Bob Levenson, Account Executive



In the 1960s, Bob Tucker and I worked for Roy Grace and John Noble on the Volkswagen account.

When Roy and John approved a creative team's concept,you knew it was good. But despite this, the account group often had problems with the work. Some of their problems seemed manufactured. Some, just plain silly.

When we couldn't change their minds, we ended up in Bob Levenson's office. Bob was the Creative Director of the whole agency. And years earlier as a copywriter, he had given Volkswagen its warmth, wit, and wisdom. Who better to judge the work?

I loved those meetings in Bob's office. You always got a fair trial. First, Bob judged the concept on its own merits.Then he listened to the account guys (Why we can't say this… Why we can't show that… And why, if we do, the world will come to an end…)

Bob Tucker and I won 99 44/100% of the time. Because Bob Levenson was Creative Director (as well as the heart and soul of Volkswagen), all he had to do was tell the account guys: "You're wrong. Take it to the client and sell it."

If you were an account guy and you memorized Bob's words, you had all you needed to sell the work.

"But if you think you still might have a problem," I once heard Bob say to the account guys, "let me know when the client meeting is. I'll be happy to rearrange my schedule and come with you to help sell the work."

That was no threat. It was a plus. A bonus. A special offer some very smart account guys took advantage of.

John Leonard was one of those guys.

Bristol-Myers had assigned the agency a new aerosol anti-perspirant. They said it was the strongest-acting, most-effective product on the market. And to prove that, Charlie Gennarelli and I went to the jungle and tested it on a gorilla.

Our storyboard sailed through the brand management, medical, clinical, and legal approvals. Only one meeting remained. And that was with the president of Bristol-Myers. (There were hints it might not go well.)

Taking no chances, John Leonard --- who totally supported our campaign --- asked Bob Levenson to present the work.

I can only imagine what thoughts went through the Bristol-Myers president's mind when he first met Bob: Here's the Creative Director of the agency that does all those wild, crazy things. Yet he looks like a businessman. He dresses like a businessman.He even speaks like a businessman.

Seated at a huge conference table across from the head of Bristol-Myers, Bob began by saying a few words about the product and the marketplace. Next he spoke about the agency's philosophy --- and our goal to create a fresh, new, original idea that delivers the product's benefits in a memorable way.

Then Bob stood up…took off his jacket…picked up the storyboard…walked around the conference table…sat down next to the president of Bristol-Myers…and began presenting, one-on-one.

I'd never seen a client presentation like this before. Instead of a cold, impersonal, us vs. them, agency-client presentation --- the scene looked like two old friends sitting together, going over a road map that will take them exactly where they want to go.

The head of Bristol-Myers may have had some reservations, or at least some questions, about the wisdom of using a gorilla to launch his new product. But listening to Bob present and carefully explain each frame of the storyboard --- going with the gorilla must have seemed like the only logical thing to do.

"Approved," said the president of Bristol-Myers. "Let's do it."

I had always known Bob Levenson was a great copywriter. And I had always known he was a great creative director. But that day, I learned he was also Doyle Dane Bernbach's best account executive.

Tom Yobage
DDB Copywriter