Creative Hall of Fame

Cliff Freeman

Inducted: 2005

I knew Cliff would be inducted into some hall of fame 20 years ago. You can't have that much raw talent and not get into one of those.

When I met him, at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, Cliff was on a tear as a writer. He was sitting quietly, cloistered away in his office surrounded by medals and trophies; everywhere was the glint of gold.

I learned fast that Cliff Freeman is all about the work. Nothing could get in the way of doing it as well as humanly possible. He talks about it articulately. It drives him. Then I learned about funny. You can't talk about Cliff and not talk about funny. It's part of the Brand.

Cliff has a philosophy about how advertising works and he has never wavered from it because no one ever proved him wrong simply, that to connect, advertising must entertain. Over the years, this credo, and more importantly his talent to achieve it, has created historic successes. It has also drawn like-minded people to the agency and to his fandom. And, befitting a Hall of Famer, it has fueled some of the most memorable work of the last couple or three decades. "Sometimes you feel like a nut," which he created in the '70s at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample with then longtime partner Fred Massin, is unbelievably still on the air. "Where's the beef?" hit a national nerve and Mondale ran with it, figuratively and literally. Probably the most famous advertising line ever written, it pops up frequently in the news and pop culture. Intentionally or not, those three words captured an encyclopedic volume of human dissatisfaction. Our lives are woefully short on "beef." That's a pretty depressing insight. Cliff made it hilarious.

He also worked his magic juju using only two words: "Pizza Pizza." For nine years, that campaign had everyone looking forward to the next commercial Cliff Freeman and it filled the sails of the newly christened ship, "Cliff Freeman and Partners." By the way, that's Cliff's voice babbling, "Pizza Pizza." After casting hundreds of people to utter those silly yet descriptive words, Mike Illitch, owner of Little Caesars, finally begged Cliff to do it because "no one else I heard sounds so much like Little Caesar."

To mention all the famous campaigns that have sprung from the agency, including Budget, Staples, Fox, Sauza, Pep Boys, Comedy Channel, a harrowing anti-heroin effort and Hollywood Video, would take too much space. The commonality though, humorous or not, is that the work works because it rings true. And, of course, always entertains.

Being one of the four founders of Cliff Freeman and Partners (I'm the "and"), along with the stalwart Pete Regan and Donna Weinheim, should entitle me to share some knowledge of the man himself.

An intensely private person, he wouldn't be too comfortable having much revealed about him. In fact, that revelation alone will embarrass him. Sorry, Cliff. So here are the revealables. He has Mississippi roots, played a little high school basketball, partied a little, partied a little more at Florida State and has a bunch of brothers and sisters. Ready for something funny? Cliff started in the business as an account guy. He didn't find that amusing at all so he became a copywriter. After a stint at McCann in Atlanta, where he won the first of his 93,376,128 awards, he moved to New York. There he met and married the talented and irrepressible Susan, his other half, his muse, and gifted design maven; check out our offices sometime.

Cliff's interests are eclectic and he is to his core passionate about everything in his life. You see it in his appreciation of design, you see it in his collecting and you see it in his home. If you'd like to glimpse the passion of Cliff, just sit down next to him and say the word, "Yankees." On second thought, don't do that this year.

Never being one to shy away from controversial work is, to me, one of Cliff's most appealing qualities. He is a perpetual optimist and is filled with a contagious excitement by smart, unusual ideas. Those are the kind of ideas, which by definition involve pushing an envelope or two, sometimes into the shredder. Like anyone who succeeds magnificently, he has had guides and a support system of talented helpers. He would surely cite Stan Becker as one of those who supported him most. Stan's tenacity and audacity helped create an environment where sometimes you could feel like a nut and dream up a "Where's the beef?" That being said, Cliff's internal compass has always operated independently of external forces.

No Cliff notes would be complete without a word about his enduring influence on the business of advertising. Somehow, he has created a petridish for infectious ideas. Cliff Freeman, both the guy and the agency, have shown legions of advertising people (inside and outside the agency for that matter) where the bar ought to be. Then some pheromone he emitted into the air infected a lot of them with an ability to reach it and even nudge it higher.

It would be impossible to add up the many disciples he and the agency helped and continue to launch. There are directors, including Steve Miller, Rick LeMoine, Kevin Donovan, Bruce Hurwitt, and agencies Venables, Bell & Partners and David & Goliath, some of whose leaders were sent forth from Cliff Freeman and Partners with holy-cow credentials. That's not to mention numerous other talents who have already made and are presently making names for themselves on the Cliff Freeman and Partners stage.

His fame is owed primarily to his true calling. His writing. But everyone who works with him knows he is also a terrific editor, thoughtful planner and keen observer of human behavior. Most will say he is a genius. Others say he's eccentric. Some just say funny. They are all right.

In the world of advertising, you never have to ask, "Where's the beef?" Cliff's got it.

 

 

 

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