FRANK GREGORSKY: David Ogilvy died seven years ago at the age of 88. His Ogilvy on Advertising [Vintage Books, 1985] has a marvelous 13-page chapter on how to run an advertising agency. He writes: "It is popularly believed that advertising attracts neurotics who are naturally prone to anxiety. I don't believe this. What happens in agencies is enough to induce [emphasis not in original] anxiety among the most phlegmatic people." Comments?
AL RIES: [Laughter] I have to disagree with David Ogilvy. In general, advertising does attract neurotic people. I've met David Ogilvy on several occasions, and no one was more neurotic, as a matter of fact. He was severely introverted.
RIES: Oh yeah. He reminded me of Johnny Carson, who was exactly the same way.
GREGORSKY: Some people say [David] Letterman's like that, too.
RIES: I betcha. It's very, very typical for someone to be very introverted in person, but when they're in front of audience -- totally different. Totally different.
GREGORSKY: Is that because they control the situation?
RIES: They control the situation; it's not a one-on-one. In other words, if you're talking to 10 million, you [don't need to be] concerned about how one person will respond to personally. But if you're in a one-on-one, and you're introverted, and you're insecure and everything else --
GREGORSKY: What happens to the introvert during a speech when somebody stands up and starts heckling?
RIES: Sometimes they have problems. But who would heckle Johnny Carson or David Letterman? And who was going to heckle David Ogilvy? Nobody [laughter].
GREGORSKY: As an offset to the hyperness that characterized his industry, Ogilvy recommended "making it fun to work in your agency." Based on your experience [going back to the latter 1950s], what sticks with you most about the "corporate culture" of ad agencies?
RIES: Here's my take on advertising and PR: Advertising attracts introverted people -- who use the power of the advertisement (be it print, radio or television) to make their statements to the world out there. PR attracts extroverted people -- who are not nearly as interested in the message, but are much more focused on their personal contacts. A good PR person is someone that can get to, and be friends with, the media. So when the media needs a story, needs an answer, needs something, they call on [that friend].
RIES: Obviously in the PR business you gotta write something -- letters and so forth. But fundamentally all the PR people I know have been very, very much extroverted. And all the advertising people have been the opposite -- the good ones.
GREGORSKY: Were you and [long-time partner and co-author] Jack [Trout] similar or opposite personality types?
RIES: Jack was the more extroverted. He was more of a people person, but on the other hand I don't think as good of an advertising person -- in terms of doing an ad itself.
GREGORSKY: Introverts also work by themselves, and some people say you cannot get genius out of a committee.
RIES: Yeah -- that's very, very true. The introverted people don't want to work with somebody else; they want to do it themselves. Jack was a lot more extroverted than I was -- he always wanted to work with people, as opposed to doing it himself.
GREGORSKY: What kind of work did you do for, or perhaps collaboration with, David Ogilvy?
RIES: We did a testimonial ad for Western Union. The layout had a picture of David Ogilvy and the copy said David Ogilvy uses Telex -- he had been quoted in the media saying he couldn't run the agency without Telex. (Today it would be e-mail.) So we did this ad, and I sent it over to him, and he called up and said, "Come over and see me about it." When I got there, the first thing he said was: "I don't like your layout." [Laughter] I said, "Well, what kind of a layout would you like?" He said, "I'll work with my art directors and I'll give you a new layout." So [laughter] our people are saying "wait a minute..." I told ‘em: Listen, if David Ogilvy wants a new layout, let him do a new layout.
GREGORSKY: Did he invite you to sit sown before delivering that judgment?
RIES: Ummmm, yeah. We talked in his office for quite awhile. I watched him interact with other Ogilvy [& Mather agency] people.
GREGORSKY: He was cordial but also candid?
RIES: He was very cordial but [laughter] -- well, I had also known some other people that worked for Ogilvy. They referred to him inside the agency as D.O. He was always "D.O." He was a brilliant guy, but he was not a backslapper or a person who was building a culture; he thought he was, but the way he built his culture was always by writing memos. Never by personal interactions with people.
GREGORSKY: Another question about somebody from the great days of the "creative revolution" -- Carl Ally. Before your Saturday e-mail, I never heard of Carl Ally. Twenty minutes of web-search turned up pithy quotes and sporadic references to the effect that this fellow was brilliant and something of a wild man. Died from a heart attack in 1999 at age 66. Can you tell me about your relationship with him?
RIES: Carl was a fearless person. He worked with Pappert Kenny & Lois, then started his own advertising agency called Carl Ally. He started with the Volvo account and built a pretty significant agency. He's in the Advertising Hall of Fame, as a matter of fact. Carl was a fighter pilot.
GREGORSKY: That would explain the wild-man web references.
RIES: Oh yeah. Carl was really, really a wild man. Very much like George Lois. Very outgoing. As a result of that personality, Carl ran ads that were very outspoken. His judgment on advertising was similar to mine. The difference was that I could never get our clients to run the kind of ads I wanted to run [laughter] where he could. At client meetings, he was very dynamic. His typical attitude was: If you don't buy this ad, I quit. So he kind of forced clients to run it his way.
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