Working for Bob Seger. You can’t fire me because you’ve already fired me.
Updated: Aug 1, 2021
The first thing about this story that’s pretty crucial is that I didn’t really work for Bob Seger. The purpose of this blog is to tell stories. But in most cases, I don’t name names. I have no desire to make anyone look bad except myself. So I use fake names. Or better yet, celebrity names as fake names. Just because it’s fun. And since I think that Bob Seger is one of the most undervalued singer/songwriters in rock n’ roll, I’m using his name.
Bob Seger is a pretty famous dude. Not as famous as the real Bob Seger. But in the world of advertising his name carries a lot of weight. And rightly so. The man is nothing short of a legend. He’s an amazingly talented creative guy who worked his way all the way up the ladder to the highest possible levels the advertising industry has to offer. His work not only built brands but it became part of pop culture.
Watch ‘em come.
Watch ‘em go.
Only one thing in common.
They got the fire down below.
The stories of Bob Seger are legendary. Once, he was working on a new campaign for a very large and important client. From the get-go the client hated the work. But clients hating work never stopped Bob Seger. He was a bold, brash and brilliant creative known for having absolutely no fear when it came to fighting for work he believed in. When Bob Seger wanted to sell something, it got sold one way or another. In other words, he rammed it down their fucking throats.
After several weeks of shooting the spots he returned with the finished work and went to the client to show the new campaign. There were several people in the boardroom that day all gathered around a long conference room table. In those days you brought back your film on a ¾ inch reel. It’s like a big VCR tape. About the size of a standard geometry textbook. At one end of the long table was Bob Seger. At the other end of the long table was the client. After the obligatory pleasantries were exchanged the client piped up.
“Alright, Bob Seger. Enough of the chit-chat. I want to see this piece of shit campaign you stuck me with.”
Now, despite being bold, brash, brilliant and fearless– Bob Seger always kept his cool. It’s a trait that I don’t possess and admire greatly in people who do. I’m emotional. I’m reactive. I would have freaked out on the guy, lost my shit and been escorted out of the building. But Bob Seger doesn’t operate like that. Which is probably why he doesn’t have a blog called Kingdom of Failure.
Like a good bartender shooting a whiskey sour over to a thirsty customer at the end of the bar, Bob Seger slid the ¾ inch reel down the length of the long conference table towards the client. Unfortunately, the slide turned out to be more of a toss. So instead of coming to a rest in front of the client it took a bad hop, went airborne and struck the client dead nuts square in the throat. I’ve heard of a lot of presentations going sideways, but never one where an ambulance needed to be called.
Luckily, for everyone involved, the trachea didn’t completely collapse. However, the poor bastard would have a hell of a sore throat for the next seven weeks and a subtle rasp for the rest of his life. Any ordinary creative director would have been immediately fired. Which is testament to how good Bob Seger was. He was given a good talking to and had to sit through a few awkward meetings with HR but other than that nothing happened. The client, on the other hand, was transferred to another piece of business and the campaign went on to win several awards.
Bob Seger was a fucking bad ass.
But there’s a saying in advertising. And the saying is, “No one gets to stay.” So after many, many years of leading one of the country’s largest agencies as both CCO and CEO, Bob Seger’s reign eventually came to an end.
Shortly after though, Bob Seger & Partners would open its doors.
I was livin' to run and runnin' to live. Never worried about payin' or even how much I owe.
I always wanted to work for Bob Seger, so when I got a call to come in for an interview I was excited to say the least. I was starstruck at first. I’m easily intimidated by power and talent. Bob Seger was a hall of fame creative. He was fantastically wealthy. And he had every award on his shelf that I wanted. In multiples. I managed to keep my composure but I have to say that I really prefer interviewing with less accomplished people.
He said he liked my work but he wasn’t sure I was right for the job. He said I had too much comedy in my book. He was really looking for someone who could do more emotional stuff. I asked him to give me a chance to send him a few more pieces. I went home and scoured my files for what I thought he might be looking for. I ended up sending him a manifesto I had written years ago for a large automaker who was going through a reinvention of sorts. It was called “The Comeback” and it was a powerful script about underdogs, second chances and returns to glory. He called me the next day and asked me to start on a freelance project that he described as extremely important.
