Take a letter, Miss Henry


‘How a rubber chicken got me to New York’

Today is a big day here in Lutheranliar Land. Not only does The Child start her new job as a software engineer at this cool company in Boston called Kensho. (She told me it was okay to tell you, so read more about it here). But it was also on a Monday in October — the 22nd of October in a year long ago — that Yours Truly started a new job in a new city. As a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in New York.

I’ll leave it to The Child to tell you of her path to Software Success. Since this is my blog, I get to tell you my story. I will spare you the stuff about how I got interested in advertising in the first place. (Though I may eventually run short of blog material and decide to mine that vein.)

So let’s fast-forward to Kansas City, Missouri. Where I am doing pretty nicely, thank you very much, as a copywriter at a fair-to-middling agency writing ads for Safeway, Phillips Petroleum, and Fleishmann’s Yeast. Heady times. I had gotten to that stage, career-wise, where agencies in places like Oklahoma City and Helena, Montana, were begging me to come work for them. (Seriously.) The Oklahoma City People even flew me there to, like, wow me.

Well, I wised up and figured that if Montana came wooing, I might have a chance in (gasp) New York. Now, I did know enough to realize that New York was the place to be in the Ad Biz. But I didn’t really know how to go about getting there. If Executive Recruiters (ie, ‘headhunters’) existed, I certainly didn’t know about them.

So what did I do? I stayed late at work. (So I could use the typewriter. This was waaay before the days of Personal Computers. I didn’t even own a Personal Typewriter.) And I wrote letters. Tons of letters. I wrote one to a creative director at a Big New York Agency about how bad the cheesecake was in the Midwest and that he just had to get me out of there so that I could enjoy the Real (Cheesecake) Thing. I wrote another about how I couldn’t get a good Kansas City Steak in Kansas City because they sent all the good meat to New York.

But my best letter was the one I sent with the rubber chicken. I found this rubber chicken somehow, somewhere (these were the days before online searches, too). I scrunched it up so it fit inside a padded envelope, and sent it to a creative director at Ogilvy & Mather (the coolest New York agency I knew). Tucked in alongside the scrunched-up chicken was a letter that began: ‘What kind of person would send a rubber chicken to (Big Creative Director’s Name Goes Here)?’ Then I went on to describe my talents and so forth. I’m pretty sure this was the first time the CD had received a Rubber-Chicken Resume.

Well, guess what? It worked. I got a phone call and an invitation to come interview at Ogilvy & Mather. Now, the New York People did not pay for me (hah! as if) to come see them. New York, after all, is not, ahem, Oklahoma City. But I managed to get myself a ticket and get myself there.

And Luck, my friends, was with me. Lo and behold, the day I walked in the door, another copywriter had just walked out. To go back to Europe or someplace even more exotic than New York. (Olga Barr, are you out there?) So O&M actually needed someone. Someone just like me.

Skip ahead two weeks and one giant garage sale. Picture me on the sidewalk outside 2 East 48th Street that long-ago October 22, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I join the throngs of Ogilvyites waiting in the lobby for the notoriously slow elevators, ride up to the 8th floor, step out onto the red-carpeted halls, and locate my boss’s office. I didn’t see her (yes, my boss was a ‘her’ — Josephine Smith, she of the chignon and the turquoise lizard Maud Frizon shoes), but her assistant was there to greet me enthusiastically. Somewhat breathlessly, even, with ‘Thank god! You’re here!’

‘Well’, I’m thinking. ‘This is some welcome!’ I give her my best Glad-to-be-here Smile. Whereupon the assistant seats me at a desk right outside Ms. Smith’s office and hands me a stack of papers. ‘You can start with these,’ she says, and motions toward the typewriter. I realize that she expects me to type some letters.

Hey, I’m just so glad to be in New York and a copywriter at a Big Famous Agency instead of out in Oklahoma City or Helena, Montana, that I don’t question Miss Assistant. Not one bit.

I’m in the middle of Letter Number Two (and doing a pretty decent job, if I do say so myself) when Ms. Smith herself wafts by in a cloud of Chanel Number Five. She does a double-take when she sees me there typing.

Turns out Miss Assistant thought I was there to fill in for the secretary, who was sick that day. Needless to say, she was always super-nice to me after that. Sometimes she even brought coffee to my really nice actual office (with a window! and a couch!)

Speaking of windows and couches, you can read a pretty funny story about how I scored my first New York apartment that very same week: ‘Horowitz Plays the Bedroom’.

For more stories about my days in the Ad Game, click on the ‘Ad Lore’ link in the sidebar. Or simply click here for ‘Old McDonald Had a Silo or ‘Winning Money isn’t Funny’. And don’t forget ‘Karl Malden’s Nose’ if you’re in the mood for a tale of Ad Girls bent on revenge.

And if you’d like to share your story about how you got to where you wanted to be — in your career, or just in your life in general — don’t be shy. I’d love to hear it, as well as your comments.

Oh, and congratulations, Child. (See photo below so you can say hello if you run into her in Boston.) I sincerely hope you have as much fun with your new career as I had with mine.

The Child, ready to take on Boston, if not the World

The Child, ready to take on Boston, if not the World







Geneva, Illinois. October 2014

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15 thoughts on “Take a letter, Miss Henry

  1. Alice, you have some oversized ovaries! I love your rubber chicken story. You did a classic ‘show not tell’ when you demonstrated your creativity instead of trying to explain it. Your daughter is beautiful! Best of luck to her as she storms Bean-town.

  2. angelanoelauthor

    You know what I love about this? I love that you didn’t protest for one second when you found yourself typing letters. A good friend of mine said, essentially, play your A game in everything you do and it’ll lead to good things. You did just that and no doubt earned more respect because of it! I’m guessing this translated to The Child as well. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Angela, for noticing that! Yes, I did believe (and still do) that a job well done is, well, a job well done. And that people appreciate anyone who ‘pitches in’, no matter what asked to do. (This has been an extremely helpful attitude while freelancing, since I am often asked to work on projects that are, um, let’s just say ‘not very exciting’ and let it go at that!)

    • Or desperation (!) Whichever, it certainly worked! I got the idea by reading somewhere that someone sent a pizza to a creative director with his or her resume printed on the inside of the box, where it would become visible to said CD as he/she consumed the pizza. I think my method was less messy if not more creative (!)

  3. I am glad to have tripped into your #sundayblogshare you have what we call fortitude or some would say you’ve got balls! I bet that missy lady will never forget her gaff! But you writing the letters must have been a great way to show her you are human… all respect to you for carrying on regardless.

    • Why, thank you, Ellen. I so enjoy meeting new people thru #SundayBlogShare. Almost as much as I enjoy telling my stories (!) And yes, that secretary was very nice to me ever after, tho she probably would have been anyway. Thank you for tripping by (!!!) xoxo

  4. You have chutzpah, Alice, and it worked out nicely for you. I admire such courage and am sure you had to tolerate a lot in that field of work. You must be a legend. Glad to know you.

    • Well, Judy. Thank you for reading, and for the nice complimentary comment! Things certainly did work out nicely for me. But I’m not actually a legend (except in my own mind)

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