Pic via NYT reporter Stephanie Clifford
This is a guest post by Tom Siebert, agency vet and former Adweek/Mediapost reporter.
Fiends, Gossips, Backstabbers — lend me your eyes. I come to praise Stuart Elliott, not to bury him.
Figured the guy deserved as much on his last day as The New York Times’ ad industry columnist, especially after Agency Spy’s anonymous comment brigade started tossing dirt even before the body was metaphorically laid to rest in the Grey Lady’s backyard graveyard of escalating buyouts, layoffs and nudged retirements.
C’mon folks. Even among this crowd, he deserves better. Apparently the most common complaint about Stuart Elliott is that he never worked a day in the ad business, so he couldn’t really relate. This is, of course, ridiculous — does a writer need to have been a cop or killer to cover a murder? — but also misses the point.
Stuart Elliott wasn’t an advertising guy and wasn’t supposed to be. He was a professional journalist who happened to cover advertising. He was a diligent reporter who knew all the right questions to ask, had a knack for getting people to chat, was customarily polite and professional but could go for the throat when he wanted to (as opposed to when he had to), and — more so IRL than on the page — was pointed and funny company (his loosest prose leans towards mischievous and clever).
As a professional journalist and not an ad guy, Stuart Elliott was a dual talent. A lot of people took that for granted or perhaps didn’t even notice because he made it look so easy. He could effectively construct the most fundamental straight-up, just-the-facts, Joe Friday meat’n’potatoes breaking news story conveying a great deal of information in a tight space. But he could also knock out a fun feature piece full of style and verve, pun-laden with pop culture references both topical and throwback.
He also remained, throughout his career and even as he became a icon, responsive and available to people who reached out to him. Emails always got a response, even if it was a simple “No.” Phone calls were usually picked up; when they weren’t, they got followed up. As many modern reporters — admittedly drowned daily with the flotsam of pitches coming on all fronts from phone to email to social media — become tougher to engage, Stuart Elliott remained completely accessible.
And while he often took a jaded eye to the industry’s foibles, he was rarely cynical and to the very end remained enamored with good work and the way technology was facilitating innovation within the industry. He did not rest on his laurels and he was piqued by change, not threatened by it.
He embraced the industry’s narrative shift from who-won-what and what’s-in-play, to exploring how the entire foundation and fundamental philosophies at the heart of marketing were being blown apart by technology and social media.
No one held The New York Times ad columnist position for as long as Stuart Elliott. If the rumors that he will not be replaced are true, the loss will be twofold; the end of an era in ways both personal and categorical. It will be intriguing to see what he does next, but the most appropriate thing might be for him to do nothing at all: drop the mic and walk off into the sunset, like legends sometimes do.
He’s surely earned it.
Tom Siebert is a former reporter for Adweek, MediaPost and elsewhere, who has also worked at ad agencies inside the WPP, IPG and Havas networks, among others. He’s prospering at his own communications thing, so far at least, and can be reached @TomSiebert.