Southland Ad Talent Lured by L.A. Firms


When opportunity knocks, Robert Kwait is often the very next guy to hear a knock at his office door. It’s one he’d rather not hear.

Typically, a young copywriter or art director is standing outside. The news is almost always the same. Some big Los Angeles ad firm is dangling fame and fortune, and how can any young professional working at a San Diego agency say no to that?

“It’s like there’s this big cannon from Los Angeles that’s aimed right at us,” said Kwait, executive vice president and creative director at one of the largest ad agencies in San Diego, Phillips/Ramsey, which for years created ads for the San Diego Zoo. “Just about the time I get the staff built up, I lose someone.”


Kwait figures that over the past handful of years, he’s lost about 15 of his best employees to the Venice ad firm Chiat/Day alone. And Lee Clow, the president of Chiat/Day, which has hired away so many of Kwait’s best people, says it’s no accident. “The problem is compounded by the fact that Phillips/Ramsey is located in San Diego,” said Clow, who is very impressed with the agency’s work. “Many people in San Diego are ready to try the big city.”

Indeed, several other San Diego agencies have recently begun to suffer the same fate as Phillips/Ramsey. And top ad executives in Orange County also say that Los Angeles agencies are siphoning away many of their best people, too. The reasons are simple. Los Angeles ad firms often promise better salaries, more prestige and larger advertisers with bigger budgets. What’s more, TV commercials are considered the sexiest part of the advertising business, and many more commercials are filmed by agencies in Los Angeles than by those in other Southland cities.

Granted, some people quickly tire of the competitive Los Angeles ad market and eagerly return to the ad scene in San Diego or Orange County. And overall employee turnover in the ad business is among the highest in any industry. One recruiter estimates that the typical employee stays at an ad agency slightly less than two years. But executives say the large numbers of workers that Los Angeles ad firms constantly steal from those in nearby Orange and San Diego counties is unlike the situation anywhere else in the country. Explained Kwait: “People can just drive up the freeway and change jobs.”

One of those people is Greg Ketchum. At 25, Ketchum, who grew up in San Diego, has only been out of college for two years. In that short time, he has worked for two San Diego ad firms, including Phillips/Ramsey. But Monday he hit the big time: He began his first day of work at the the Los Angeles office of the ad agency, BBDO, which creates ads for Apple Computer.

It’s not that Ketchum is any big fan of Los Angeles. In fact, he hopes to some day move back to San Diego. “But if I’m really going to have a career in the ad business, I felt I had to work in a major market,” said Ketchum. “I can’t wait around. I have to jump at the opportunity.”

The man who hired Ketchum figures that if he didn’t grab him, someone else would have. “There’s a brain drain going on between San Diego and Los Angeles,” said Robert Chandler, vice president and associate creative director at BBDO/Los Angeles. “But look at it this way, why would anyone stay in New Jersey if they could create ads in New York?”


Four months ago, Steve Chavez left his post as associate creative director at the San Diego ad agency Kenneth C. Smith & Associates to join Chiat/Day as a copywriter. “If you want to make an impact in this business, it’s very hard to do it out of San Diego,” said the 27-year-old Chavez, who now is helping to write ads for Nissan. “There are few agencies in San Diego that allow you to take risks. Los Angeles seems to be the answer to that problem.”

Meanwhile, executives at some of Orange County’s biggest agencies say that they are also losing some of their best employees to Los Angeles ad firms. But some say that they fully understand why their workers leave.

“I own this agency,” said Scott Montgomery, executive vice president and creative director at the Costa Mesa ad firm, Salvati Montgomery Sakoda, “but if Jay Chiat called and offered me a job, I’d have a tough time saying no.”

Generally, a job at an Orange County ad firm is someone’s first or second job out of college, said Jim deYong, executive vice president of the Irvine ad firm deYong, Ginsberg, Weisman, Bailey. “They put together a good portfolio, then off they go to Los Angeles,” said deYong. “I used to get real upset about it, but that’s the way it goes.”

Cory Stolberg has hit all three areas. She went from deYong’s agency in Orange County to Kwait’s agency in San Diego and finally ended up two years ago as an art director at Chiat/Day. “In San Diego and Orange County they catch people early,” she said. “They want to do work that rivals Los Angeles work, but they don’t want to pay Los Angeles salaries.”

For Joe Sajbel, the decision to leave deYong’s San Diego agency for the Los Angeles ad firm Rubin Postaer & Associates was simple. “It all adds up to the luster,” said the 28-year-old Sajbel, who moved to Southern California right from college in Indiana and is now an account executive for the agency’s biggest client, American Honda.


“I came to the land of milk and honey carrying a 10-gallon bucket,” said Sajbel, “but the only place to really get it filled is in Los Angeles.”

Study: Magazine Mix Is Way to Reach Blacks

For years, many advertisers have assumed that the best way to reach black readers is to place ads in magazines like Ebony and Essence, which are geared toward the black market.

But a recent study by the New York advertising firm BBDO Worldwide suggests that advertisers would be best to also consider placing the same ads in a handful of national consumer publications that are widely read by both blacks and whites. The study revealed that more than 25% of the readers of Gentleman’s Quarterly are black. Meanwhile, although blacks account for 11% of all U.S. adult readers, they represent 18% of the total readership of the magazines Working Mother, Esquire and Soap Opera Digest.

“Blacks maintain a strong preference for black appeal publications,” said Doug Alligood, vice president and director of the special markets division of BBDO. But, he added, “black media cannot be all things to all blacks.”

Chiat/Day Agency Appears to Be on a Roll

It’s been a big couple of weeks for the Venice ad firm Chiat/Day. On Monday, the agency was handed the estimated $5-million advertising business for Mitsubishi Electric Sales of America, which sells an extensive line of consumer electronic products.

Last week, Advertising Age and Adweek both selected Chiat/Day as the nation’s top ad firm in 1988. Every year, these two major advertising trade magazines pick what they call the “Advertising Agency of the Year.” Rarely do they pick the same agency. The magazines not only cited Chiat/Day’s strong creative work for clients such as Nissan and Reebok, but also the effectiveness of some of the agency’s ad campaigns.


Madweek Parodies ‘Grim’ Ad Business

It looks like Adweek. It feels like Adweek. It even reads like Adweek.

But, in fact, it is Madweek, an April Fool’s Day parody publication of one of the ad industry’s most popular trade magazines. One article suggests that ad agency Chiat/Day has lost the $150-million Nissan business to three mail room clerks. Another suggests that the giant British ad firm, Saatchi & Saatchi, has purchased the country of Switzerland for $300 million and changed the nation’s name to “Saatchiland.”

Behind this 20-page parody--which was mailed to 3,000 ad agency executives nationwide--is a trio of Los Angeles copywriters, Richard Siegel, Tom S. Parker and Jim Mennewein, who spent about $5,000 on the project. “The ad business has become so grim that we wanted to put some fun back into it,” said Siegel, who came up with the idea. “Besides,” said Siegel, who is unemployed and looking for work, “I’m tired of living in a rented apartment.”

N.Y. Ad Firm Decides to Go by Its First Name

When an ad agency changes its name, usually it’s by addition--not subtraction. But one year after completing the ad industry’s largest management-led employee buyout, the New York ad firm Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt last week officially shortened its named to “Bozell.”

“If we had a client with four long names,” explained Charles D. Peebler Jr., chief executive of Bozell, “we’d give them exactly the same advice we gave ourselves.”