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New Book Tells Hilarious Tales of One Man’s Successful Advertising Career
Ron Elgin might be one of the luckiest people who ever lived—and he knows it. He is lucky to be surrounded by smart people with bright ideas, including his business partner David Syferd, who first came up with the idea of starting their own advertising agency. Huckster tells the story of this agency from womb to tomb and the role Ron played in its success. Founded in 1981, Elgin Syferd was a powerful advertising agency in the Pacific Northwest for thirty years. Ron was also lucky or smart enough to marry “Pretty Bonnie” so he could keep her in line at the right time, hire smarter people than him, and have the sense not to hire jerks.
Fortunately for us, Ron was also smart enough to write this book and write it well. He didn’t want to write a dry “How To” book, so he wrote this collection of stories about the history of his advertising agency, full of words of wisdom on how to run a business, as well as many funny stories that will make anyone laugh, regardless of their interest in advertising.
The story begins when Dave first proposes to Ron about starting an agency, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a group that was always as nice as you and I try to be?” I suspect that Ron is actually very nice, but he doesn’t give himself credit for it. Regardless, and his luck aside, it’s clear that he worked hard for Elgin Syferd’s success right from the start. In fact, he worked hard from a young age. As he tells us:
“I grew up in a low-income housing project in Seattle, which probably played a large part in my lifelong thirst to get rich. As a child, I helped our family where I could by collecting beer bottles from neighbors and selling them in the yard and eventually ended up killing rats at the Fisher Flour Mill for fifty cents each . I got my first part-time jobs during high school. The two longest ones were as yard clerks on the graveyard shift railroad (also aptly named “mudhoppers”) and after school pumping gas and changing oil at a gas station.”
From there, Ron went on to college, interned at a successful advertising agency, served in the Vietnam War, returned to advertising, and eventually founded Elgin Syferd, bringing with him a wealth of experience. with some arrogance, a soft heart and a great sense of humor.
The stories Ron shares about advertising are a rare mix of true entertainment and education. For example, I loved the story about the airplane commercial, which he was convinced was great. The ad featured a picture of a plane taking off and landing; unfortunately, the customer told him that the plane appeared to be going down. Not wanting to change that, Ron went to the airport to show the ad to airplane passengers and get their reactions. By the time he was done, a man threatened to kick his ass if he didn’t stop scaring people, and Ron was arrested by airport security. Lesson – Never be too arrogant to listen to others.
I don’t want to rob you of the joy of laughing at the many other antics of Ron and his colleagues, but if you want to learn something from reading this book, Ron summarizes his stories with many key points such as “There are a million ways to solve a particular problem,” “It’s not enough to do a good job, to keep good clients. Constant care, contact, nurturing and asking the right questions are essential” and “If an employee shows reluctance to replace any agency activity, it may be time to reevaluate that person’s future with the company.” Some of these lessons are common sense, some are like light bulbs that went off for Ron, and others were lessons learned the hard way from the mistakes he made.
Ron is serious about his business, but he’s not above finding humor in everything. You just have to read the book to believe the crazy clients and co-workers he often interacted with. One customer invented a shield to prevent cell phone brain cancer, and another decided to breastfeed her baby during the presentation. Then a woman died of cancer who wanted to work at an advertising agency without giving up her business, and you’ll never forget Ron’s client and friend who thought of him as a god. There were also many good times at the ad offices – golf courses, boat parties and a few fun business trips where Ron or a colleague would occasionally have a few too many drinks. I swear, if I didn’t know better, I would have thought the writers of NBC’s The Office visited Ron’s agency to get material.
Through it all, Ron rarely got into trouble – except with his wife. In fact, Beautiful Bonnie Roni sometimes got into trouble, such as when she decided to help Jewish mothers illegally buy infant formula while traveling in the USSR, which could have resulted in the couple being sent to the gulag. Still, Ron took constant trips with her—to China, Bangkok, Singapore, and the Kentucky Derby—all of which are chronicled in the book, and all of which were fun.
Despite the humor, often self-deprecating humor, I really appreciated Ron’s honesty about his company, the mistakes he made, the things he learned, and his general sense of goodwill about work and life. Anyone who takes action can appreciate the stories and lessons. People working in or looking for a career in advertising will especially enjoy this book – they’ll even find it eye-opening and enlightening about how the world of advertising works. Huckster would make the perfect gift for anyone entering the business world, as well as anyone who loves a good story.
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