‘Gary Wexler Is Miserable’

t was one of my favorite ads. At the time, my upstart ad agency was competing with a hot shop called Wexler & Shalek. They had a reputation for always winning creative awards. But one year, for some reason, they struck out. So what did their creative head, Gary Wexler, do? He took out a full-page ad in the local trade publication, Adweek, put a picture of himself in the middle of the ad, and did something rarely seen in the business.

He spoke the naked truth.

The boldfaced headline read: “Gary Wexler Is Miserable.” The rest of the ad explained why.

If you’ve ever seen the fragile egos of the ad business – and the fake posing that covers up one’s insecurities – you’d understand why that was a brilliant ad. It reached the soul of the reader. It spoke to our deepest fears and desires. It held a message that couldn’t be ignored.

Sweep wipe 20 years later to a corner table at Shilo’s, and there’s Gary, complaining about the same old stuff. “There’s not enough soul in marketing today,” he likes to say.

It’s just that today Gary’s not talking about diapers, laundry detergents or breakfast cereals. He’s talking about the Jewish community and the hundreds of Jewish organizations that struggle every day to market themselves to get people to support their cause.

You see, when Gary left his ad agency, he switched from the world of award shows, black Armani suits and martinis at the Four Seasons to fried eggs at Nate ‘n Al’s, tiny ad budgets and the kind of awards you only get from High Above for the mitzvah of helping your people. For more than a decade now, Gary’s Passion Marketing outfit has been one of the premier names in anything having to do with marketing Jewish causes.

But still, Gary kvetches.

He is one of the Jewish world’s great kvetchers. How do I know? We’ve been kvetching together for 20 years. We would kvetch at Chinois on Main during the 1980s about how shallow our advertising business was, while reassuring ourselves that – thanks to our Judaism – we had so much more substance than our materialistic colleagues. That was baloney, of course. We were just as materialistic as they were – we just felt guilty about it.

When I was relatively new in town and told him I’d love to spend a Sephardic Yom Kippur, he invited me to stay at his house in the San Fernando Valley so I could walk over to a Sephardic synagogue. The breaking of the fast at his house marked me with an image I’ll never forget: 100 Ashkenazic Jews of all ages all speaking at exactly the same time.

The years passed, and still we kvetched.

We kvetched about politics, our employees, clients, rabbis, family, therapists and life in general. One night, I took him to a midnight meditation and dance session on a beach in Malibu with a group of Chassidic mystics. If I recall, we found time to kvetch.

In the 1990s, his kvetching took on a decidedly Jewish tone. Gary was now a fledgling marketing macher in the Jewish world, and this seemed to take the kvetching to new heights.

For business meetings, that was an adjustment. I’m sorry to say, but non-Jewish clients who want you to increase their sales for, let’s say, a cat litter product (“Our edge is clump integrity!”) just don’t appreciate a good kvetching session. It’s all business with them.

With the Jews, schmaltz at meetings is allowed, even encouraged. Every Jewish nonprofit feels that the future of the Jewish people rests on their cause – which it does – and they will kvetch that it’s simply not fair that they are not as well known as, say, the Wiesenthal Center.

In Gary, they had found a kindred kvetcher. The problem is that Gary’s kvetching was often directed right back at his clients. He wanted to instill in them a greater marketing discipline. With the limited budgets of non-profits, it wasn’t enough to aim for nebulous goals like “branding.” Their marketing needed to get results. Gary was giving them tough love.

So when we caught up with each other the other day at Shilo’s, Gary’s brand of endearing kvetching was still on display.

But this time, after his fourth or fifth iced tea, Gary came up with an idea.

“Suissa,” he said, “you and I are both marketing experts. Why don’t we do something special for Rosh Hashanah for the Jewish community? Let’s book a conference room in a hotel during the Days of Awe and spend one day giving free marketing advice to any Jewish organization that needs it!”

I paid the bill and asked the waiter what he put in the iced tea.

Ah, but lest you forget, Gary’s in the persuasion business, so after a couple of weeks of back and forth and noble talk of mitzvahs and obligations, somehow the “are you kidding mes?” became “why nots?” And before you know it, guess what happened?

We booked the hotel.

No, I’m not kidding. If you have a Jewish organization and you think free marketing ideas from Wexler and Suissa are worth something, we’ll be there for you on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at the Crown Plaza Hotel on Pico and Beverly boulevards.

Conditions? You must be a Jewish nonprofit and attendees must include a senior manager. Just send us your key marketing objective and any marketing materials. We’ll review what you send us and give you our ideas. To register, go to Freeonthe18th.com. There are 10 slots available, so it’s first come, first served.

Oh, one more thing. These are the Days of Awe, so the incomparable Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” from the Chai Center will be on hand with blessings to help you and your organization be inscribed for a good year.

And for those of you we’ll see on the 18th, remember to tell Gary how much you love his ideas. You wouldn’t want him to get all miserable.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.