How a Bathroom Wall Message Motivated Me to Work on Madison Avenue

How a Bathroom Wall Message Motivated Me to Work on Madison Avenue.


It seems like yesterday, but I was back at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst running for sophomore class president. There were thousands of students on campus, but I didn’t know most of them. The race was close. I needed an edge. My competitor had slick posters plastered everywhere. I wanted to plant my name favorably in every student’s mind just before he or she voted. Then it dawned on me.

I created over 200 3X5 cards with some catchy sayings. Then, the night before the election I got them posted on the inside of all the bathroom stall doors, exactly at eye level when seated. (Talk about a captive audience!) My favorite one was, “Don’t Just Sit There in Solace. Get Up and Vote for Kim Wallace!” (My first taste of advertising.) I won with 64% of the vote, and more importantly learned twovery valuable lessons which have served me well in my marketing and research career.

Tip #1. Look for ways to create impact without spending a bundle.

A good idea is worth a lot and it shows the client you’re trying to get results more than earning a commission (in the old days of 15%) or winning an award for some “far out” creative approach.

For example, when I was a VP Account Supervisor on the Salada Tea account, the client was agonizing about how expensive it was to “buy” shelf distribution on the powder ice tea product every summer. The last thing tea buyers wanted was to meet with the Salada rep and find shelf space for a seasonal ice tea mix. Salada spent a ton on giveaway beach balls, transistor radios and other tchotchkes. For a lot less money we came up with their most successful ice tea promotion ever, a five-phase mailer program.

First buyers received an anonymous envelope in the mail containing a piece of Lionel train track. A note said, “You’re on the right track with Salada. Save this, there’s more to come.” Next, they received an engineers cap with the same note, “You’re on the right track with Salada. Save this, there’s more to come.” Then, they received a Lionel electric train caboose car with a note, “You’re on the right track with Salada. Your Salada salesperson has the rest of the train and will be calling to set up an appointment.” Salada told us it was the first time the salespeople got calls from buyers wondering when they would be stopping by. The following year we came up with another mailer program, “Score big with Salada.” Buyers received a dart sharpener, a “Score Big” Salada tee shirt, a set of darts and an invitation to see their Salada rep to receive an official Winmau cork dart board imported from England. This was another big hit which achieved great results and made the client look smart.

Tip #2: Do What You Love Regardless of the Money.

We’ve all heard this one, but it’s so true. I’m lucky to be one of those rare souls who feels they’ve never worked a day in their lives, except for six grueling months at an agency whose owner was so out-of-touch that he held a meeting at 8 AM on a Saturday morning to discuss why morale was so low.

I had a lot of fun writing those bathroom wall messages and I was intrigued by advertising. No one could believe it when I resigned from Exxon the week after I had been named New England Salesperson of the Year, but it was boring. I went into advertising because it looked like the creative process is so much fun. I walked into Doyle Dane Bernbach advertising, arguably the hottest shop in the Big Apple at the time, and said I’d take “any job in the firm, just to work for them.” I started off at $100 bucks a week in traffic, but quadrupled my income in a year and a half.

Five years later back in Boston, when my partner to be, Harry, asked me join forces and create Wallace & Washburn Marketing, I couldn’t say “No.” Harry was so smart, such fun and so tremendously creative. We had over 30 years of fun and BIG ideas. I learned more about marketing from Harry than any program you could take at the Harvard Business School. And of course it made my day when we received an unsolicited endorsement for our book, “Why People Don’t Buy Things,” from Ted Levitt, Dean Emeritus of the Harvard Business School.

The fact that we opened our doors on July 4th, Independence Day, isn’t a coincidence. In fact, that’s what motivated me to sit down and write this today. Cheers!

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