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A Damn Good Lecture From Advertising Great George Lois
By: Tom Roarty
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One of the biggest upsides to working for a large company are the everyday perks people in a small company do not usually get. There have been just a few places I’ve worked that have had the ability to bring in outside guest speakers to keep motivation levels up, and luckily my current employer is one of those places. In a surprise announcement that had been sent via email late Thursday morning, I had been invited to see a speech by advertising great George Lois.
The lecture promoting Lois’ book “Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!)” took place in a theater-type setting in the basement where many functions like this have taken place over the years. Such lectures are arranged by a small group of creatives to inspire other company creatives and also giving them an open forum to share their creative processes and ideas.
There was a brief introduction listing Lois’ accomplishments, which include The Art Directors Hall of Fame, The One Club Creative Hall of Fame, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Society of Publication Designers, the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and many, many others. If you had ever hear the phrase, “I want my MTV!” then you know George Lois — that was his creation.
During his lecture, Lois showed many samples of his work and talked about what was involved in creating the pieces. In the beginning, it seemed as if Lois was being a little cautious with his words. By the third slide, however, he understood the crowd’s receptiveness and was exactly what you would expect from a seasoned and more importantly, successful ad man. As he warmed up, Lois told the stories of some of his most controversial Esquire magazine covers; he had created more than 90 for the publication. He told us what it was like working with such influential people as Muhammad Ali and Andy Warhol, and each story got more personal than the one before.
When the lecture was over, there was a Q&A session, and someone asked how he chose his cover ideas. They wondered if he had been given a list of potential cover stories or just a single story he needed to design for. Lois stated he would always ask what stories the magazine planned on running, and when something hit him, he would create the cover. The design he gave was the design the magazine went with, no questions asked. Not a bad position to be in from a creative standpoint.
At the end of the lecture, Lois stuck around to sign some copies of his book and speak to some of the creatives who lined up to meet him. When my turn came, I said, “There is no denying you have produced some pretty controversial work over the years.” “No shit,” was his response. “Well, aside from all of the Esquire covers you created that got published, what were the ones that didn’t make it?” I asked, waiting for some incredibly controversial answer from the man some call “The Original Mad Man,” a title he hates. “It wasn’t like that,” Lois answered. “What I gave them, they used. I was lucky that Harold (Hayes, the publisher of Esquire) gave me the ability to do what I wanted. When that was no longer the case, he knew I would leave.”
As charming and charismatic as Mr. Lois was, one has to wonder: If given the freedom to do what they wanted, how many other creatives over time would have reached his success? Think again. You do not have to get very far into his book to realize that most people don’t take the risks he did — which is what set him far apart in the first place. 

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