(I emailed this story to UK advertising legend and fellow twitterer and blogger Dave Trott. It’s about a man whose work we both admire a lot and was my first boss in advertising. His name is Ed McCabe. It’s the story of how I got hired by him. Dave said it would make a good blog post for advertising students. Dave is right. As usual..)
I was living in London at the tail end of 1989 and attending a D&AD creative workshop. By day I sold airtime on ITV, the UK commercial TV network. I wasn’t that good at it. And I urgently felt the need to do something I loved doing. And creative advertising was and remains it. I was smitten. I had just gotten a US green card in a visa lottery and was headed to New York in the New Year. The last stop on the workshop was BBH. The brilliant Martin Galton and Will Awdry taught it. In the pub afterwards I asked them who they recommended working for the USA. They asked me who I’d like to work for in the UK and I said “Dave Trott”. They gave it a bit of a think and replied “Ed McCabe”.
So off to NYC I went with one name in my head: Ed McCabe. After a while I began spending Saturdays in the library of the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn perusing their vast ad annual collection. Pretending that I was a student there. Seeing Ed’s work through the years confirmed that this was the guy for me. His work was so arresting and direct and strategically sound. He created the campaigns that made Perdue Chicken, Maxell Tape and Volvo – to name but three – household names and premium brands. He was a true advertising genius. The only one I’ve ever encountered in advertising. He was also a bit mad. But in a good way. Someone once described Ed as having adrenaline instead of blood. And dynamite instead of adrenaline. I’d say that was pretty accurate, if difficult to imagine perhaps.
The only problem was he had left Scali McCabe Sloves a few years previous and was off doing the Paris-Dakar rally and other fun things. But then he came back to New York and started a new agency. Unfortunately for me, only had a handful of creative’s working. So the chances of getting hired by him looked slim. Someone had to get fired or die. I would find out later that working for Ed increased the risk of both of these possibilities immensely.
But I was dead set on achieving my goal. I decided to create a book of ads targeted purely at Ed. And the best way to do this would be to stalk him. Literally. I knew where he lived and I knew where he worked. And I also knew he frequently took the subway to the office. So I followed him around observing the products he used. I read somewhere in an interview that he drank Fernet Branca and sparkling mineral water at lunch while he spoke to the journalist. I knew from experience this was a hangover cure so I created a campaign for that. I knew he hated then-upstart New York agency Kirshenbaum and Bond, so I submitted a really bad book of ads to their recruiter just so I could get a rejection letter from them. I put this letter at the front of my book with the headline DEAR ED McCABE, I HOPE YOUR IDEA OF GREAT ADVERTISING ISN’T THE SAME AS MESSRS KIRSHENBAUM AND BOND’S. It worked. I was hired. Only took me two years!