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Better than Ogilvy.
A one-man marketing department near the Italian deli.

By Charley Arrigo

Better than Ogilvy.
A one-man marketing department near the Italian deli.

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 those dreams melted away like snow in June. I had no portfolio. I didn't go to ad school. I had no prospects. And so as Humphrey Bogart said in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "I was over a barrel, and I needed a job."   Working "in-house" seemed like a dirty word if you talked to anyone in the industry. But being in-house, let me see things that the giants on Madison Avenue didn't.   Working alongside a founder, I began to see how everything ticked from the inside. I could feel the passion for the business. The feeling of love for the mission. I learned the ins and outs of the product, what the employees were really thinking, even experiencing the highs and lows that eventually greeted every company.   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'd used to buy the pastrami on rye which is actually a Jewish delicacy. But when it comes to lunch meats, I've always thought of myself as a citizen of the world.)   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 that 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 at the 17 person company near that little old Italian Deli came to an end, I was getting ready to move into a whole other world. I began work at my first Fortune 100 company. Then, I got just enough on my portfolio to land work at my second Fortune 100 company. And while, 'I wasn't in Kansas anymore', the land of opportunity was everything I imagine my ancestors dreamed it would be when they decided to leave that town we know today as Campobello di Licata, Sicily. Lucky for me, I'll always have that Italian deli (and my Jewish sandwich).

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