a story from my previous life

The Advertising Copywriter
Friday, August 15, 1997

I thoroughly enjoyed my 17 years on New York City's Madison Avenue, in the 70s and 80s. I wouldn't trade that experience for any other that I can think of, although there are a few strategic moves that I'd reconsider with benefit of 20-20 hindsight. I worked on some of the best consumer and industrial accounts, met some exciting people in the business and prepared myself, albeit unknowingly, to successfully market my own specialized business many years later. Back then, who knew?

The Formative Years.
Growing up as a kid in the Midwest, I found that I had the talent for marketing-promotion early in life: lemonade stands that actually made money; puppet shows that hundreds of people came to see; promotional dreams and schemes that netted out results and caused me to hang out with older people who could appreciate the scenario.
Many years later, my major at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the late 60s, would be Journalism; I would double major in Advertising and Marketing. And all by accident or mere coincidence.
In my freshman year of 67, during the famous Hippie era, a junior at Drake was selling some of his old textbooks. I had declared a Law Major upon entering the University, but wasn't completely sure I'd ever get through that boring field of study. I bought one of his old and worn Advertising 101 textbooks for $1.00, and for lack of anything else to do that evening, read it cover to cover. It seemed easy: write good copy that sells product. Piece of cake. The next day, I went to the Dean's Office and officially changed my major from Law to Journalism.
One day while in the University Library, I read an article in Industrial Marketing Magazine about Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind. by two advertising mavericks named Jack Trout and Al Ries, from New York City. Gosh, I thought: it sure would be great to work for people as radical as they, considering their far out marketing theories. Little did I know right then and there that a dream of mine would come true years later.
In between rock festivals, starting and running two businesses (hippie deli and head shop) off campus and keeping a B average, I had lots of fun in college. I also enjoyed arcane courses like Latin and Classical Greek. I'd taken four years of Latin in high school to prep for Law School, so I took four more in college, easily aceing the courses. The language of horticulture is written in Latin: genus, sub-genus, species, sub-species etc.
I graduated with long hair, a beard and an honorable grade point.

The Real World.
I didn't think that I'd have as much trouble as I did just getting a job, when I first graduated: I knocked on ad agency doors, answered thousands of ads from all around the country and even toyed with the idea of forming my own ad shop just so I'd have a job, to go looking for a better one. Appearance is a large portion of your resume: off came the (long) hair and beard; the handlebar moustache stayed. Finally, a lowly copywriter's spot opened up in a medical advertising agency. At that point in time, I was desperate for something anything in the business. So I took it.
After 7 or 8 months, I tired of it. I started my job search after work hours and found another copywriting position. Getting work if you're already employed is easy; unemployed job hunters scare prospective employers off in droves. If you aren't employed while job hunting, at least seem like you are. The strategy works.
And so it went for several years; seemingly endless copywriting jobs in all sorts of ad agencies in the New Jersey area. I even found time to go to the Culinary Institute of America and learn cheffing. But I really wanted New York's hip ad scene, a shot at the big time and big bucks. I soon got my chance.
I answered a blind ad no name or address; just a post office box in The New York Times and went in for an interview. I was blown away by who was asking me in to work for them: none other than the legendary Jack Trout and Al Ries of Trout & Ries Advertising, perhaps the world's most famous ad agency in the 70s and 80s. The very same one I had read about in Industrial Marketing Magazine in 69. I still have that copy of IM; I borrowed it from the university's magazine rack and forgot to return it. But now their fame and fortune had spread beyond mere theory; it was the philosophy in the Advertising World. And I was to be a part of it.
I was moved into Account Management to work with clients, rather than write copy for them. I was to formulate marketing and creative strategy, make the presentations, set up product shoots on location, attend client functions and entertain wherever possible with lavish dinners at all the finest restaurants. No problem. I learned those skills quickly and mastered the techniques for continual use and later reference.
Because of my specialized background in several areas auto racing, medical, agricultural etc I was also asked to write copy. Seems I couldn't get away from that Smith-Corona or that IBM Selectric, white-out or correcto-tape. I was glad to pitch in wherever I could, making myself even more valuable. There weren't any real computers back then in ad agencies; just word processors that looked like computers. I wanted to get trained on the office units, but only secretaries received that courtesy. So I either typed a rough draft for them to retype, or hand wrote everything. What a chore.
In 82, I bought an IBM PS2/50 with a 40mb hard drive, 1mb RAM and an 11" monitor. Windows, as we know it today, wasn't out just yet; Bill and the boys were still wearing jeans and tennis shoes. DOS was the order of the day, and I learned everything about it. Self taught by watching and listening to others who knew. When Windows was released, it required massive hardware upgrades to run it and any available programs; I stayed with DOS for several more years. I still use it when I feel adventurous and want to recall those simple, carefree days. Otherwise, Win95 does the job quite nicely.
As the years went by, promotions came quickly, the money and perks piled up and I moved on to other agencies with larger, more glamorous showcase accounts. I still see some of the ads I wrote running in various forms on TV and in print. The years that I spent at Trout & Ries Advertising were still the best years I'd ever remember when I look back on a long and successful career.

