Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hill To The Heights

Wow, what a day. Today my sister graduated from Boston College ("the Heights"). Beautiful ceremony. Plus, the first sunny one in the last six, which our speaker attributed to the combined prayers of the Jesuits, Cardinal, the Catholic Church, and parents of new graduates. Our speaker was John M. Connors of Hill Holliday Connors & Cosmopulos. (Not sure about the spelling of the final partner's last name, but know it's not Katsopolis.) People call him Jack. (No, not Phil, Phil Connors, I thought that was you. -Ned Ryerson...) And never having met him, sitting the width of a football field away from him (if I was a real man, I'd know that distance to the inch) I felt like I could call him Jack. That's the type of guy he is. To me, and the audience seemed to agree.

His audience was diverse. It consisted of students (nurses to philosophers to businesspeople from over 85 countries), faculty (and the pray-ers mentioned above), and supporters of the students (grandparents to teens - and younger, but they weren't listening). He had undergrads and grads receiving doctorates. He had first time graduation attendees and others who'd heard 3+ "commencement speeches" in their lives. So how'd he seem to receive a unanimous two thumbs up?

By being himself. By telling his story of success (and failure). He used his connection to BC (an alumn) and the city of Boston to his advantage but didn't overplay it. He was able to appeal to the everyman (and everywoman) by being sincere and hopeful. He kept it positive but didn't shy away from some negative realities. He admitted he's made a lot of money, but insisted giving back makes him most happy. In fact, he "highly recommended" the business grads make lots of money as well "AND share it with the nurses, teachers, scientists, etc." My mother described it as all the optimism and challenge of a traditional address but special. There's a right amount of trite - and he hit the nail on the head. My sister stayed awake after watching the sunrise with her classmates the morning of the ceremony. But he didn't tell one good mini-autobiography. He told his story sprinkled with mini-stories and relevant cultural references. Calling on everyone from Jack Nicholson ("We can handle the truth!") to Ted Williams ("even he got out 6 of 10 times") to Judaism ("tikkun olam," which translates to repair the world and suggests as he did, the world is broken), he in my friend Jake's words "won the [audience's] hearts and minds." He didn't shy away from religion, but didn't alienate or make it central. Yes, the Hebrew reference was particularly welcome by our Jewish family but he made "giving" central (in keeping with the Jesuit ideal) and ended by telling all to "Trust in God but lock your car." (pron. k-ah)

And finally (he joked, "how many of you are happy to hear 'and finally?'") he kept it relatively short and sweet.

As someone in the advertising industry, I listened with different set of ears. For example, I was less surprised when he quit his job at 25 when asked to move to Detroit to work his agency's car account. But I really listened to hear if he gets it. I listened to hear if he was going to address the changes in technology and communication and how they are changing his business and the world. If he'd say "blog" like he understands it and because of that can mock it. If he'd talk about his agency's funniest commercials or most successful business results. He didn't. He told a story of perseverance (his agency made $37,000 yr. 1) and togetherness and fulfillment (does it matter the race, ethnicity, or religion of the man or woman who finds the cure to Alzheimers?)

While he and his partners, in his words "modestly named the agency after themselves," when you shorthand his agency's name, the C's usually miss out. But it was clear his agency would embody his values (respect and acceptance, hard-work and sense of humor). If you're ever in Boston, I'd suggest stopping by.

P.S. It was one of the first agencies (especially in the bigger, more established ones) to turn its corporate website into a blog. It's very good. Baba Shetty used to be over at Fallon and he's very good too. Take a look here.

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