I faced this keyboard – still dark coast to coast – with some concern. Just some because of admitted arrogance as a writer of often provocative stuff.
Would I be able to relate coherently what was buzzing about in my mind. Not-torturously. Rather, fun and informative. And worthwhile your time.
Here goes a yeoman’s try at all that.
My eyes popped wide open at 2:17 AM. Inexplicably, one hour and one minute ahead of my normal-body-clock-alarm. For reasons as unclear as disturbing, for decades that has been “set” at 3:18 AM PT. Not at all related to having lived for a bunch of years on two time-zones, nine hours apart…
My brain was in full turbo-boost, grinding on two really cool names from my distant past: Clisby Clarke and Ashby Chateau. I recall two really smart, and overall-cool ad guys I knew when I had more hair than Brad Pitt has now. Fun and brilliant. And quintessential Southern boys. Last time I thought of them – prior to this morning – was when I had a bit of “to-do” with one of the biggest beverage and food companies in the US. Later on that…
Upon reflection, I know the two reasons why the boys’ names popped in my mind.
First. Late yesterday afternoon, I had been on the phone for two hours— only two this time— chatting away with my friend Denise. She, a really cool person in all ways she allows anybody into her life. She is also the capo di tutti capi of podcasters: top two percent globally. She said some stuff about her being a through and thorough Southerner. Ahhhh. In my mind, I fancy her a modern-day Southern Belle. Thus, the “Southern” boys popped in my mind…
Trying as I might to avoid being obtuse with this, getting there. Soon I promise…
Then. Late night, I watched yet one more television commercial with the “don’t try this at home” warning on the chyron on the bottom of the screen. A car commercial. “Professional driver. Closed course. Do not try this.”
I pondered the likelihood of people, not yet institutionalized, who would try that. In the interest of full disclosure, I drove some baby Formula stuff and off-road stuff. Raced a boat on the ocean. Skied some big mountains. Yet: the woman, including my kick-ass wife, has yet to be born who I would try to impress with that stuff I saw in that commercial. I understood the difference between reckless and suicidal early in my youth.
Back to the meat of all this, if there is still some “meat” that have not been spoiled by all the time left unrefrigerated, while I was carrying on about Clarke, Chateau and stuff to come on Nicksic.
I know you have seen, read, entered a sweepstakes or ten or fifty. Fess up: I know you did. Then, you know some about the rules. The guiding light, engraved in stone – in print and on TV and radio and online is: “No purchase required to enter. Making a purchase or subscribing do not improve your chances of winning.” Not doing that gets the sponsors handcuffed. What you likely did not read are the other hundreds, thousands of words that constitute an adequate set of the sweepstakes rules.
The feds—the Department Of Justice, The Federal Trade Commission, The Postal Service— and fifty states (fifty Attorneys General), are absolutely apoplectic when encountering companies who run sweepstakes with incomplete and occasionally deliberately obfuscated rules.
Even more so when they do not live by their own rules. Thus, those of us who have run sweepstakes, your humble scribe has – likely a thousand of those – are maniacal about drafting those rules. And, we have funded a lot of private schools tuitions for children of our lawyers who review those.
Not parenthetic to this, all the aforelisted regulatory agencies can bankrupt you – heck, they will be printing money and hiring lawyers long after you and your offspring are gone. And handcuff you and park your sorry self at the federal penitentiary at Joliette. That is the Four Seasons of jailhouse ink and copious amounts of unprotected sex.
Of course, there are stupid and reckless people who know better! Like my “friends” at a fast-food restaurant chain of the aforementioned big beverage and food company. Not going to tell you which, other than there is an overwhelming likelihood that you ate there at least once. And over fifty percent that you have drank their company-eponymous sodas.
They have more lawyers than ingredients in their food. And smarter than “the professionals” who should be driving that “sweepstakes stuff.” They screamed!
I was just being neighborly when I first reached out to them. I just picked up lunch for my exec. assistant when I spied a ton of huge posters and all sorts of displays about their massive sweepstakes; all over the store and the windows. Hey: I was a professional and had more sweepstakes under my belt than most sweepstakes marketing agencies! Just thought to call them and suggest that they had a massive train-wreck going. When they called me back, the second time in the first hour, the executive corporate counsel – the big guy – bellowed at me, no greeting: “Who the F’ are you to tell us that we wrote bad rules?” That was the first time I told that oaf to pound sand and stuck the phone in his arrogant… hmmm, ear. It was on the third call that my fee for re-writing those went from $10,000 to $25,000. By wire, before the first word.
Since it was fairly early in the day, the wire hit my account just in time for sushi for lunch.
The rules took two hours to write, including arguing those with the oaf.
