I have heard about, read about and i have posted the stories that others who have written about — Herb Briggs.
Herb, beyond being an art director and sometimes a copy writer, also was an advertising art teacher — he was an advisor to the students who had portfolios to show their best efforts. I was one of them in the early 1960s:
“I made very many appointments. The top art directors and artists, in those days, would give a personal interview and offer a critique of a student’s portfolio. A few that viewed my portfolio were: Herb Briggs, Sam Hollis, Tom Gleason (ad agencies)– and Richard Evans and Lowell Herrero (art studios). Given allowance for being young and a student, everyone was very kind, but I didn’t find employment.”
Sue Larson, who wrote last month of her first entry into the ad biz (scroll down to view it). Sue sent this Showcase interview to me.
The San Francisco advertising community has a number of people to thank for Herbert Briggs career as an art director. One of them was his grandmother, who raised him and. says Briggs, “spent her lifetime doing bookplates and Christmas cards” She taught at the Art Students League in New York at one point and as she reared her grandson, she no doubt instilled him with his first artistic sensibilities. Another was Jerry Andelin’s father, who gave him a job dressing windows (“although Jerry Andelin’s a little tired of hearing that,” says Briggs)
And although there were probably many other Influences as well — the person who hired him to letter the entire UC Berkeley stadium scoreboard, for example-the most unusual by far is the U.S. Forest Service. “I always wanted to be in the Forest Service. and I had built up almost three years of solid time in the Forest Service,” he explains. “I realized it was not what I thought it was. And I met a girl who was going to Art Center and boom‑o, I went to Art Center. Ifs more because I was mad at the Forest Service; I don’t think they cared’.’
The U.S. Forest Service also probably doesn’t know that the man they disappointed is now one of the most talented and respected art directors in the advertising community. Getting to this point was colorful. to say the least.
“I got kicked out of Art Center and I thought life was over, so I burned my Art Center book. I got a job as a garbageman at night and I made another book. I used the book for 15 minutes, and then burned it again,” says Briggs.
Briggs finally went to work for Young & Rubicam in New York in 1950, and then moved back home to California in 1955 to work at one time or another for nearly all the major agencies around: Young & Rubicam (twice), BBDO (twice), Foote Cone & Belding. Then in 1972, he started his own agency with Brice Schuller and five years ago, they were bought by Doyle Dane Bernbach, where he works today.
(Editor’s Note: This was written in 1985.)
When Showcase decided to interview Herbert Briggs, we talked to his former partner, a few colleagues, and a former student. There was nothing but high praise all around. Briggs himself quickly admits that he occasionally is at odds with parts of the advertising community, and remains modest about his abilities and accomplishments. However, his defenders variously call him “the most lovable curmudgeon that ever drew breath”,
“the best instructor I’ve ever had. Including grade school and beyond to college”, “the last and best of the old-time art directors”, and “someone who doesn’t settle — who never compromises happily”.
Showcase talked to him on DDB’s rooftop a day before the Blue Angels were to perform in the skies above San Francisco. It was a bright. sun-drenched afternoon. and the interview was punctuated by the occasional sound of planes practicing overhead and Briggs resulting fascination …
We found him curious about the world, talkative, insightful, smart and much too modest.
Showcase: A couple of people have said that you’ve done pretty much everything there is to do as an art director.
Briggs: No. Heavens. no.
Showcase: Well, at least that you have a rather broad range of experience.
Briggs: I share with a lot of people my age the experience of watching broadcast development — but largely as a spectator, though not entirely; I’ve had some experience. I’ve been primarily print-oriented. Our whole lifespan has been the development of broadcast; that’s the single most important story.
Oh boy, look at that. (An Angel streaking across the sky.) Hm‑m, in one sense, yes, I have a lot of different kinds of experiences, but broadcast offers so many variations today that I have not experienced.
Showcase: You’ve been in advertising for 35 year now. so you’re obviously completely dedicated to it.
Briggs: (Hilarious laughter). Oh, I think I work hard at it. But at the same time I don’t know how you can live in this business and not work hard at it. Next month. I’m gonna do six hours for the kiddie ad club on how things hove changed. And one thing that has changed is the attitude of the people in it. I think the people today are better than they used to be. They’re smarter. they’re infinitely more sophisticated, and they’re — geez, did ja see that one? [Another Blue Angel circling the financial district… Briggs also knows the plane’s model number, and why it’s used: “They’re relatively inexpensive and they’re small”] I think that the best of the young people today are better than the best of the young people a long time ago, because I think that they have experienced many more things than we did. I look back and I’m amazed how naïve we were. Well, it’s very tough to make generalizations ’cause they’re very vulnerable, but I’ll make a really rash one and say that I think I see less just plain sheer effort behind the younger ones. The younger ones get tired quicker and they get discouraged more easily.
Showcase: Instant gratification, maybe?
Briggs: I realize that sounds like a cliché, but at the same time I think it’s
true, that it’s not the typical old attitude, you know – “Kids today. Let me tell you I walked barefoot through the snow to school!’
