The Art Directors Club of NJ had its own little Education Council, and all I needed to do was volunteer my time to be on it. We’d meet monthly or so at our regular spots around a convivial table in a private room at a ‘dinner rolls and little plastic butter packets’ type of restaurant. You had some reputable Jersey ad guys, an artist from the Star Ledger, and the granddaddy of them all, the cartographer, whose days were numbered in every direction. The Educational Council was responsible for the Student Scholarships given at the annual Awards Dinner, the very one that Zig won – twice, and both conducted the portfolio reviews, as well as judged every portfolio entry, from every advertising, design, or communications program in the state. From The Joe Kubert School to Trenton State, or as it’s known today, The College of NJ, on judgement day there were easily a couple hundred books to narrow down to the Top Ten, and from there, the Top Three. As a Creative Director, I had volunteered myself right into the pick-of-the-litter position.
My cohorts were looking at portfolios, while I was looking for potential, and even though I promised I had no open positions, I invited the first and second place winners to visit my office immediately following their announcement. Neither one knew about the other, coming from different schools – which was very encouraging. Jaime came in first, and she would be graduating from the College of NJ, followed by Michael, who came in a close second, from Kean University. All I wanted them to know, was me. “I can’t hire you now, but I would if I could. Let’s stay in touch. I want to follow your career, so let me know where you’re working and what you’re doing. Who knows? One day, maybe, we’ll work together,” I told each of them, as they set out to get their start – both as designers in Jersey-based ad agencies.
Alice had put my office, intentionally, in a completely different part of the floor, so everyone would understand that there was a difference. Ronnie & The Marketeers played the more traditional market product, white-space, category-specific marketing side of Air Care, Hair Care, AP/Deos, Laundry, and All-Purpose Cleaners, while I was specifically Creative Marketing, which was clearly not the same thing, and my role was primarily responsible for consumer trends and foresight, so logically, I would be seated over with the Fragrance Development Managers (the FDMs). Liza was assigned as my “designer” because, apparently, she was considered the best of the lot. I really had no say in the matter. The art department over in Marketing, where Liza was stationed, was a talent pool of associates who were rather exceptional at PowerPoint. Those were the days when the tools for creativity were mere drop-down menus of options that allowed you to make your headline shoot into frame with the sound of a gunshot bang to make sure you noticed the 96-point, curved and drop-shadowed yellow type on a green background with black body copy, and the circles and arrows. These so-called designers did all they could with what they had to up the game of the Marketing Manager’s presentations. They didn’t even have internet access, as Firmenich had a firewall to prevent any ‘outside looking in,’ so everything had to be scanned in and, more often than not, stretched to fit.
While shooting a video in a conference room, for one of my proactive projects, Liza fell asleep in the cool, dark, back of the room - with her head down on the table using her crossed arms as a pillow. She was out. Just over a year on the job, and Alice gave me the ultimatum, “If you can’t fire her yourself, I will do it for you,” and knowing full-well this was my decision alone, Alice’s Paterson-esque delivery made it all too clear that it was also my responsibility. I had fired people before, so I could stomach it to a point, but it was never easy, and by no means should it be. Starting with Danny at Inhouse, my M.O. seemed to be that I fired at least one person from every place I had ever worked as a Director in some capacity. There was always an agreed upon reason for doing so, between my boss and I, but not so much with the employee-turned-former-colleague, never-mind friend. When Liza showed up in HR Tom’s office and saw me sitting there, she knew it wasn’t good – more like, she knew it was over, and she was pissed. Me being apologetic only seemed to put salt on the wound, but it was done, and I had the headcount to prove it.