Interview with advertising writing Don Spector

Writer Don Spector is helping me wrap up the week by chatting with me about his debut book,
Memories of a Mad Man: Stories from the Golden-and-Sometimes Tin-Plated-Age of Advertising.

If you’d like 50% off the book through Smashwords, use coupon code SP97U. Don is making this offer for readers of this blog.

as a junior copywriter in a Madison Avenue ad agency in the ‘60s, Don Spector
qualifies as a genuine Mad Man. Creating advertising for the agency’s
high-profile accounts like Smirnoff Vodka and Tareyton cigarettes, he began his
ascent up the creative ladder in several New York agencies. His commercials and
print ads for advertisers like Xerox, the Yellow Pages and Jaguar ultimately
led to an offer of a key position in Los Angeles-based BBDO/West where he was
soon named Creative Director. After moving to a similar position at Foote Cone
Belding/Los Angeles, he eventually started his own agency where he served until
his retirement. The advertising he created for dozens of companies like ARCO,
Absolut Vodka, Bristol-Myers and S.C. Johnson won numerous awards. But, more
importantly, it generated millions of dollars in sales for them.

Welcome, Don. Please tell us about your current
of a Mad Man
is just that—stories told by a genuine Mad Man.

started my advertising career on Madison Avenue at just about the time the
television show’s plot line began. Rather than an autobiography, the book is a
collection of true tales that capture the most fascinating facets of a
fascinating profession.

tells the truth about things like Alcohol (was there really a 3-martini
lunch?), Casting (did a casting couch really help actresses get parts in
commercials?), and Truth in Advertising (did ad people hew to the truth or did
they occasionally bend it? Guess.)

my decades of creating commercials and ads for clients like the Yellow Pages, Xerox,
Absolut Vodka, Jaguar and Bristol Myers, I had unique adventures and met
equally unique people — some famous and some infamous. This book offers a
one-of-a-kind look at a one-of-a-kind profession.

What inspired you to write this book?
It all started over thirty
years ago when, as creative director of a major ad agency, I was the guest on a
radio talk show. We talked about advertising and when the host opened the show
to phone calls, all the lines lit up instantly. During a commercial break the
host told me it was the biggest response he ever had. People apparently loved
to find out what the real behind-the-scenes advertising world was like. Years
later, the success of the show Mad Men
proved that. As a real-life Mad Man, I had worked for decades living and
observing all sorts of interesting advertising stories that I was often asked
to tell—and even retell—to family, friends and associates. Then one day it
struck me — I had all these stories in me that people liked to hear and I was a
writer. Why not write a book? And Memories
of a Mad Man
was born.

An excerpt from Memories
of a Mad Man
I don’t know if it was like that before I entered
advertising but by the time I did, the days of the fabled three-martini lunch
were beginning to fade. And that was just as well because, frankly, I wasn’t
very good at handling my liquor. Even one glass of wine at lunch made me sleepy
and, besides being unable to write much, I didn’t relish the idea of someone
coming into my office at three in the afternoon to see me snoozing at my desk.
But I did occasionally make an exception. And once when I did, I learned a
valuable lesson.
went to lunch in a Madison Avenue restaurant with an agency producer I did a
lot of work with. I don’t remember what the occasion was but Ed suggested we
have a drink and I agreed. I ordered a Bloody Mary while Ed ordered a scotch
and soda. I was surprised.
I exclaimed. “When we get back to the office they’ll smell that booze on your
breath. That’s why I’m having a vodka drink.”
Ed said, “but you know that we’re not going to stop at just one drink. And when
we get back to the office, at least they’ll know I’m drunk. They’ll just think
you’re stupid.”
thought about his wisdom for a moment and called the waiter over. “Make that a
scotch and soda.”
from that day on when I did have a drink at lunch I made sure it wasn’t vodka.
I’d rather be thought of as drunk, not stupid.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I have no idea but at the
suggestion of a friend, a successful author, I might try my hand at writing
fiction. Maybe writing advertising trained me to write fiction……just kidding!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Even after writing for
newspapers at my high school, college and graduate school (interestingly, all
of the papers were named The Spectator)
I didn’t think of myself as a writer. It was only when advertising caught my
interest as a career that my writing experience kicked in and I wanted to
become a copywriter. But I had to pay my dues first and I got a job in the
mailroom of a Madison Avenue agency. I took a night school class in copywriting
and one day while delivering mail to the agency creative director I got the
courage to leave a sample of my homework in his inbox. Not long after, he
called me in the mailroom and asked me to come to his office. I knew I was
going to be fired. Instead, he said he thought I had some promise as a writer
and the following week I sat in my own office facing a blank piece of paper in
an electric typewriter with an assignment to write a radio commercial. I was
officially a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
I’m retired so finding
time to write isn’t a problem. Deciding what to write is. Memories of a Mad Man is my first and only book. As mentioned
above, I’m considering writing a novel.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I dictate about a quarter
of my writing. In writing my book I had hit a creative wall, the dreaded
writer’s block. I mentioned it to a fellow author who suggested I try dictating
the portion I was stuck in. I got a dictation program for my Mac, held up a microphone
and started talking. I was amazed…he was right. The words flowed. Dictating
works especially well for me because my writing style has always been
conversational. Several people have told me that when they’re reading my book
they have the feeling that I’m in the room talking to them. That’s a great
compliment to me and I owe some of it to my dictation-creation.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a tot, I wanted to be a
doctor like my daddy. But as I grew older and heard him answer a phone call at
3 in the morning and then dress and rush out to make a house call, the doctor
business didn’t seem as appealing to me as it had been.

If you’d like 50% off the book through Smashwords, use coupon code SP97U. Don is making this offer for readers of this blog.

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