Harry Herber ponders his colourful career and takes a bow.
Hell. Time slips by when you’re being whipped! Forty years of it. This will be the last column I’m writing for The Media, and I’m pretty glad, ‘cos after 10 plus years and 120 articles, I probably don’t have much that’s relevant to say anymore!
I’m bidding farewell at the end of the year to The MediaShop as well, a company that’s very close to my heart. I know however, that with Chris Botha at the helm, and my mate Sean Clarke guarding the shekels, it will continue its spectacular performance. But I will miss it.
It seems like just yesterday, but it was actually an age ago, when I wandered into BBDO to see the legendary Ian Shepherd to temp in his research department. Forty years passed in the blink of an eye. It’s scary, looking back…
To make it in this industry you need to have it flowing through your blood. You really have to love what you do. Get up when rejected and come back harder. Be fearless, tough and smart. Burn with ambition, have arrogance, have pride.
I worked for very few agencies in my ad-life because I believe in a sense of belonging. I was shifted about intra-agencies a lot, but after my apprenticeship at BBDO, I worked for the broader Grey and FCB group my entire career.
At Grey, Darryl Phillips, Alan Bunton, and my friend Edo Folli moulded me with a couple of principles: No compromise. One chance. Only excellence. It was a ferocious tribe where only the strongest and most talented survived. You were proud just to keep your job. You saw people wiped out immediately if they gave anything less than 100%.
“I may not be as good as I once was, but I’m as good once, as I ever was!”
You really believed you were the best, and the rest of the industry mere pretenders who were sworn enemies. . Today, I think a bit more of that ‘mongrel’ instinct may make the industry, and the products they deliver, a better place. Concepts such as ‘common good’, ‘even playing field’ and ‘let’s be fair’ may have overshadowed competition, excellence, sweat and courage in the industry.
FCB was a warm, caring place. I don’t know what they thought hit the media department when I arrived. I let at least half the staff go within a couple of weeks, and employed people I knew I could trust, in the ratio of two leave and one comes in! Again I worked with legends like the three Bush brothers – great creative minds all; the dogmatic John Sinclair; the visionary Nkwenkwe Nkomo; Edo (again!) and Thomas Oosthuizen, a fabulous strategic mind. Then, 18 years ago I went to The MediaShop.
Along the way, media owners have changed. They are certainly more competitive, professional, and try harder today. But the maverick and innovation have suffered as a result. There is just too much at stake these days to take big risks. It’s becoming harder and harder to become a legend in this industry without more risk and innovation.
People like Pete McKenzie, Ken Varejes and Trevor Ormerod would have been stifled if born into the vanilla environment of today. I’m positive big things will avalanche the media owner industry – and soon – because the media is evolving at such a rate. Whether the maverick, the innovator and the thought moulder will be at the cutting-edge of it all, is debatable.
But let me not forget the lifeblood of this industry – the clients. Good and bad, you learn from all of them. People like Jurgen Burmeister, who had no compromise, and demanded you worked through the night – really – week in and out, with zero sympathy, just made you better, tougher, quicker and more resilient. On the other hand, clients like Toyota, Shoprite, Dana Cooper and Dave Miller made your days magic.
So on to retirement. I know it’s my choice, but I don’t know exactly what I’m really going to do all day yet. Suggestions welcome! The ride has been long but infinitely rewarding. Truthfully though, in my heart, I know advertising and media is for young, smart minds. Not to say I’m past it totally. In the words of the country song: “I may not be as good as I once was, but I’m as good once, as I ever was!” Fade to black…
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