The Final Days.
After commuting from Princeton, NJ to Penn Station in New York City for 17 years, I'd had enough of it all: so much time wasted in transit that I'd never recoup. But that was the price of a great job, fame and fortune. Other people did more: I regularly met people who commuted from Philadelphia every day; others from Connecticut. But enough was enough for me.
At 39, I hung up my Amtrak-ConRail monthly commuter pass, traded in the Porsche for a Jeep Cherokee, put away my Brooks Bros suits and got a job in a local wholesale greenhouse operation, just a few miles from my condo near Princeton. Comfortable jeans and t-shirts. I worked there for a year, met some wonderful people, learned myriad things about the business and then was ready to take my show on the road. The past is prologue.
A very old Chinese parable says that the wise man knows when the right door opens; he seizes the opportunity. I've had the fortune to have had several right doors open for me and have taken those opportunities. Things were timed just right and came together just right. Mostly by coincidence than by deliberate choice. But there have been some real disappointments, too, along the way. Luckily, I guess, the scale tipped to the right more often than to the left.

Mid Term Report Card.
Now that the Senate Committee on Finance Reform Hearings are in recess for August, much criticism is being offered about their actual value, if any. Is this just another showboat scheme? Will anything concrete come out of months of hearings and many millions of dollars? Probably not. The people doing the investigating are just as guilty in their own ways as the Clinton criminals. Why do these Congressional idiots who do little or no work of actual value to the American people get a 30 day vacation? With pay, yet? What an outrageous waste of our tax dollars!
To let an institution investigate itself is patently ludricous; an impartial panel is needed, nay demanded. But it's too late now. Watergate was the one time it worked; that won't happen again here. It's merely grandstanding after all, with each side having their own private and public agenda.
The criminal Slick Willie Clinton's public approval rating just keeps climbing; proving once and for all that America is filled with idiots. What else could cause a lowlife scumbag to be regarded so highly? Is there still only a few of us concerned with his crimes and transgressions? I've got to believe there's more than just a few. Who the hell are these so-called pollers talking to anyway? Probably liberal scum. I don't know of anyone else who approves of that asshole in the White House; least not anyone who'll admit that to my face.
Now the wimped out American public wants the Paula Jones v Bill Clinton sexual harassment case settled out of court. Why? Rake the Clinton bastard over the hot coals; he deserves another good public humiliation. He's a lying, woman abusing, scumbag, lowlife piece of shit.
Maybe the Summer won't be as interesting as I once thought. Well, there's always Hitlery.
Even the First Criminals are taking a family vacation.

Rock Gardening.
One of the fastest areas in gardening is Alpine Perennials; plants so small yet incredibly hardy, that they need their own environment to survive. I enjoy this facet of gardening in a big way.
Since 1993, I've been producing and selling Alpine Trough Gardens, in various sizes and configurations for customers all over the US. Several well-known personalities have had us custom-plant, deliver and set up Troughs for them to enjoy at their homes.
On Friday, we received a shipment of almost 1,000 Alpine Perennials from a wholesaler in Northern California, whom I'd met at a nursery trade show several years ago. Several more shipments are due to arrive before Fall officially sets in, so the plants can stabilize and be ready for Spring sales. Plus, I'm taking apart the 10 Alpine Trough Gardens that are currently on display and replanting them completely with the new perennials and conifers that I now have. They'll be ready for the York Flower Show in February. We'll store them in one of the cold houses until mid January, then bring them inside to warm up and wake up the plants into bloom for the show. Cool.
I dismantled 12 Alpine Trough Gardens that won several show honors and replanted them with new miniature conifers and a good selection of the newly-arrived Alpines. After dressing off the plantings with washed river pea gravel as a mulch, I thoroughly watered each in making sure the drainage holes were clear and will keep a watch over them until each plant is growing on its own. Soon, the deftly planted combination will naturalize and the Trough will shine and look like it's been that way for many years.
We're joining the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) and will participate in the Delaware Valley Chapter, headquartered east of here in Philadelphia, PA. I'll offer the facility here for area meetings, tours and whatever's requested. I kind of doubt that I'll get over to the so-called City of Brotherly Love anytime soon for meetings, though. At least not without my Colt Trooper MkIV .357 Magnum.

