Back to Basics: Wisdom From Ralph Ammirati

By Matt Van Hoven 

Yesterday we shared some of Carl Ally’s thoughts on the industry, what makes great advertising, and what doesn’t. Today we resurrect a few thoughts from Ralph Ammirati, who founded and co-chaired a little shop called Ammirati & Puris. Below are some nuggets from his start as a dude from Queens.

In 1966, he went to work for Carl Ally and told the Wall Street Journal, “It was that rare intersection between dreams and reality; an agency where the quality of the work came above all else.”


Many of you are probably looking up and to the left, thinking about your shop, wondering what’s most important &#151 the money or the work. These days, it’s near impossible to expect the latter, especially since there’s such a shortage of the former. Nonetheless, the lesson holds true in 2009.

When starting his new agency, Ammirati said, “When BMW called, we had enough cash for 14 days…From the start, we (Ammirati and Marty Puris) said that if we didn’t get the right kind of business, we’d just chuck it. We didn’t want an agency with 200 clients, billing $25 million.”

When asked about the cost of advertising he said, “Good ads cost no more than bad ads. The difference is the strength of the idea.”

Surely, David Ogilvy would agree with that notion. The “Big Idea” is still so central to this business, but with media-neutrality knocking at the door, it is becoming increasingly difficult to translate an idea across all platforms.

On creative discipline, “Start with the right strategy. And follow that strategy relentlessly. We don’t have a bunch of people just doing ads. We are structured and disciplined &#151 and every job follows a step-by-step procedure. The client? Our partner in the process. So when we present the advertising, there’s no surprise in terms of direction and strategy.”

Take it or leave it, standards like these drove the industry for the better part of the last century. While many of us were embryonic eye-twinkles, guys like Ammirati and Ally were carving the basics into Madison Avenue’s many brick walls. Struggling agencies might look back to history &#151 if nothing else to learn from what drove the work that’s lead to today’s digital horizon.

More: “Back to Basics &#151 Wisdom From Carl Ally