about the school, the university, business, etc. VCU/MCV has 30,000 students over 5,000 faculty members and an annual budget of a billion dollars. Gene never missed a lunch, never cancelled once over a period of a few years. That fact alone is a lesson in itself. Wow, have I been lucky.

Bonus: Spend a little time with Harry Jacobs via Vimeo.