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Better than Ogilvy.
A 17 person company 
near the Italian deli.

By Charley Arrigo

Loebs Italian Deli.webp

This is my first article.


So, I'll tell you a little about me and how I got started.

I began my career as a one-man marketing department for a 17 person company in Farragut Square, Washington DC.


It didn't pay much.


But I reported directly to the CEO, and I was lucky to have the job. There was

an Italian deli around the corner that reminded me of home, and the White House was only 7 minutes away in case I wanted to pretend I was Jimmy Stewart in a scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.


I had dreams of working in the world's biggest advertising agencies; Ogilvy, McCann, Leo Burnett, you name it. But after failing to break in through the

doors, those dreams melted away like snow in June.

Working "in-house" seemed like a dirty word if you talked to anyone in the industry. Of course, this was a culture that cut its teeth on pulling client all nighters, not 'cutting out' at 5 o'clock.

But I'd have to wait another day to earn my place. I was going "in-house."


At this 17 person company near the Italian deli, there was a nice window that

overlooked the park. At first, I'd stare out of it wondering that if maybe I rewrote

my cover letter into something of a Shakespeare soliloquy—Ogilvy, would see

me as some kind of undiscovered prose artist.

But, after awhile, that lost its luster.


Just like those pigeons that kept flapping their wings and trying to mate

outside the glass.


At the company, I was the only marketer. I was part copywriter, part graphic designer. I was also the marketing coordinator, email marketer and strategist.

(but I'm being kind to myself with this last one).


Lucky for me, our founder was a rare bird. She led from the only place a

founder should lead from, and that was from the front. I could feel her intensity for the business. Her feeling of love for the mission. It was raw, it was direct. Sometimes, unfiltered. But boy was it beautiful.


I learned all about the product. And I got to understand the people behind it

all, like what our employees were really thinking and what customers were actually saying. I even experienced the highs and lows that eventually greeted every company. And I made a few good friends along the way.


Suddenly, I felt that in my own way, I was learning how brands are built in ways

big agencies could only dream of.


And I still had that Italian deli next door.


Although, I used to buy pastrami on rye which is actually a Jewish delicacy. But when it comes to lunch meat, I consider myself a citizen of the world.

But, there's something else you should know about me.


Before my move to try and land an advertising job among the monuments of

Washington, I was a kid who knew little more than the country roads of "rural America."

Those two words make people shiver in this industry.


Yet despite what most may think, rural America served me well in a career

that lives and dies by linguistics, target audiences and human psychology.

My father was a farmer. And we lived in a farming town filled with Sicilian Roman Catholics that had settled in the early 1900s. I was more likely to come across Jesus Christ himself than come across anyone who's name didn't end in "O".

But, that town taught me a lot about advertising.


It was a Sicilian masterclass. From demographics and values, to why people

buy in tribes, and the beauty that comes from speaking to someone in a

language that only they could feel and understand (unless it was Sunday,

then language was nonverbal, spelled out in durum wheat and topped with

red sauce).

When my time came to an end in my first job away from this home, I was getting ready to move into a whole other world.

I had just landed my first Fortune 100 contract.


I imagine this was the land of opportunity my ancestors dreamed it would be when they decided to leave that town we know today as Campobello di Licata, Sicily.

But, I learned to leave something behind too. I didn't need my dream at Ogilvy, I just needed a 17 person company near the Italian deli.

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