24 July 2013

What I Learned from a Real-Life Mad Man

“He loved watching Mad Men.  He lived that life.”

That’s what Dick Mincheff’s daughter told me.  The only thing is, Dick’s story has a happier ending than Don Draper’s.  But more about all that in a moment.

Tribute to an Ad Man

Dick Mincheff
Dick Mincheff, a Leo Burnett veteran who started at the agency in 1961, died recently at age 74, survived by his wife, Monica, four children and five grandchildren.  He earned a journalism degree at Miami of Ohio, served in the U.S. Army Reserves psychological warfare battalion, and went to work at Burnett, spending many of his years on the Philip Morris business.  He had a hand in building the Marlboro brand and repositioning Virginia Slims.  He retired from the agency in 1999.

When I joined Burnett, Dick was in the autumn of his career, running the Unocal (Union 76) and Dewar’s Scotch accounts.  One day I was promoted to AE and found myself reporting to him directly.  This would prove to be a formative period in my career, which was a good thing because I could benefit from his experience, his seen-it-all sense of history, and his personal integrity.  Not only that – he was so cool he made the Rat Pack look like a bunch of nerds.  No, really.

If you called Central Casting looking for an ad man, Dick is what would show up.  Tall, tan, always dressed in an impeccably tailored suit.  When we went to Los Angeles, staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel or the Bel-Air, he was in his element.  Equally, though, in the conference room, his command of client business information showed the substance behind the style.  Substance – that’s what truly reassures clients that we’re professional enough to be trusted with their reputation.

He had a way with clients.  They sensed he had their best interests in mind, and on top of that, his power of persuasion was formidable.  My first major TV production project was the annual package of four or five commercials for Unocal – the old Murph campaign.  The price tag was a little higher than usual, and Dick made the phone call to sell it.  I was told to be patient:  “Dick is in there ‘Minching’ the client.”

Minch – that’s what we called him – knew and worked with Leo Burnett himself.  In fact Leo asked Minch to write a point-of-view on copy strategy, which turned into a six-page memo that I was privileged to read one day.  The memo was titled “Stratagem” and had Leo’s notes all over it, written in his trademark green ink.

You know from watching Mad Men that in the ‘60s cigarettes were common in agencies and the advertising they produced.  While researching this article I found this document detailing his role in a Philip Morris marketing seminar.

Requiem for a Mad Man

That brings us to the Mad Men part of the story.

As of this writing, Mad Men just finished its latest season with the calendar set at November 1968.  Don Draper’s lot in life seems dismal, the result of his own bad choices.  It’s too early to say whether his story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t look pretty.

Dick Mincheff’s life turned out way better.  Sure, he made some bad choices of his own.  Dick would be the first to admit those.  Unlike Draper, however, Dick helped others.  He had a knack for encouraging, cajoling and pushing colleagues to do their best.

Helping others continued in his retirement.  Dick counseled business owners and recently laid off senior executives via SCORE, the Service Corps Of Retired Executives, a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Lastly, and most importantly, Dick kept his family together.  He and Monica were married 54 years.  Three of their children lived nearby in the Portland, Oregon area; the other lived in Chicago.  That’s where I last saw him, when he was in town visiting his daughter.

3 Lessons from a Real-Life Mad Man

This blog is about embracing the future.  So what can we learn from a real-life account guy of the ‘60s?

Genuinely love the ad business.  Dick took great care with the creative process, not only knowing how to recognize a strategy, but how to make it inspiring for the creative team.  He was a student of the business, always observing newly-released campaigns and what they meant.  He made a habit of checking out what was in development around the agency, constantly curious about what friends were creating.

Genuinely care for your client’s business.  Minch knew that clients innately understand when someone at the agency doesn’t respect them.  He set the tone for me and others by showing enthusiasm for the client’s business and interest in learning everything about it.  This is far from the cynicism you see Sunday nights on AMC, and way above the crank-stuff-out mentality of today’s project management culture.

Genuinely respect your co-workers.  To be sure, some co-workers annoyed Minch.  But he never ranted about them or saw himself a better person; he tried to be patient and kind.  He also showed respect by setting high standards.  Expecting great things of people communicates that you believe in them.

Minch wasn’t famous, but he was respected, and my hope is that you find some inspiration in his story.