Now, here’s the deal about Bob Seger & Partners. Bob Seger wasn’t really running the show. He was in the role of chairman. He wasn’t going to be running the agency on a day-to-day basis. He came in on important projects and new business pitches– but the agency was led by the CEO. His wife. Mrs. Seger.
Mrs. Seger wasn’t as famous as her husband. But she was certainly no slouch. Her background was on the account side of the business. And while Mrs. Seger wasn’t in the advertising hall of fame like Mr. Seger, she was a very smart woman and highly accomplished by anyone’s standards. Plus, the clients who funded the launch of Bob Seger & Partners were hers not his. So I would soon learn that when you go to work at Bob Seger & Partners, you’re not necessarily playing in the Silver Bullet Band.
I didn’t care. I had impressed a legitimate advertising titan. I was walking on air. I don’t think I even listened when they offered me the job and I totally forgot to ask how much he intended to pay me.
The first thing I did was nail the big, important freelance assignment. Bob Seger loved it and that made me feel like a badass. We sold it to the client. Set up camp in the edit bay for a few weeks. And delivered a really nice piece that everyone was pretty proud of.
I didn’t see Bob Seger much after that but I did get a full time offer from Mrs. Seger and I signed on with the agency as a permanent employee. It pretty much immediately went downhill from there.
And those Hollywood nights. In those Hollywood hills. She was looking so right.
In her diamonds and frills.
I quickly began to understand why Bob Seger only showed up for the important stuff. There wasn’t much of it. Most of the work was CRM. Which means you’re basically writing emails. I did some fun social for the main client I was assigned to. And I tried to help out wherever I could.
But I just couldn’t click with the agency. Most of the people were folks Mrs. Seger had brought with her from her client side days. They weren’t really advertising people. They were more in-house marketing department people. The dynamic was much different.
A good advertising agency leads with its creative department. And a good creative does a certain amount of pro-active pushback on things like strategy, data and timelines in order to provide the best possible creative solutions. An in-house marketing department uses its creative people more as a creative services department. In other words. They treat creatives more as order takers. Here’s the assignment. Here’s when it’s due. Don’t think, Meat. Just throw.
I tried to go along with it. But I had spent the last 25 years of my life having certain things drilled into my head. And when I did those certain things it always seemed to rub people the wrong way. I just didn’t fit in. And it started to get messy.
I got yelled at. I got ignored. I got the living shit micro-managed out of me. And at my review my ECD told me that my biggest problem was that I let great get in the way of good.
That shit pissed me off.
Not the yelling, ignoring or micro-managing. I can handle that. But being told that I tried too hard bugged the shit out of me. I never missed a deadline. I never came in with work that couldn’t sell. My crime was that I came in with too many options. I pushed the art directors to go deeper on their visuals. And I cared about the work. I wanted to give the client the best thinking possible. I did what I had been trained to do by some of the best people in the business. And it bugged the living shit out of my boss.
You walk into a restaurant strung out from the road.
You feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold.
You pretend it doesn’t bother you but you just want to explode.
I hung in there for about a year and a half. But like I said before, no one gets to stay. So when I looked down at my phone and saw an invite pop-up for an unscheduled Zoom meeting with my boss and the HR lady, I knew my time was up. Now when you get one of these types of emails, for God sakes, the last thing you want to do is respond to it. You’re getting fired. The least you can do is make them hunt you down. Don’t ever willingly show up to your own execution.
It was time to pick up the kids at school anyways. Those assholes can wait, I thought to myself. My kids can’t. As I’m sitting in the carpool line at Woodcreek Elementary I start to get text messages from the HR lady.
“Hi, it’s Lacie. Did you get my meeting notice?”
