Smyka departure good news for him, bad news for us

Almost exactly four-and-a-half years ago, I wrote in this space about Mark Smyka giving up the editorship of Strategy. I will quote from my words from 1995, at some length: 'This is big news, and this is bad news. 'Mark Smyka...

Almost exactly four-and-a-half years ago, I wrote in this space about Mark Smyka giving up the editorship of Strategy. I will quote from my words from 1995, at some length:

‘This is big news, and this is bad news.

‘Mark Smyka is the best thing that happened to the Canadian advertising business since Vickers met Benson. But you are forgiven if you don’t know that, because I don’t think Mark has ever tooted his own horn in his life. So since Mark won’t tell you how good he is, allow me to try.

‘Mark Smyka is, first of all, a superb reporter. He will not simply rely on the press release. He will work tirelessly in search of a story, and will check and double-check to make sure he has it right. Equally important, he will get material out of an interview that the interviewee never expected to let loose.

‘You sit down with Mark to talk about something, and he makes you comfortable in his (sorry, Mark) Jimmy Olsen Cub Reporter kind of way, and suddenly you realize you’ve revealed a lot more than the marketing strategy. You’ve told him about the big fight between the agency president and the creative director, dropped a few words about the absolutely-secret-from-the-competition test market, and also probably tossed in your opinion of the client’s new toupee.

‘(I do not mean to imply that there is anything underhanded about this. If you really do think twice, and say, ‘OmyGod, Mark, please don’t put that in print!’ you will not see it in print. Mark is a gentleman who respects his sources, as he respects everyone else who deserves it.)

‘Because he makes people comfortable, and works very, very hard, Mark has gotten to know, over the years, a lot of inside information. When he was at Marketing, he originated the ‘Street Talk’ column, and that column became ‘must’ reading for ad people, because the little rumours in ‘Street Talk’ one week had a remarkable way of becoming the headline facts a week or two later.

‘After he and Jim Shenkman founded Strategy, Mark continued to be an innovator. He involved his readers and the whole ad community in many different ways, creating an ‘Agency of the Year’ award based on open judging, a scorekeeping system on awards, a lovely series of tributes to our our Brian Harrods and Terry O’Malleys, and much more.

‘But Mark Smyka is important to Canadian advertising for a bigger reason than these. When he was first assigned to the advertising beat, he did not, like many trade journalists, just view it as another way station on the path to Bauxite Mining Monthly. He fell in love with advertising. And he wanted it to be as good as it is capable of being. And he applied his extraordinary innate enthusiasm to high-minded reporting of, and cheerleading for, and occasional editorial scolding of, our crazy business. And man, these days, does advertising need people like that.’

In the year 2000, advertising needs people like that more than ever. But unfortunately for us, we won’t have Mark Smyka anymore. He is leaving the organized business world (an oxymoron, that) and the publishing company he co-founded, to write screenplays and such.

Bad news for us. Good news for Mark. And I know, from personal experience, why he’s doing it.

There’s an old proverb that says something like, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you might get it.’ Mark and I had parallel dreams 15 years ago, and we talked a fair amount about them. I wanted to build an agency, he wanted to create a fine trade paper. We both succeeded. Mark lasted longer than I did.

Because unfortunately, when you create an empire, you wake up one morning to discover that you’re no longer doing what you love and what you’re good at. You don’t have time to find new angles on the endlessly fascinating business of advertising. You’re dealing with lawyers and accountants and landlords and Fred’s attendance problem and meetings, meetings, meetings. And sooner or later, if you’re wise, you have to say goodbye.

Goodbye, Mark. You’ve done an enormous amount for a lot of advertising people, many of whom don’t even know it. But I doubt if you’ll stray too far away. Advertising is in your blood, and in between the screenplays, we sure would like to have the benefit of your wisdom.

Maybe Strategy can talk you into writing a column.

John Burghardt’s checkered resumé includes the presidency of a national agency, several films for the Shah’s government in Iran, collaboration with Jim Henson to create the Cookie Monster, and a Cannes Gold Lion. The letterhead of his thriving business now reads ‘STRATEGIC PLANNING – CREATIVE THINKING’. He can be reached by phone at (416) 693-5072, by fax at (416) 693-5100 or by e-mail at burgwarp@aol.com

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