“Who’s Paul Silverman?”
The sudden death two days ago of my former partner Paul Silverman, 69, inspired a number of conversations around the office about life and careers. Paul was unarguably one of advertising’s best copywriters, a brilliant strategist, and someone who helped put Mullen on the map.
“Get me Paul Silverman?”
In his time crafting ads, winning awards and helping grow an agency, Paul was pretty well known. He didn’t really work at it, but certainly enjoyed the recognition.
However, there are many people in advertising and related businesses (digital, PR, social media) who do try. For some reason, it’s not enough to make our clients famous. We strive to be known ourselves. We believe that our name in the back of an award show book, or in the headlines of a trade magazine, or featured on a creative website actually matters. Add to that the fact that we now live in an age of personal branding, pressured to measure our worth by the number of people who follow us, or RT our content, and that quest for fame is magnified even further.
“Get me a young Paul Silverman.”
The night before I heard about Paul I had drinks with another ad-famous (if that’s even the right label) copywriter and creative director, Scott Wild. He shared a story of attending the One Club Hall of Fame induction for Tim Delaney. (That probably makes Tim, famous, too. Though when I asked young writers and art directors if they ever heard of Tim, or for that matter Ed McCabe, Hal Riney, or Tom McElligott, the answer is often the same, “Who?”)
Scott went on to recall sitting in a room filled with a bunch of self-important ad people admiring themselves and celebrating one of their own and thinking, “My God, is this the pinnacle, to be anointed by this insular group of people known only to them?”
Many of us are consumed by this nutty industry. We typically work days, nights, weekends.
Sure we have lots of reasons. We do it to fulfill a need to create, to make a living, to build a business, to help grow brands we believe in, to share what we know with others, to mentor the next generation, maybe even to get famous ourselves (even if we’re only legends in our own minds).
But it strikes me that the last reason matters the least, an unworthy goal in and of itself.
“Who’s Paul Silverman?”
I would guess that today two-thirds of the employees in the company Paul helped build don’t even know who he was. I’m also pleased to say that others remembered him fondly. Yet based on their comments, it wasn’t for what he did, but for who he was.
Which brings me to another thought. This one from Jim Mullen. “Life is for the living. Live large. Live strong. And most of all, live kindly.”
What will you be remembered for?
Note: My original remembrance, not longer up on Mullen.com
In memory of Paul Silverman, our founding creative director
“He’s a real writer, he just happens to do his writing in the advertising business.”
That quote from one of my old colleagues, Steve Bautista, describes Paul perfectly.
He was a real writer.
I recall fondly my early years working with him. He was slightly disheveled. His pant cuffs were often a little too long and tattered from getting stepped on. But from the pockets of those pants Paul would regularly pluck scraps of paper with a headline, or a paragraph or an idea that was often brilliant and always something you wish you’d thought of yourself.
I can still recall some of his headlines by heart, my favorite being the prose he crafted to introduce Timberland’s new boat shoe. “A boat shoe should be judged by how it goes with a black sky, not a blue blazer.” Paul could rattle off lines like that the way the rest of us write a sentence as straight forward as this one. He would have been a rock star on Twitter.
But despite his tweed jackets and those pants he was constantly pulling up, when Paul stood tall, in front of an audience, his command of a subject, his ability to position a brand, his consistent insights made him the smartest man in the room. You sometimes wondered if the entire look was manufactured to get you to lower your guard.
I know for a fact that Paul’s sharp mind, never ending wit (often scatological), and acrobatic verbal skills made every creative person who ever worked around Paul better. If you were a writer, you struggled endlessly to compose copy in hopes it might be as good as Paul’s. If you were an art director, you strived to develop your skills in hopes that Paul would partner with you. Who wouldn’t want his headlines atop their layout? It virtually guaranteed you a piece of hardware at the next year’s award shows.
Like any great creative talent, Paul was opinionated, competitive, over-confident in his ideas. But unlike many, he had the talent that entitled him.
Those of us who worked with Paul, will miss him. But we’ll keep trying to be as good as he usually was.
Please, if you were a friend, a colleague, even an industry rival, share your thoughts or memories here.