From My Bookshelf: A recurring column of literary reviews – Damn Good Advice, by George Lois

I was given a copy of Damn Good Advice by my friend and publisher (TNH), Antonis Diamataris, in late 2012, and I placed it on the “on deck” shelf of one of my bookcases – a temporary rest stop for books that I plan to read at a later date.  The author is Greek-American George Lois, an advertising pioneer, many of whose ads and magazine covers are widely recognizable.

Most of the books that I devour on a regular basis have to do with politics and religion and so, admittedly, I was not bursting at the seams to tear into what appeared to be an advice-giving pocket book. Instead, I saved it for my trip to Greece this summer: I learned a long time ago that I tend to read far less than usual while I am on vacation, and so I pack fewer, smaller and lighter books.

Physically, Damn Good Advice is a remarkably accessible book. Both its front and back covers have flaps that serve as bookmarks, and his tips of advice – 120 of them, directed at “people with talent,” more on that later – are prominently numbered and typically span two pages apiece. A photograph of one of Lois’ “big ideas” complements each tip, further rendering the book an eminently quick read. I decided the best way to enjoy that book would be to read three to four tips per day, spending about five to ten minutes perusing and contemplating them. It was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

Lois begins by identifying the four types of people in the world: 1) Very bright and industrious – those, he calls perfect; 2) very bright and lazy – “a damn shame,” he says; 3) stupid and lazy – to them, Lois says “you’ll just sit on you’re a**, so you’re just a wash”; and 4) stupid and industrious: i.e., “dangerous.” Lois determines that types 1 and 2 will get a lot out of the book, and wonders why in the world types 3 and 4 would even read it.

That opening tip is a mere glimpse into Lois’ grab-life-by-the-horns approach to things. Later in the book, he describes an encounter with one of his clients in the 1960s, a CBS executive. As Lois stood in the executive’s office, the fellow ignored him, at which point Lois walked to the secretary’s desk and asked to borrow her massive, hardcover dictionary. Lois walked back in and slammed the massive tome on the floor – the loud thud got the executive’s attention, and Lois made his presentation. Lois ends this amusing anecdote by adding that the executive’s wife called Lois the next morning and congratulated him for not taking any of her husband’s “bull****!”

Another colorful recollection is when Lois opened a client’s office window and climbed out, threatening to jump if he could not have creative control over the advertising.

The majority of his advice, however, is not based on such outrageous examples – although one unorthodox stunt deserves particular mention: how Lois landed the Quaker Oats account. The Quaker executives really admired the creativity of Lois’ advertising agency, but opted to forego creativity for proximity (Lois’ company was in New York and Quaker was based in Chicago). Not discouraged by Quaker’s decision, Lois and his partners received the rejection phonecall at 9AM Chicago time (10AM New York time) and jumped on a plane to the Windy City in time to greet the Quaker folks as they returned from lunch. Amazed at Lois’ et al. gung-ho approach, they gave them the account on the spot.

Among Lois’ more notable words of wisdom are admonitions to speak up, do the right thing, and never ever work for bad people.  His tip #104 should be posted in every educational institution in the country: “Learn to write in one singular, coherent, informative, insightful, spectacular sentence to replace your illiterate, off-the-cuff twittering!” Lois notes that the sentence is within Twitter’s 140-word limit.

An octogenarian who never wants to stop working, Lois gives the impression that his life’s successes far outnumber any regrets. For those of us who have yet to reach our eighties, a careful read of Damn Good Advice might help us feel that way, too, once we get to that point.






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