I don’t really feel like texting Lacie back. Lacie is nice and all but I’m not feeling chatty at the moment. So I figure, I’ll just accept the invite and get this over with. I click over to my email. It doesn’t open. I re-enter my password. It doesn't open. I realize I’m blocked out. Those assholes have shut down my email. Now, I’m feeling chatty. I text Lacie.
“Hi Lacie. I just went to check for your meeting notice but I can’t seem to get into my email.”
I see those little dots come up in my text box so I know she’s writing something. Then the dots disappear so I know she’s stopped writing. A few seconds later, the dots come up again. And a few seconds after that they stop again. She’s struggling with this one. I hate to see people struggle so I text her back.
“Lacie. When you send an email invite to set up a Zoom meeting to fire someone, you should wait until that person is actually in the meeting before you have IT turn off their email. Otherwise, they won’t be able to get to the Zoom meeting where you’re going to fire them.”
The dots come up again. And the meeting invite appears in my text box.
For shits and giggles, I decline it and pick up my kids.
We get home and I get them set up with some snacks. I’m ignoring the HR lady who continues to text me about the meeting. Finally, my boss texts me.
“We need to do this meeting, Jeff. Are you available to Zoom?”
I text back.
“I’m not really in a Zoom mood right now. Why don’t you just call me? No sense in letting great get in the way of good.”
I give my phone the finger after I hit the send button on that one.
The call takes about 90 seconds. They won’t even give me a reason. Which makes for a very unsatisfying dismissal.
“Jesus,” I think to myself. “These people can’t even fire worth a shit.”
But at least the damn thing is over. Working at Bob Seger & Partners was not for me and I knew it as soon as I found out that Bob Seger wasn’t running the show. This was on the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend. Friday night, I’m at home with my wife and the phone rings. It’s Bob Seger.
“Hi Jeff, how are you doing?”
“I’ve been better, Bob Seger. What’s up?”
“Well Jeff, I need your help on something.”
This is very odd, I think to myself. Usually when you get fired from a place they don’t call you up to ask you for help. It’s simply not best practices.
“Um, what do you need my help on Bob Seger?”
“Well, it’s something really important and I just gotta have your writing on this. It’s right up your alley. You’ll nail it.”
“That’s nice of you to say, Bob Seger. But, I don’t know. You fired me.”
“I didn’t fire you, Jeff. I love your writing.”
“I appreciate that, Bob Seger. But, I’m still fired. And my kids won’t have health insurance starting next week.”
“Well, Jeff. You can just work for me. I’ll pay you. I need you. You’re able to get to places that the other writers can’t.”
This is total bullshit. He’s stroking my ego because he doesn’t want to ask the writers he has left to work over Memorial Day weekend. Which I call him out on and he fesses up to but proceeds to insist I have a unique voice that’s crucial for this very important project.
It works. I’m so desperate for any sort of praise from the man that even the slightest stroke of my fragile ego is more than enough to get me on board. But I also realize that I’ve now got Bob Seger pretty much by the balls. He doesn’t mention a rate so I can charge him out the wazoo. And since I’m already fired I have zero pressure on me to actually come up with anything good. I realize this is a rare and unique opportunity I’ve been given. A true zero fucks moment. I tell him to send me everything he’s got and I’ll show him where I’m at on Sunday morning.
Don’t try to take me to a disco.
You’ll never even get me out on the floor.
The call was Friday night around 9 pm. By 11:30 I’ve got a few strong contenders. I decide to put it down for the night. After all, why rush it? The last thing you want to do when you’re freelancing is score a quick touchdown. When you’re charging by the hour you want a slow steady march down the field. Take up as much of the game clock as possible. Those are all billable hours and you should always try your damnedest to use as many of them as possible.
I’m an early riser. To me there’s no better time to write than while everyone else is sleeping. Most days I get all my writing done before the sun comes up. I spend the rest of the day hopping in and out of meetings, making a few tweaks to things here and there and catching a nap while everyone else catches up.
