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Craig Shirley: Confessions Of A Former Mad Man

Many years ago, I took a short respite from politics, moved back to my hometown of Syracuse, New York and went to work for an advertising agency as an Account Executive. A Mad Man.

I hated it.

I did all this because I was thinking of trying my hand running for public office but quickly gave up on that pipedream. The local politicians were just too parochial.

When I arrived in Syracuse, I made a appointment with the GOP’s county chairman to talk about the work ahead. I arrived early, eager one morning and then he proceeded to let me cool my heels for a half hour. As I was finally ushered into his office, I saw he was playing a game of solitaire. I was not important but no wonder the party was in deep kimchi. You’d think the party could use all the help it could get, even that of a twenty-four-year-old kid.

Syracuse is not the center of the universe to be sure but when I was a child, it was a pleasant place to live, especially for outdoor sports such as snow skiing and ice skating. Although the running gag around town was, “Nine out of ten clouds prefer Syracuse.” Which had to contribute to the moods at the ad agency, which was generally surly and snarly.

I recall when President Reagan was shot, the ad people only briefly looked up at the TV before turning back to the important issue of how to sell more hamburgers.

When the first American Shuttle Columbia was launched several months later, again, they barely looked at the TV, too busy figuring how to sell more French Fries.

The culture of the agency was as thin as spit on a rock, but the people there acted as if they were working on a cure for cancer.

I did not fit in, and I knew from the start. I was interested in politics and current affairs, books and good conversation. They wanted to talk about the latest marketing campaign, even after hours. Suffice it to say, I hated myself. Or as Jerry Maguire said, “I hated my place in this world.”

It did not help that I was worked to death for peanuts. Long hours, weekends. All billable hours of course. I’m all for the profit motive but they were obsessive to the point of questionable billings.

I once flew in the same snowstorm that downed Air Florida in Washington for the agency. I had to fly because my superior had screwed up the signage for a promotion at Aqueduct racetrack, but he let me take the fall.

His behavior was reprehensible but may have been explained because his wife was cheating on him.

Suffice to say, I was fired the next day, unfairly I might add. My boss took the cowardly path and falsely blamed me. We never spoke again.

But as it turned out, thar firing was one of the best things to ever happen to me, sending me back to Washington to work for Ronald Reagan, the conservative movement and, as it turned out, history.

And my short experience as a Mad Man became a cautionary tale.

Author Craig Shirley is now president of his own Washington-based public relations firm and the author of eleven best-selling books including six on Ronald Reagan and two on World War II as well as the definitive biography of Mary Bell Washington, George Washington’s mother. He is the author of the new book, The Search for Reagan.

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