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A Classic Message from the Advertising World that Every Organization Needs to Hear

By | Phil Cooke |

If you were a fan of the TV series “Mad Men” (like I was) then you should know that real life advertising legend Bill Bernbach was one of the models for the character of Don Draper. In May of 1947, Bill was 35 years old and the Creative Director at Grey Advertising in New York City. Way back then he detected something he wasn’t happy with – as the agency grew, he felt they were losing their creativity, and becoming a victim to growth (what he called “bigness”).
So he wrote a letter to the owners of the agency that’s since become classic. Apparently the leadership at the time didn’t listen to his advice and within two years, he left Grey Advertising to co-found the very influential agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach.
Here’s the letter he wrote, and as I read it, I realized that today it’s a message for everyone and every business, nonprofit, and even churches. As we grow, we often lose that creative “spark,” and his letter is a powerful reminder about how great creative leaders think:


Dear ___________ :

Our agency is getting big. That’s something to be happy about. But it’s something to worry about, too, and I don’t mind telling you I’m damned worried. I’m worried that we’re going to fall into the trap of bigness, that we’re going to worship techniques instead of substance, that we’re going to follow history instead of making it, that we’re going to be drowned by superficialities instead of buoyed up by solid fundamentals. I’m worried lest hardening of the creative arteries begin to set in.

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