Good for them. Saved them millions in fees in likely lawsuits. And losing battles with multiple federal and states regulatory agencies. You know: big fish, big trophy.
And made really handsome commissions for my friend Pat, the best graphics and printing salesman in the land. One day after my three calls and two hours of writing rules, Pat started to re-print all that paper that was heretofore in their nearly 3,000 restaurants. Nearly one million dollars of it.
There came a time when Clisby Clark and Ashby Chateau, while reading a small circulation magazine for private aircraft owners (not the Gulfstream kind), spied a very cool sweepstakes the magazine was running. The grand prize: a $100,000 small plane.
Being a “professional” in that game, heck, you guessed it, if I see a sweepstakes anywhere, first I turn to the rules.
So did Clisby and Ashby. I expect at first they were surprised. Than entertained. Then inspired. Clearly the rules were not written by “professionals.” Among other things, missing were two critical elements. As you might know or have read, every SANE sweepstakes limits the number of entries to one per person or one per family. Obviously! Then, the vehicles for entries are always in the rules of every SANE sweepstakes. You know: how to enter. And you have seen this again and again (in addition to other means of entry): “You may enter by U.S. Mail, by HANDWRITING in PLAIN BLOCK LETTERS on a 3×5 card the words WIN THE BLAH BLAH SWEEPSTAKES…” Those are always very specific. And they do make entering a tad challenging, although still compliant with law.
So there. Remarkably, the limit of one entry per person or family was not in the rules! Nor was the “handwriting” and the “pain block letters!”
If memory serves, the magazine had a small number of subscribers. If every subscriber were to enter – mind you, there were no online entries yet, best well informed guess, five percent would have, the boys figured.
Then they invested a little bit of money to print 100,000 postcards, in accordance with the rules, with one name on all those, and mailed them in.
I don’t know this, but I expect they smoked a good cigar, indulged in some good whiskey. Then waited until the sweepstakes drawing was held. What were the odds of one of their 100,000 entries being the winner!
And then Nicksic. One of the most brilliant commercial copy writers and interesting characters I have known over the years. Doubtless the most dazzling wordsmith I have ever encountered. Sure felt pedestrian writing alongside.
The connection to all the aforewritten, two things: he did write a sweepstakes for me that was as spectacular as it was illegal everywhere! He asserted that it was his gig to set stuff on fire. Mine to mitigate the damage. Translation: make it legal by watering it down. It will still be better than anything you amateurs can do. Second, just thinking of the people in my life that are or were bleeding edge brilliant in peddling stuff.
His mind? Of one of us, he is the only one who thinks that the only meaningful difference between Chicago and LA is that LA is one-sixty-fourth of a second farther West from New York. By phone.
I aim to write 10,000 words on Nicksic sometime. Lots about him, including the time a Beverly Hills cop took him out to lunch, rather than handcuff him. Oh hell. He was doing only 75 mph midday motoring down Wilshire Blvd. on that monster BMW motorcycle, the provenance of that a tad cloudy. That really really really big wad of cash in his pockets? He was headed to the nearest poker joint…
He was on the wrong end of his bipolar self.
Never got there. His client, Citibank called. By evening, the six page letter he wrote for them was on its way to 17 million card holders. At $2,500 a page…
And the time, Nicksic and I were sitting at a small Italian sidewalk joint on Sunset Blvd., at a table next to Governor Jerry Brown. I met the Gov. a few times, every time on Friday nights, on the American Airlines redeye to New York. I was doing a lot of coast-to-coast commuting, often weekly. As did the Gov. I think he was just visiting Linda… He was the wacky dude, sound asleep on the floor in the first row, wearing a suit and tie, feet sticking out in the aisle, forcing the flight attendants to step over him and roll the carts around the aisle. Hey: he was the Gov.!
On a goof, Nicksic and I talked Jerry into a new fundraising scheme we dreamed up over the pizza we shared. In case he would consider a run at the presidency. Never, ever thought he would take us seriously. Oh well. You will remember when Jerry Brown ran for the presidency. He raised millions with our little idea. Really upset me. The boy’s dad already had some seven hundred million dollars. Never heard from him again. Creeeeepy.
The coup de grâce, the best formal letter Nicksic ever wrote to me. After the formal name, title and all that, the letter read:
P.S. Strong letter to follow. “
Apropos to this opus, how many times did he write THIS to me, me, a righteous and very successful marketer and advertiser: “Get a job in a haberdashery. Leave the writing to the professionals.”
Thank you for indulging me with this tale. I was compelled by those two great names and Nicksic to forego any more sleep.
The message, allow me the arrogance of one: best leave most important things to professionals.
©2022. Steven J. Manning. All rights reserved worldwide. Any reproduction, in part of whole, in any medium whatsoever is strictly prohibited.