Back to Basics: Wisdom From Allan Beaver

By Matt Van Hoven 

In this installment of The Wall Street Journal‘s Creative Leaders Advertising Program series, we hear from Allan Beaver. The original piece, called ‘Beaver’s Fever’ &#151 yeah, we know but it was the 70s so we’ll give the culture of the time a break &#151 shows us what’s behind the ‘creative force’ of Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver.

Thank God the WSJ ran this series, because when shit is hitting the fan, looking to the past is paramount. Beaver’s is an all-American story. Born in Brooklyn, he studied art and illustration, eventually graduating from New York Community College &#151 before carving his place in advertising’s history. He also looks like John Hodgman plus 20 years, minus half his hair, plus a half-mullet (you can’t have a full mullet if you’re bald up front…dude was all party). Again, it was the 70s.


On getting started: “…Running errands, trimming mechanicals, pasting down type, doing comps; you gain a different perspective on the business. You learn to appreciate how things get done, and how to do them yourself, if need be. Walking the city’s hot pavement delivering artwork didn’t discourage me &#151 it gave me strength and perseverance.”

Raise your hand if you’ve pasted down type recently. Didn’t think so. Kids starting in the business these days can’t possibly appreciate the skills that a creative like Beaver had. These days if you get in a place in the mail room, you’re likely to stay there. The trade of advertising was once occupied by advisers and and their students. These days, the pressure to be a teacher is compounded by the stiff competition between the young and the older. Can this business survive without a return to mentors?

On the culture: “We’re street-smart, city-loose. That’s why we demand only one thing from our people: great work. It doesn’t matter how it’s done, or where it’s done &#151 just as long as it’s done.”

Wow, what a standard to live up to. What are your agency’s standards? Which shop, in your experience, did it the best? Can the sometimes lazzes-faire advertising culture lead to diminished work?

On hiring: “…talent goes beyond the book. I look for people who’ll fir into our environment; with a match between their style and personality and ours.”

Fast forward to 2009, when issues like racism are at the forfront of agency culture. The pressure to be “cool” and relevant would be answered by a diverse work force &#151 both ethnically and culturally. In this article, an image of Beaver shows him in an Oxford, with a tie and suspenders. Back then, it wasn’t about what you wore (because everyone was business professional), but the work you did.

On environment/creative team: “A creative reputation is preceded by a creative environment with a willingness to run risks…I’m especially proud we created award winning work for all our clients, not just a few showcase accounts…The best advertising is created when everyone’s involved in the creative process: the account executive, the researcher, the media planner and, especially, the client &#151 beginning with the initial discussions of strategy, and going all the way through to final production.”

This advice is particularly important. During a recent interview with R/GA’s Karen Spiegel (head of PR), I asked her why she thinks the agency’s process is different. Her answer: putting the entire team in the same space &#151 research, media, and even the tech guys who will build their clients’ Web sites.


Back to Basics &#151 Wisdom From Carl Ally