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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  How’d You Get In: Jack Neary

How’d You Get In: Jack Neary

Posted on February 20, 2012 and read 4,670 times

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Jack Neary, Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Toronto got his start as a writer while still a teenager and for the first six years plied his trade among the ink-stained galleys of daily newspapers and magazines in Calgary, Vancouver and Los Angeles. His beats were eclectic. He ghost-wrote Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding courses. Former U.S. President Gerald Ford once yelled at him in a lavatory.

In 1980 he fell into advertising by accident.  By decade’s end he was named creative leader at Chiat/Day Toronto followed by top posts at Cossette and BBDO Canada, the latter for 10 years.  After that for two and half years Jack was global creative leader at BBDO New York on the network’s P&G brands: Gillette, Venus and Braun.

Jack rejoined TBWA\ in September 2010, bringing with him 30 years of proven creative leadership on famous brands and experience in every category. In fact, his leadership the first time he was with TBWA\ (then Chiat/Day) helped them win Strategy Magazine’s Agency of the Year competition for two consecutive years.

From cleaning toilets to winning Cassies, everyone must start somewhere. How did Jack Neary get in?

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Jack bio pic Howd You Get In: Jack NearyI didn’t so much get into the business as fall into it rather by happy accident.

In late 1979 I was let go along with dozens of other journalists from the Vancouver Courier newspaper. The Courier opportunistically transformed from a sleepy weekly into a racy Fleet-Street style daily tabloid when Vancouver’s establishment dailies The Sun and The Province went on strike. Disaster struck, however, when the strike ended. Vancouver couldn’t support three dailies and the Courier reverted to being a weekly sending about three-quarters of its staff onto the street.

With hindsight, I see how serendipitous this was for me. It forced me to move back to my hometown of Calgary and the refuge of a basement room below BJ’s Gym, a hard-core boxing and powerlifting emporium haunted by some pretty colourful characters.  In exchange for gym access and free protein shakes, I cleaned the gym’s showers, toilets and equipment. (My time working the crime beat on newspapers served me well for this work.)

That’s how I met gym member Jimmy Kent, whose wife was the receptionist at the Calgary office of a small advertising agency called West-Can Communications, whose head office was in Vancouver. One day Jimmy saw me polishing chrome dumbbells and hollered across the gym, “Hey, Neary, I might have a lead on a job for you at my wife’s ad agency. They’re looking for a senior writer.”

“I’ve never written an ad in my life,” I said.

“Perfect,” said Jimmy, “you’re over-qualified.”

While Jimmy’s wife tried to set up an interview for me with the agency’s creative director Jerry Huff, I set to work preparing what can only be loosely described as a portfolio. There were no personal computers then. All I had was an ancient, nearly clapped-out Underwood typewriter that weighed about as much as an army tank. I hammered out about ten sample ads for West-Can’s clients on sheets of newsprint: headlines, body copy and a description of the visual. My portfolio was horrific and riddled with puns. I shudder when I think of it in comparison to the slick, sophisticated portfolios of many students coming out of communications schools today.

My interview with Jerry arrived on a Friday, and the coldest day in January. I liked him. Jerry was an American who’d earned his stripes working at some of the better agencies in Seattle, San Francisco and Hawaii. He’d got into the fledgling CA annual with an ad for the Hawaii tourism bureau that had a picture of oozing volcanic lava under the headline, “Hawaii Looks Like Hell.”

Jerry had a slightly distracted, absent-minded air about him, wore half-lens reading glasses that dangled on a chain around his neck, and had a goatee long before everyone in advertising had goatees.

Jerry made odd moaning sounds as he browsed through the pile of newsprint that passed for my portfolio. It was unclear to me if he was feeling pleasure or pain.

A radio played in the background. An ad for Mercedes-Benz came on. Suddenly Jerry stiffened in his chair and asked me, “What’s wrong with that ad?”

I fumbled for an answer and settled on something about how boring it sounded.

“Well, there is that,” said Jerry, “but what is really wrong with it is that it talks down to the audience. Great writers know how to make a friend of the listener; to pull him in using intelligence, empathy and charm. This ad is insulting.”

By the end of the interview Jerry challenged me with a test assignment: he gave me one week to write a brochure for a new Calgary real estate subdivision named Erin Green.

One week? What luxury, I thought. I was used to churning out three or more newspaper stories every afternoon and night for the next morning’s edition. I planned to crank out the test brochure over the weekend and return on the Monday.

However, something happened. It was the sort of thing that happens to me with alarming regularity. About an hour after my interview with Jerry I met my old journalism chum Wayne McDougall for a celebratory lunch. What I was celebrating I cannot say, but it felt good to at least have the prospect of a paying job, attached to cleaning toilets though I was.

As Wayne and I walked in an indoor shopping mall on our way to lunch he asked me about my interview, and, in his usual perverse way, posed to me a hypothetical question about what I would say to Jerry on the coming Monday if Jerry asked me a particular question that I shall not relate here.

“Well, that’s easy, “ I said. “I would say to him in my best falsetto, ‘Jeeeerrrrrry, Jeeeeerrrrry, Jeeeeeerrrrry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…’ “

By the time I’d said my third Jerry in a high-pitched voice I looked up and to my left to see Jerry reading a book as he leaned against the door jamb of a bookstore. He was standing not eight feet from me. On weakened legs I stumbled past him, turned into the next shop and fell onto the floor in paroxysms of fear and laughter while my friend Wayne said, “What? What?”

To this day I do not know if Jerry heard me. But I did get the job.

  • Flavio Alvarez

    JAJAJAJA! For my first proper interview I got rained on half of the way there (I was probably the only guy riding a bike in all of San Juan. Car drivers called me an idiot all through the ride and one was nice enough to toss a large BK coke at me, I guess I looked thirsty). When I got there I was soaking wet so I took my shirt of and rung it, so when I went in I was still soaking wet with a wrinkled shirt. The AC in the office was blasting, so I was shivering throughout the interview. And when I opened my book everything had gotten wet and the ads were blotched. I remember promising they actually didn’t look a lot better before. I guess those were the good tmes, ’cause I also got the job.

  • Rick Wayne

    Hey, Jack, nice piece. Really enjoyed it. All true? Or was some of the reality, er, enhanced. No matter, you got the job. And hey, congrats. Nice to have had a peek at your recent past adventures!




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