I watched him slowly slice open his baked potato. It was the only thing on the plate. Monty Trainers in Coconut Grove was known for its freshly caught seafood. But, Steve Nostrand, founder of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and an Executive VP with our soon-to-be defunct advertising agency, Hume- Sindelar, Inc., was a vegetarian. He was happy with just a baked potato while I was guzzling down a fried grouper sandwich and fries.
“I have a crazy idea,” I told him between bites. “And, you, Steve, are the only one I trust that can tell me whether it is doable.” Nostrand and I had become good friends during the Hume-Sindelar years of 1988 to 1991. We often met in Coral Gables for some morning tennis. He loved to just hit balls and refused to ever play an actual game with me. He told me as a junior tennis player, the pressure was so great in matches that he no longer was interested in playing a game that had a result. He just loved to practice. I respected his wishes. I, also, respected his knowledge of advertising and business in general.
“Obviously, World Jai-Alai is going to need another ad agency,” I told him. “You know how the strike has hurt the Jai-Alai industry and World Jai-Alai has a big debt. I have thought of a way to save the company a lot of money, and possibly help myself financially at the same time. I want to form my own advertising agency and pitch Donovan on letting me have the entire World Jai-Alai account,” I said.
Steve stopped picking at his baked potato. He looked squarely at me and said, “Let’s run the numbers.” He took a pen out and started writing on the back of the paper place mat.
“You will need a Media Buyer, Copywriter, Account Executive, Graphic Designer, Billing and Accounting Coordinator, and an Account Assistant,” he said as he listed the personnel. “Many of those things you can handle yourself,” he went on. He totaled the possible costs of these employees.
“If you use the basic agency contract where you get 15% of the media buy and 20% for production costs, you will have this amount of revenue coming in from the current budgets for your frontons in Miami, Tampa, Ocala, and Ft. Pierce,” he continued. “If you can cover those costs, and still clear enough after taxes, you absolutely can do it!”
Since I had been coordinating the advertising for World Jai-Alai for 10 years, I was confident I could handle the production, copywriting, and be the defacto Account Executive. I really just needed a Media Buyer and someone to handle the production of the print ads. Steve had part of the answer.
“Linda Dreyer from Dreyer Studios did all our stuff,” Steve told me. “She is losing us as a client and I’m sure she would be thrilled to handle your ads. I can arrange a meeting for you.”
I had a thought on the media job. Helen Egan, who worked with Grulich-Koenig Advertising, our original agency in the 1980’s might be the answer. Helen was a well-respected Media Buyer and already knew our business. I had kept in touch with her over the years. Maybe she could work part-time for a fee.
But, I still didn’t know the actual mechanics of running an ad agency. This is where Steve was invaluable. “You need to do a schedule, create the jobs, keep a log, and make a job bag,” he told me. Everything involving the ad goes in the job bag. There are insertion orders, billing off the insertion order, getting the ads to the media by the ad deadline, and finally, the most important thing, getting paid by the client,” he said with a smile.
As we finished, his baked potato now looking like a Florida sink hole, I thanked him profusely and told him I had to really give it some thought. If I could tie up other loose ends, I would approach Donovan with the proposal.
My concern was that I would have to resign from being an employee of World Jai-Alai. If it didn’t work out, I doubted if there would still be a spot for me. It was a big gamble. Steve Nostrand had given me all the information I needed, plus his endorsement for the idea. I was on my way.
Lou Ann Dolan had been in group sales and was now administrative assistant for me as Corporate Director of Public Relations. Lou Ann’s husband Mike was our Player Trainer who kept the Jai-Alai players playing during nagging injuries. They both depended on salaries from World Jai-Alai. I was about to ask Lou Ann to take a big risk.
Lou Ann was a great employee in the Corporate PR Department. But, she had never worked for an advertising agency. She was smart, efficient, and nothing seemed to bother her. I was now about to ask her to give up her current job and join me at Martin Fleischman Advertising (what a creative name). As I write this, I realize I was very much like Michael Scott in The Office (for you Office fans) asking Pam to leave and join The Michael Scott Paper Company.
Lou Ann thought it over for about 30 seconds and said, “Yes, I would come with you.” I had told her it was a gamble. If Donovan approved it, he might change his mind after a year or less and we could both be looking for jobs. Lou Ann reaffirmed that she would do it. I was thrilled. I had my quarterback. Now, I needed to execute the play.
A few days later, I went down to Donovan’s office, found him in a relatively good mood, and told him I wanted to discuss something. My pitch was this: the State allowed the tracks and frontons to deduct 1% of the betting to pay for promotions and advertising. Let me form my own independent advertising agency. He would put me under a standard agency contract to handle the advertising for our four frontons. All my costs would come out of that promotion and advertising pool.
At the same time, I would no longer be on the payroll and the company would no longer pay my benefits, including health insurance. Plus, Lou Ann Dolan has agreed to be my assistant and he would save her salary costs, too.
Donovan stared at me. I could see him computing the amount of savings for the company. He merely said, “Let me discuss it with Roger. Sounds good to me.”
He was going to discuss it with Roger Wheeler, Jr., our owner. Roger and I gotten along great in the past. I had a shot. Donovan didn’t dismiss it outright.
Would Roger approve it? Was Martin Fleischman Advertising going to be the next Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach, or Ogilvie and Mather (famous Madison Avenue ad agencies I studied in college)? I never even worked at an ad agency. Now, I was proposing starting one? What the hell was I thinking?