The case of the missing luggage

I’m not sure if it was my Russian adventure, the impending 15th anniversary of Peppercom or Doc_suitcase some late Summer malaise, but I’ve been flooded recently by obscure memories (i.e. the crazy client who insisted we become 18 percent diverse or else, the ill-fated pool party, etc.).

My dusty synapses fired up once again the other day when I spied a PR news brief announcing that a certain luggage company had retained a new PR firm. You see, Ed and I knew this company once upon a time. We knew it very well.

Nearly two decades ago, we toiled for a now defunct, integrated marketing shop called Earle Palmer Brown. EPB was the antithesis of our other employer, Brouillard (i.e. if the latter resembled the Politburo, the former was more akin to what Ed’s charming and vivacious wife, Pamela, liked to call ‘Romper Room.’). The inmates ran the asylum at EPB. And, because, Ed, Bill Southard (our boss) and I were bringing in loads of new business, we were pretty much allowed to indulge any and all excesses.

All of which brings me back to the luggage company. At the time, they were a client on the advertising side of the office. In order to create ads for the client, our ad group needed to photograph the product. So, they grabbed an unused storage room and filled it with the latest, greatest stuff (note: the luggage was also loaned to art directors and photo editors of style magazines for use as props in their shoots).

One day, when the account manager was away on vacation, someone in the PR group secured a key to the product storage room. Needless to say, it emptied out faster than a disappointed group of Mets fans leaving CitiField. Everyone grabbed one, two or more items of their liking. It was positively Bacchanalian in its excess.

Now, fast forward to the following week when the vacationing account guy returned, unlocked the product loan door and went totally ballistic. He sent an agency-wide note letting everyone know about the theft, suggesting he knew exactly who had taken it (our rollicking PR group had built quite an image and reputation by then) and declared that no questions would be asked if the merchandise was promptly returned. Sad to say, it wasn’t. The account guy complained to senior management, who promptly told him to back off. He did a little dance with the client and told them uncooperative art directors and photo editors had refused to return the product loans. Amazingly, the room was quickly restocked and the office returned to its normal state of complete bedlam.

In retrospect, the case of the missing luggage is an interesting morality tale. It spotlights the reality that far too many management teams ‘overlook’ inappropriate behavior from solid performers. Just look at Wall Street or Enron or BP. Moral and ethical behavior routinely takes a back seat to profits (which is why we’re seeing such a plethora of crises). At EPB, the PR group were the high rollers, so no one was going to mess with us about a few missing garment bags.

I’d like to think that Ed and I took the best and worst of what we experienced at EPB and Brouillard, and created a happy medium at Peppercom. It also helps that we haven’t represented luggage manufacturers and been tempted to ‘borrow’ a sleek, black briefcase or two.

We’re older and wiser now (even if Ed hasn’t aged particularly well). And, I’d like to think we’d crack down hard and fast on any behavior remotely resembling the Romper Room days of EPB- which should be good news for any luggage manufacturers out there in search of PR agency support. Your bags are safe with us.

11 thoughts on “The case of the missing luggage

  1. Not sure I knew you’d been an EPB client, Michael. Do tell. Details, please. Re: that was then and this is now, I totally agree. Clients simply didn’t count every penny the way they do today. What would Bert Cooper say?

  2. Peppercom is certainly a different place (I know not because I was an EPB employee but an EPB client) – partly because of internal, informal culture guidlines, but also because times have changed. That room was restocked because clients with long-term agency partnerships not only sanctioned that behavior but exhibited it themselves by insisting on agency lunches at Smith & Wollensky. Now clients will fire an agency if it’s cloudy out, and their mantra is all results and no graft. They go to Cosi with me and we split the bill. And if I dared ask for freebies they’d ask me why I wasn’t putting my energy into building their business. Not as much fun as it used to be, Roger Sterling.

  3. Dave: do you happen to remember the words you scrawled in the drying concrete sidewalk directly across the street from EPB’s offices?

  4. That damn briefcase broke two weeks later! (Of course, it was covered in orange soda at the time for some unknown reason….) That’s of course just what I heard….

  5. Nice try, but I’ve learned to be careful when I use my own name in the blogosphere.

  6. Annie would be Katy and Jeyran would be Mrs. Wormer. I hope that both would be flattered by the comparison.

  7. This is beautiful, Peter. Thanks for the note. And I love your casting Ed as Bluto. I’m sure Ed would as well. Who was Annie Pechaver? Jeyran?

  8. Wow, you started a flood of memories, both good and frightening.
    Pam’s description of “Romper Room” is accurate but I usually thought of it as “Animal House” — Southard was Otter, Cody was Boone, Ed was Bluto, Morgan was Hoover and I was Kroger. I won’t say who Niedermayer, Marmalarde, Dean Wormer, Stork, Babs or Mandy were.
    Seriously, the experience at EPB finally put me on a straight and narrow moral path, where I’ve stayed ever since. And for the last time, I didn’t take the damn suitcase!

  9. if i become a client, could u truly guarantee that ed wouldnt steal a case of adult diapers every now and then? rumor has it he ordered a few cases a while back that mistakenly went to the office as opposed to the house?