Donny Deutsch, The Book. It's Alot Like The Man. Sometimes Too Much Air.by
Donny Deutsch is a big guy. Not so much by stature, but it’s his personality. The camera likes him. Witness his daily TV program on CNBC. He fills up a room, which is why he has long impressed his clients at Deutsch Advertising. Now, Donny has tried to get some of this oversized personality into a book, “Often Wrong, Never in Doubt," Collins 2005.
It’s not the first time he has set out to put his thoughts on paper. I will disclose here that I co-wrote an unpublished book with Donny in the mid 1990s. It was to be published by Simon & Schuster. But after all was said and done, and I had been to therapy and divorced, Donny decided that his image had evolved faster than the book did. I can hear him saying, “It’s too much of what I was when we started out, and not enough of what I am or where I am going.” Fair enough. I was compensated. And I didn't much like what Simon & Schuster did in the edit. For one thing, they had a woman edit it after we turned it in to make Donny sound a bit more like David Ogilvy. Yikes! The voice in the book was that of a British ex-pat who lived in Queens for 25 years and had a thing for wearing skirts. No wonder Donny backed out of publishing it. So, this time, Donny, years and several skin peels later and pounds lighter, has teamed with veteran writer Peter Knobler to try and say something interesting about advertising, life, selling, running a creative company, the media, culture and, of course, "The Donny."
Like any book of this type—part memoir, part “this is why I make so much money” rant—it succeeds in some places and falls obnoxiously flat in others. I like his chapter on women in the workplace. "Of the top ten executives at Deutsch, eight are women…when I was hiring , I wasn’t worried about man or woman, I was trying to find the best people—and the best people kept turning out to be women.” In a business where too few talented women get to the top, his philosophy is refreshing and laudable. But to know Donny even a little is to know that he just likes to be surrounded by women, especially attractive ones. So some will read this chapter with a snicker. Hint: one chapter title in the book is “It All Comes back to Babes.”
Whether created by men, women or monkees, Deutsch has produced some fabulous advertising over the last decade as its risen from a small scrappy agency to a major national force in the ad business. Ads for Ikea in the 1990s that showed how a newly divorced woman was setting up her new independent life, and another that showed a gay couple picking out home furnishings were breakthrough. Ads for Samsung in the late 1980s, including one in which a young man is controlling the content on an electronic billboard was not only memorable, but prescient as Nike and Samsung are finally getting around to letting consumers do just that with their cell phones. Spots for Monster.com that took the site beyond job search to life change were pace setting. The agency's ads featuring retro cultural and entertainment icons for Old Navy put the retailer on the map. Tanqueray Gin ads featuring the iconic “Mr. Jenkins,” was brilliant. I especially liked an incident recounted in the book in which Donny dressed down a creative team that was examining a book of award winning advertising for “inspiration.” Agency creatives can be a maddening lot. Some are great. Most are pains in the neck and are more interested in winning a trophy or spending a lot of money on production than solving a problem. I also admire his preference for finding people who are still on the way up and out to prove themselves, rather than hiring people whose glory is behind them.
Hang out with Donny for a bit, and you understand he talks like a cab driver when he’s not performing. The trouble for me is that when you are writing a book, lazy expletives don’t belong. There are lots of "f" words, shits and "bullshits." And Deutsch is no David Mamet. When he says--“If you’re the kind of person who keeps a journal, you likely won’t work at Deutsch. Dickheads just don’t last here politically—“ he sounds, well, like the kind of person who apparently won’t last at his agency. A chapter title even reads, “Sometimes You Have To Be A Dickhead.” Call me old fashioned, but even if I used the word as regularly as Donny, which I don’t, I wouldn’t immortalize it in my first book.
Donny has had a great run, but it’s clear that just as this book is coming out, he is looking well beyond advertising. His CNBC show runs nightly and that takes up a few hours a day of his time. And he is looking to champion, produce, nurture other “content” projects. In short, it’s pretty clear he is looking to have less contact with clients of his ad agency and progressively less to do with creating advertising in general. Who can blame him? I’ve worked for two ad agencies in my life and the business is full of sycophants and sonovabitches on both the agency and client side. Directors of advertising at companies love to tug on the wings of ad agency CEOs who make much more money than they do, because it’s an unusual relationship where an executive far down the rung at one company can play God to a CEO of another. Generally speaking, the agency CEO will do anything to keep the $100 million account controlled by the ad or marketing director. Deutsch recounts one actual event in which the two top guys at his LA office were invited to and felt compelled to attend the graduation party of the daughter of the president of Mitsubishi Motor Sales. “The Donny”,” himself, allowed himself to be talked into sleeping a night in an Ikea client’s basement room that was normally occupied by a child—a trundle bed with Speed Racer sheets. I can relate. I was once asked to take a client shopping because I had a rental car and she didn’t. I refused, which is why I am happily back in journalism.
Some are questioning whether Deutsch, the agency, jumped the shark when Donny decided to do his CNBC show on a daily basis. Since he became a TV star, Mitsubishi, Revlon, Lenscrafters, Old Navy, Monster.com, Snapple, Coors Light have all left or cut back on their business with Deutsch. And while a few pieces of business have come in, the agency has come up empty on some big pitches.
One thing I have always admired about Donny is his great sense that an ad is not always the answer to a client’s problem. He has "idea people" on his accounts, and he was an early devotee of the Internet, offering Net based solutions to clients before others did. He also knows the power of buzz. That’s why it was puzzling earlier this year when it became known that he fired a creative staffer for circulating via e-mail a funny photo of Donny in a Speedo from the 1980s when the agency chieftain was a bit less buff, but by no means fat. A cyber hunt was conducted to find the perpetrator, and then he was fired. The staffer may have given other reasons over time for being fired, but the impression was left that Donny has lost his sense of humor. That’s bad for an ad man who uses the word “Dickhead” a lot.