A raconteur’s ode to a storied industry

—For his final column of 2022, The Message‘s natural-born storyteller Craig Redmond celebrates the industry ritual of passing down stories from generation to generation—

“THERE ARE TOO MANY NOTES IN THIS MUSIC!” That was the impromptu feedback, blurted by an interim freelance marketing director with zero marketing experience, who’d been brought into the production approval process to fill the gap while a frantic search for their much-needed replacement ensued.

“Pardon me?” I replied, with all the gentility I could muster.

“It’s too complicated,” persisted the client proxy. “Now, I have a media supplier lunch to attend. So, fix it. And I will come back and review later this afternoon.”

We were In Bryan Adams’ world-famous Warehouse Studios in Vancouver’s Gastown, recording an original orchestral track to accompany an anthemic TV spot we had just finished filming. Our incomparable music producer, Roger Harris, looked at me gobsmacked, and then gently instructed his engineer to start breaking down the 165 painstakingly arranged instrumental parts on the mixing board so that they could start over.

The room fell quiet. Quieter than space.

And with eternal downtime sure to follow for the rest of us, I realized I needed to fill that empty abyss with a few funny stories from advertising days gone by. So, I reclined on the leather couch, crossed my legs, and began to regale. It was, as my agency friends liked to mockingly call it, “Story time with Craig.”

It’s a ritual that has been passed down in our business for more than a century. Religiously observed around the office water cooler, over long client lunches, at commercial shoot craft service tables, and way too far into the wee hours at the ad agency local. Sharing war stories of our trade with the newbies and one-upping each other until our ribs would crack with laughter.

And I had the great privilege of listening and learning from the best and the hilariously broadest, over my career.

It began by bending my ear to the legendary Neil French, working for him while I was in Hong Kong. Long before his infamously misogynistic moment on a Toronto stage in front of an agency audience left aghast. Back in the day, advertising’s greatest ever long copy scribe sure could spin a technicolour yarn.

Then came my most valued career apprenticeship, glued to the sage words of the best orator I’ve ever known in this industry. Whether it was during our cherished early morning chats before the rest of the creative department lumbered into work, or over one or six manly tumblers of Pilot Tavern plonk, the stories Jack Neary told us were as epically funny as they were enriching.

And finally, even when one’s tooth is as long as mine in this nutty business, I learned that there’s still room to grow. A lesson gained by having the immense honour of hanging onto every word uttered by Canada’s chairman of the board, Mr. Frank Palmer. Spending those final two years in Vancouver, often just the two of us alone together in the pandemically deserted office, was like receiving an MBA in advertising and a PHD in life. For that, Franklin, I will be forever grateful.

But unlike Frank and I, people stopped going to the office and gathering around the water cooler. Client lunches were canceled. Commercial shoot craft service tables were put into storage. Local ad agency bars emptied, and many shuttered their doors.

Covid killed Story Time. And with it, the mentoring joy that comes with providing our advertising offspring in the embryonic stage of their career an umbilical link to the usually enlightening but always entertaining tales of our inglorious past. It’s what made going to work worthwhile. It’s what made being together fun.

And it’s why I feel so lucky to have been given this soap box by the charitable peeps at The Message. As I’ve often admitted to the editors, even if the ramblings are falling on deaf ears or met with rolling eyes, at least the stories are exorcised.

Speaking of deaf ears and exorcisms, this takes us back to that Bryan Adams’ recording studio in Vancouver.

After a protractedly lengthy, seemingly satisfactory lunch, our surrogate marketing director returned to review the newly eviscerated music track that was requested. And after an expeditiously short, seemingly unsatisfactory listen, we were told that the original version played earlier in the morning was much better. A melodramatic exit followed, and we were left staring at each other in disbelief.

So, realizing that we now had to rebuild that original score, we settled in for a very long evening ahead. And I began conjuring up more tales to tell to get the team through the night.

That’s when my beloved art director partner Tony Hird presented me with what he had been quietly etching on his iPad while I had been blathering away all that time. An illustration of me in the assumed narrative position, in all my lavender glory. “Story time with Craig,” he smiled cheekily.

Have a wonderful holiday break everyone. See you in the new year. And keep those stories coming!

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Craig Redmond