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The Things We Learned from a Real-Life Mad Man

  • Caitlin Ganswindt


If you’ve got a pulse, you know the final season of Mad Men premiered this week. And while the wide world of media is abuzz with the life and style of all things Sterling Cooper, we thought it was high time to get an insider’s take on the real-world glamour of a ’60s ad man.

We caught up with a Mr. Gareld Duane Rollins. A bit of background on GR’s credentials: spent 10 years working for Southwest Athletic Conference Broadcasting, had a 13-year tenure with McCann Erickson, helped coin the phrase “Put a Tiger in Your Tank,” shared an office with Reagan...

So, yeah—he’s got some credentials. And some words to live by. Presenting 12 lessons from a real-life Mad Man:

On Figuring It Out: In the early days, Exxon was the primary broadcaster for the old Southwest Conference and I ended up as a broadcast supervisor. During the second game of the season, our announcer never showed up. I called up my boss in Houston, and by that time he’d already had a little taste of brandy and was feeling fine and said, “Well, Gary, as soon as the man shows up, if he shows up, you fire him. Good luck, and I’ll see you on Monday.” And I said, “So who’s going to do the broadcast?” and he said “You are. Good luck with that. You’ll do fine.”

On Ronald Reagan: When I got to the office Monday morning—which I shared with Neil Reagan and his brother, Ronald—in comes Ronnie, and he wanted people to call him Ronnie. He wore jeans and a denim shirt. I told him what had happened, and he said, “God, that’s great. That’s exactly what I wanted to do for a living.” So then that’s what we did, we’d sit at our three-sided desk and talk football for hours.

On Lamar Hunt: Years later we were covering the Cotton Bowl and I almost fired the guy. He showed up in an SMU sweater and I told him, “You’re late. An hour late. If you don’t want to do this, that’s fine. We’ll get someone else. But if you do want to do this, then you better be on time.” He apologized, and I had to reconsider firing him. Because he was Lamar Hunt.

On Ted Williams: He was the first manager for the Texas Rangers when they moved to Arlington and I was the vice president. We had a terrible team, but Ted was a delight. He was a big, 6′4″ guy and he proclaimed himself the best baseball hitter that ever was. Not a modest bone in his body.

On Walking Tall: McCann handled Nelson Rockefeller’s advertising campaigns, when he ran for governor and then when he did the ill-fated run for the presidency. He was maybe 5′6″, always had nicely tailored suits that gave the appearance of broad shoulders, and he had two full-time Yale or Harvard law students working for him. Each had two boxes of different dimensions; their entire job was to make sure that nobody taller was ever pictured with him.

On the Company You Keep: But he was a really likable guy and appreciated loyalty. Of course, we made money off his campaign, but for the people who were key in doing the work, he gave them land in the Virgin Islands as a thank-you.

On Three-Martini Lunches: There was a rule. Certainly, you should go to lunch with the client, and you should drink, and after you had a second drink, you were done for the day. You’d simply call the secretary and say, “I’m out, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

On Jetsetting: If I flew out to New York, I had to change time zones, and if you go over one time zone into another, you were required to take the next day off and not do business because of jet lag.

On Dressing: The creative department was allowed some latitude. Sports coats were encouraged, and those “man hats,” as we used to call them, were a part of the basic uniform—along with Countess Mara ties, and although white dress shirts were “in,” that was about the time when colored shirts began to be integrated into men’s wardrobes.

On the Business: Advertising is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. If rejection hurts too bad, go do something else.

On Pitch Writing: Don’t overstate the story, get it done—the motto, if you will, of McCann Erickson at the time was “Truth, well told.”

On Giving Advice: Be leery about giving advice. Fools won’t heed it and wise men don’t need it.

[Ed. Note: Following the last point, maybe take all this with a grain of salt.]