I’ve got the thing done by 8 am. And it’s good. It’s exactly what Bob Seger needs. It’s got a great hook to it. It strikes the right chords in the right places. It seamlessly weaves all of the different puzzle pieces together with a nice thread that runs through-out. I’m happy with it. But I've got until Sunday so there's no way I'm sending this out now. Around three in the afternoon, I get a text from Bob Seger asking how it’s going? I text back that I’m still looking for the big idea but I’ll definitely have something for Sunday morning.
I spend the rest of the day working in the garden and charging Bob Seger for every minute of it.
I send him the stuff Sunday morning. He loves it. He says it’s exactly what he’s looking for but he needs to send it around to a few people for additional feedback and then he’ll get back to me. I go do some more work outside. It’s a beautiful Memorial Day weekend. No sense not enjoying it. And waiting around for feedback means you can keep the meter running. A few hours later I get a call from Bob Seger.
“Jeff, we’re really close. I got a few comments we need to address. Take a look at the doc I just sent you and let’s discuss.”
I open the doc. There’s comments all over the place. The whole fucking thing is marked up. I don’t mind input. But I don’t like comments all over my docs. It hurts to look at.
“Wow, Bob Seger. That’s a lot of comments. How are we close?”
“It’s really just the opening and a bit of the closing that people are concerned about.”
The opening and the closing are where the whole hook resides. Without those it’s pretty much just functional messaging.
“But, Bob Seger.” I say. “They seem to have taken out all the parts that you said you loved.”
“Yeah.” He says. “That’s why I said we’re close. You just need to come up with a new hook. Work on it for the rest of the day and let’s touch base Monday morning. As long as we’re ready to start editing by Tuesday we’ll be in good shape.”
I do the math in my head and estimate at least another 18 – 22 billable hours. I get the new hook about an hour after we hang up the phone. This one’s better than the other one. First of all, it’s just two words. Often times, the brevity of an expression is a sign of its power. If you can express something memorably in just two or three words, that’s a good indicator that you might be onto something good. “Think different.” “Got milk?” “Just do it.” There is genius in brevity. I’m a firm believer in that.
I decide to go fishing and hold onto it until Monday morning. I send it around 7 am. He calls me 10 minutes later and tells me he loves it.
I tell him he loved the last one too.
He says he loves this one more and tells me to sit tight.
He calls me back in an hour.
“Jeff. I love what you wrote. If it were up to me this would be the script. I wouldn’t change a damn word.”
“Well, why’s it not up to you Bob Seger? You’re Bob Seger.”
“You know the game, Jeff. Everyone needs a chance to put their fingers on it.”
I remember the uniqueness of the zero fucks situation I’m in.
“That’s the problem, Bob Seger. Your people have shitty fingers. Every time I give you something that you love, you let them fuck it up.”
“I know. It’s a different ballgame these days. I think we have what we need though. If we just start with the second paragraph, it works really well.”
At this point, I start to think about the massive invoice I’m going to send him. It soothes the pain a little but even in a zero fucks given situation like this I’m still pissed about being edited. I decide to add an extra 10 bucks to my hourly rate.
“Fine, Bob Seger. Let me clean up the script and I’ll get it back to you in an hour.”
“Sounds good, Jeff. Listen, one more thing. The planner wants you to use the phrase “brand intimacy”. Can you get that in there someplace?”
I hate phrases like “brand intimacy”. It’s total marketing bullshit. It’s corporate as hell. And it came from a fucking planner which means it’s something they heard at a conference or read in a Simon Sinek book. I get a little twitchy. Normally, I’d play ball and get it in there. But I’m sitting on an invoice that could feed a family of four for a month. And for the first time in my advertising life I’m in a position with absolutely nothing to lose. And that’s when I get to say what I consider to be the coolest thing I’ve ever said in my whole career.
“Listen, Bob Seger. The only person’s opinion that I ever cared about at this stupid place was yours. You said you loved my scripts. So I don’t give a squat what your people think. I’m not putting in that bullshit fucking phrase. And there isn’t shit you can do about it. You can’t fire me, because you’ve already fired me.”
Against the wind. I'm still running against the wind. I'm older now but I’m still running against the wind.