The best of the young crowd is better. Things are better; everything’s better. I have no overall gripe. I think I’ve watched things improve steadily, including the people. I just wish there was a little hustle in the average child. I wish they were impatient with themselves; I wish they were less tolerant; I wish they asked more of themselves.
I wish they were less secure in their answers and less quick to form judgments. I wish they experimented more. I wish they were more nervous.
Showcase: Do you think you’re a nervous advertising professional?
Briggs: Sure; so’s everybody I know. I screw things up all the time and I’m constantly amazed that I’ve been so unperceptive, that I’ve been so foolish and I think we all are. I don’t know any people I respect who think they’ve got it made. They’re all good people, but they’re all hustling, trying to improve, at least trying to de-bug what they’re doing-with varying degrees of success.
Showcase: Do you think that you could have approached
any other profession with the same tenacity that you have for this one?
Briggs: Certainly. And I think anybody else in that period would, at the risk of being overly dramatic, people my age were children in the depression. Now the depression was pretty easy out here. You didn’t come from the bad side of Chicago, where things were really not very nice. Berkeley, California — -if you’ve got to be poor, it’s a great place to be poor. You don’t even know it; you’re having a pretty good time actually. I feel very fortunate. It was very easy, but at the same time you had to work. And I think almost anybody my age who did not inherit the crown title feels the same way. You hustled simply because that’s what you did. And it’s just a lot more fun that way, it really is.
Showcase: One of your former students, Shig Takashita, says you challenge your students so that it helps them decide if they really want to be in advertising.
Briggs: You have to do that. I’ve done a lot of research, written a lot of letters to get information that is surprisingly hard to find.
I’ve finally got some approximate figures. Kids never realize how few people there are in this business. As of 1985, there are about 103,000 people in the business nationwide, about 32 percent work in Manhattan.That’s everybody — the girls at the desk,PBX operators, home economists, media department, everybody. The figures are not broken down well in my specialty. There are apparently somewhere around 9800 or 9900 art-related jobs; that goes everywhere from New York to Johnson City, Texas which in ’82, had seven agencies employing a total of 14 people. So, depending where you ore and what you are, the title means very different things.
The year I wrote my last set of letters, there were about 300,000 kids in art school. Now if you said that for the sake of argument 10 percent of those were interested in advertising, and l think ifs much less than that, and you said they were all in four-year programs, which Is not true; and that year there were about 7500 people in business of whom 5000 could be remotely called an art director. the bottom line is that if all those things were true, 7500 kids would be out looking for 5000 jobs that somebody already had. You get these frequently nice, sometimes not-so-nice, often obnoxious children
sitting in front of you. Ten percent will make it, and another 20 percent might. Its lousy to realize you’re sitting there taking money from people who haven’t got a chance in hell of getting it back.
I don’t like to see kids who are panic-stricken. They pay a lot of money, they get out of the schools, they can’t get anything back and they can’t understand why.
Showcase: Jerry Gibbons says you’re very nice to students.
People come to town and you’re the one person to see to get pointed in the right direction.
Briggs: It’s kind of a self-elected role. I kind of appointed myself grandfather. When my group got out of service we could have taken our discharge papers and gone to agencies and sat down. They didn’t care. if you went to Art Center. Nobody’s been along in five years. There were 14 guys in my class. But now ifs really tough.
I have done a lot of scratching in my life, but I haven’t had to scratch in that way and I feel sorry for ’em. Also, they’re not tough. I’ve been trying to make ’em feel as good as I can within reality.
Showcase: Do you think there’s any validity to this seemingly hot, new topic of how much Son Francisco advertising is affecting the advertising landscape?
Briggs: In the last seven or eight years, San Francisco has really come a long way. It’s very competitive. It’s not just a nice place to live anymore. And ifs not as pleasant a place to live anymore. It’s a more competitive business, and ifs harder to hide.
Showcase: Speaking of hiding, Jerrold Woods said to ask you about “calculated truculence”
Briggs: Oh dear. I occasionally have been called a rather surly, sour individual, and not very lovable. At the same time, I think if you indulge in this business, you’ve got to take your lumps and you’ve gotta be able to indulge on a totally unsocial basis. It’s a lot more fun If you’re friends, but sometimes that’s not possible. So I’ve been known. especially with kids in school who want Mr. Briggs and Uncle Herbie to love ’em dearly, to do exactly what the Marine Corps does. I don’t like to yell at kids, but I want them to listen to me. So I’ve been known to adopt “calculated truculence”. I wasn’t doing it to be a lousy guy. I was doing it just so I would be the instructor and they would be the kid.
I’Ill do anything I can think of that works that’s halfway legal.
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Written by Sheila F. Gadsden for Showcase Magazine 1965
(Editor’s note: For our purpose, some paragraphs were removed, as the subject went off subject.)
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Reading that Herb Briggs, during a students interview, wished:
(I just wish there was a little hustle in the average child. I wish they were impatient with themselves; I wish they were less tolerant; I wish they asked more of themselves.
I wish they were less secure in their answers and less quick to form judgments. I wish they experimented more. I wish they were more nervous.)
I remember feeling all those things and I would guess, that other students were also insecure regarding their abilities to fit into agency work.