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How’d You Get In: Lee Garfinkel

Posted on October 8, 2008 and read 2,206 times

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Let’s talk a walk down memory lane with the Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of DDB New York. His credits include the original Cindy Crawford Pepsi spot, the infamous “Shady Acres” commercial (also from Pepsi), and asking “What’s a portfolio?” in his first interview.

What’s interesting though is that Lee Garfinkel is not alone in asking that question. In the coming weeks you’ll see that a lot of today’s advertising leaders came into the industry before the advent of ad schools. Back then it was difficult to be in the know, when it comes to breaking into the industry. Many of the folks who have already made advertising industry got their start by asking a Creative Director, “What’s a portfolio?”.

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1655 Howd You Get In: Lee Garfinkel

I was living in the Bronx and had just graduated from Queens College. I majored in communications and was told by a professor that I would never get a job if I didn’t have connections.

Thanks a lot.

I sent out hundreds of resumes to television and film companies. And a few ad agencies. I only got one response. A television producer named Leslie Stark, from a great NY agency called DKG, asked me to come up for an interview. I brought movie scripts, songs that I had written, cartoons, films that I shot in college, TV ideas and comedy routines about terrible television commercials. He asked if I had any advertising ideas. I said, “uh, no.” He said, “you seem like a talented kid, but you need a portfolio.” My intelligent response was, “what’s a portfolio?”
To make a long story short, he suggested I go back to school for advertising. Having just graduated, the last thing I wanted to do was go back to school. So I went to the library and took out books about advertising and taught myself.

For months, I did nothing but work on my portfolio from 10 in the morning till 11:30 at night. I would then watch the Twilight Zone followed by a midnight run around the Bronx. I did this every day.

When I finally had a portfolio, I called Della Femina Travisano Advertising and naively asked to speak with a creative director. The receptionist actually put me through to Neil Drossman, one of the best copywriters of all time. Neil laughingly agreed to see me. My book probably sucked, so Neil pulled a couple of award show books off the shelf and showed me what good advertising was.

I went back to the drawing board (writing and art directing my own book). A few months later Neil recommended me to John Russo at Levine Huntley Schmidt and Beaver, one of the best ad agencies in history.

Many years later when I had my quick stop at D’Arcy I saw the name Leslie Stark on the outside of an office. I knocked on the door, went inside and asked if he remembered me.
Leslie said, “Are you kidding? I’ve been following your career for 25 years.”




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