The Drought Continues.
After 21 weeks with a mere 2.1" of rain at the Garden Center & Nursery, I've learned that one person's ceiling is another person's floor. That is, just three miles away they had 4" of rain in a very short period. Instead of entire storm fronts moving through as with last year, this area seems to get very spotty showers of little consequence. The crops are in terrible shape; most will be either plowed under or harvested as hay, instead of corn.
All the container trees that were moved into Greenhouse 3 two weeks ago are re-sprouting leaves; it looks like Spring in there. We'll have to move them outside during cool, cloudy days so the leaves can harden off before being exposed to full sun and oppressive heat. That would surely finish them.
We were lucky this time: over $15,000 in potted trees weren't wasted. Other nurserys haven't been so fortunate. The newspapers are full of stories of drought and heat related damage.
There are many gardening chores that need to be done right now around here, and in everyone's planted gardens. The gross absence of water obviates the need to transplant, divide, replant as in the late Summer or early Fall, in this area. It's like we lost a couple of seasons this year alone. Nature sliding right over herself.

Marketing Speech Online.
Excerpts from my February speech to the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nurserymen and Allied Trades Conference are now online at Greg Postma's site, somewhere in the Chicago area. He's posted it for a small business owner's newsgroup to read.
In order to fully understand the principles and concepts of those theorems, they really need to get the marketing books I refer to as the basis for the strategy; a list of books is detailed at the end of the speech, along with a short profile of my business background. I have all of Jack and Al's books; inscribed, of course, and have read each several times. They are perhaps the easiest and most interesting books on marketing I've ever read. Should be required reading and texts for university levels.

Gardening Database.
Perhaps the largest horticultural database online resides at Garden Escape Magazine. At least they claim it to be so.
Whenever I'm looking for something that has specific cultural requirements USDA Zone, temperature, rainfall, height, width etc I go there to fill in the blanks in their form, and retrieve all the possibilities per my specs.
The form is a bit tedious, but the return data is worthwhile. After getting used to the point-and-click form, retrieval becomes a snap. And while you're there, sign on as a member; there are clearly some benefits.

USA Today Article.
The June 17th story in both the print and electronic edition about my website's marketing efforts is still on the website, called Digital Frontier.
After the AP News photographer spent almost 3 hours and many rolls of film at my garden center and nursery, none of the pics appeared online; one b&w appeared in the print edition. Too bad; there were many good shots taken of the facility and material.
I still get a couple hundred emails each months asking horticulture related questions and for online sales. We still don't do onlines sales, and probably won't in the foreseeable future.

Rapid Transit Update.
I've had the cable modem for one week now and don't want to leave the condo. I'm thinking about sealing the doors and windows from the inside and having food sent in. Heh, heh... It's too much fun downloading huge files in seconds at 500kbps, rather than at 28.8kbps. No contest. This kind of speed is great. Visiting high intensity graphic sites is child's play for a cable modem. Places like www.planetoasis.com load in 1-2 seconds; at 28.8 it takes almost 22 seconds. Wow.
Jeff Horn, the Windows 95 Wizard, stopped by early in the week to see this new speed that I'm travelling at these days, and he was amazed by its pure speed. All who come to pay homage to pure speed must wear welder's equipment; a cable modem is hot stuff. This is the way to go.

I despise this country's politics and fanatical religious leaders, but I do admire their justice system's method of dealing with criminals. Crime is a whole lot lower there than here; maybe they do know something we don't.

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