For the past several months, my fellow Rosenbergers have been taking turns expounding on different aspects of their jobs, on how we do things at Rosenberg Advertising. I have been continually impressed, but not surprised, by the depth of their knowledge and the sharpness of their insights. And here’s the thing—they’re all so damn young. I was the first employee here, and except for Dave Rosenberg, who’s aging with annoying grace, I’m quite a bit older than the rest of this bunch. I like it. They keep me energized, on my toes. They subtly subvert my natural aversion to change and new technology.
Now it’s my turn. I thought I would do something a little different. Instead of talking about how we do things, I’d like to talk about how we did things. Long, long, ago, in the B.C. era—Before Computers.
So, let’s say a client called on Monday and wanted to run an ad in the paper on Saturday. That most likely meant The Plain Dealer, as the Press had closed up shop a couple years back, and the PD was the only game in town. That ad would start with a detailed pencil layout, each piece of art or photography sketched, each line of copy roughed in. All of the ad copy was typed up, and fonts and font sizes were keyed to the layout. Then the layout, the art and the copy were picked up by a runner from the paper, all of them retired pressmen (my favorite was a guy named Dave who, when asked how he was, always answered, “Ain’t no damn good”).
And then we waited, usually two days. The paper would send us back a proof. We would mark up corrections, send it back, and wait again for another proof. If you’re counting, that’s four days to complete a single ad. If the client ran ads in multiple papers, the entire sequence was repeated multiple times. If it was something else, say a direct mailer or a newspaper insert, then the layout went to a small printer, but the basics stayed the same. It still took several days of back and forth.
All that changed during the 1984 Superbowl, when Apple introduced the Mac computer. Rosenberg Advertising entered the computer age a few years later with a shiny new Mac II. I’d like to report that our advertising world exploded with space age productivity. Not so much. That Mac II had a whopping 88 MB hard drive, and when it filled up, we had to copy the overflow to floppies. Background printing did not exist yet. A large ad could take hours to print, then had to be pieced together (Watch the Mac II’s original ad spot, here).
The thing is, that little computer put creativity directly in our hands for the first time, and I will be forever grateful for that. We do things a little differently now, of course. Ads sometimes enter and leave our agency in the space of hours, not days. The technology we have available to us now is breathtaking in the level of creativity it offers us, and the speed with which we can wield that creativity. But I tell myself daily that speed is not always the most important thing. I think back to the way we did things all those years ago, and remind myself that sometimes waiting a couple of days for a proof allowed ideas to mature and blossom. So I step away from my monitor and work on something else for a while, and picture Dave saying, “Ain’t no damn good,” with a big smile on his face.