Maybe I should tell you who he is and how we met, because it leads up to one of my favorite stories. A couple of my favorite stories, actually.
About forty years ago, I was a minority partner in an ad agency that specialized in boring high technology accounts. We did great, award-winning, creative work for those clients, but floppy disc drives just weren’t as much fun as hamburgers or tourism or guitars would have been. I owned so little of the company that my name wasn’t even on the door. The guy who owned most of the agency also did most of the talking. In fact, you may find this hard to believe, but at that point I was about seven years into my career yet I had never spoken in a client meeting nor attended a new business presentation. Not once.
Late one Friday morning our receptionist buzzed me and said, “There’s a guy on the phone who’s looking for an ad agency. Can you talk to him?”
Sure, I thought, I can set up an appointment for him to speak to the senior partner. That potential client turned out to be the man who would soon be dubbed The Godfather.
Our phone conversation went something like this:
Godfather: I’m the marketing director of a big restaurant chain. Your ad agency comes highly recommended.
Jim: Great. How about if we meet next week?
Godfather: Impossible. My boss is coming out to California from New York next week and I need to have an ad agency in place by Monday, so I need to meet with you today.
Jim: But my partner who does all the new business pitches doesn’t get back until Monday.
Godfather: Do you want our account or not?
This guy insisted that I, who had never spoken in a client meeting and who had never participated in a new business pitch, should meet with him immediately to pitch our wares. Solo. I would have been scared to death, but I didn’t have time to be scared because he had already hung up the phone and was on his way over to our office.
A few minutes later the receptionist buzzed me to say that two gentlemen from Far West Services were downstairs in the lobby to see me.
It was only then that I realized that I was wearing a worn out T-shirt, scruffy jeans, and a pair of Mexican hurachi sandals. I may have been a rookie at new business pitches, but I knew enough to know that I was underdressed.
Oh, well, there was nothing I could do about it at that point. I had to swallow my fear and do the best I could.
I walked The Godfather and Norman, his young assistant, around the interior perimeter of our offices where our most successful ad campaigns were mounted and displayed on the walls. That gave me a chance to tell them about the kind of work we did and introduce them to the band of lunatics who worked for us.
Eventually we worked our way around to my office where the three of us sat down and talked in more depth. (Of course, I was already far out of my depth, but I did the best I could.) The Godfather made me feel so relaxed that I did something I often did in the privacy of my own office — I pulled out the bottom drawer of my desk and stretched my hurachi-clad feet across it as if it were an ottoman.
When we finally wrapped up the meeting The Godfather said he liked what he had heard and that he would tell his boss in New York that we were his new ad agency. We shook hands, said our goodbyes, and The Godfather and young Norman walked out the front door. It was the beginning of a great business and personal relationship that has now lasted nearly 40 years.
Many months later, The Godfather told me about the conversation he and Norman had as they left the building:
Godfather: What did you think, Norman?
Norman: That guy wasn’t wearing any shoes.
Godfather: That’s what I liked about him.
The Godfather took an enormous leap of faith and gave his restaurant account to this little ad agency that specialized in high technology clients. We did a good job for him and eventually parlayed it into handling major restaurant chains like Pizza Hut and Burger King and El Pollo Loco. If it weren’t for The Godfather, we never would have been able to make the transition from boring high technology accounts to fun consumer accounts.
I nicknamed him The Godfather not just because he was Italian, but because he knew everyone in every business and could call in favors from all of them.
Let’s say we got a call from a prospective client and needed to educate ourselves on that industry before our first meeting. We would call an internal meeting to discuss the upcoming new business pitch. Someone in that meeting would invariably ask, “Does anybody know anyone we can talk to in that industry?”
No matter what kind of account we were pitching, and no matter what kind of information we were looking for, someone in the meeting just as invariably said, “Jim, can you call the Godfather and see if he knows anyone in that business?” The Godfather always, and I mean always, had a close relationship with someone who could help us. I had dozens of conversations like the following:
“Godfather, do you know anyone in the guitar industry?”
“Of course. I used to work with the guy who’s now president of the world’s largest pick company. Let me give him a call for you.”
“Godfather, do you know anyone in the fertilizer business?”
“Certainly. My best friend is editor of Manure News, the biggest trade magazine in that industry. I’ll introduce you.”
“Godfather, do you know anyone in the North Atlantic cod fishing business?”
“This is your lucky day. My next door neighbor happens to be president of the North Atlantic Cod Fishing Association. I’ll set up a lunch.”
Everyone who knows the Godfather has their own favorite story about him, but this is mine:
He eventually left the restaurant company and opened his own public relations firm. Our ad agency landed a very well-known advertising client and we brought in The Godfather’s firm to do their PR work. It didn’t work out for us and we eventually got fired, but The Godfather continued to handle their public relations for many years.
Soon after my first retirement from the ad agency business, The Godfather called to pass on a message from that client. Turns out he felt badly that he had fired our agency because he had always liked me personally, and he wanted to know if I would be willing to come back and create their advertising on a freelance basis. I agreed and the relationship flourished and we did a lot of work together over the next few years.
One day The Godfather called me and said, “Hey, don’t you think you should pay me a finder’s fee for getting you all this business?”
“Godfather,” I said, “you’re crazy if you think I’m going to pay you a finder’s fee for finding an account for me that I originally found for you.”
Even The Godfather had to laugh at his own audacity.
Glad you’re doing well, Godfather. Keep in touch.
The Godfather now does business as The Travel Curmudgeon. You can find him on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/travelcurmudgeon/ or his travel blog at http://travelcurmudgeon.com.