Legendary Ad Man Bill Bernbach was many things to many people, according to Doris Willens, author of 'Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising.'
On the negative side of the ledger, Bernbach was notorious for claiming ownership of his employees' creative ideas. He also enabled political factions to fester within his firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach. Under his tutelage, DDB became shark-infested workplace. He also encouraged what became known as DDB's 'asshole' culture. Everyone smiled at one another in internal agency meetings, but would routinely call one another assholes behind the scenes. Nice, no?
But Bernbach was also advertising's ultimate creative genius and, along with David Ogilvy, responsible for fostering advertising's golden age in the 1960s (beautifully recreated by the AMC series, Mad Men, btw).
Bernbach was absolutely fearless with clients and prospects. He'd fire the former if they meddled with his creative campaigns. And, he'd tell important clients and prospects exactly what he thought of them and their ideas. To wit: 'A VP (with Mobil Oil) was speaking rather proudly about their newly-proposed logo design commemorating the company's 100th birthday. (The client) said with starry-eyed pride, 'Just look at that. It will be displayed on gas stations all over America. Just look at that red O. Right in the center, it will say 1866-1966. Isn't that wonderful. Do you know what that means?'
The room grew silent. Bernbach nodded and said, 'IT MEANS YOU JUST DIED!" Priceless.
His many faults aside, the advertising and PR agency worlds would be better places if we had senior executives who, like Bernbach, weren't afraid to speak the truth.