‘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.

Attention Israelis: Please stop kvetching

Excerpt from Israeli TV show “Ktzarim”: some troubled people meet for group therapy.
In Hebrew with English subtitles.
Click on the BIG ARROW to view.


Security in Israel now is about as good as it gets. Suicide bombings have become a rarity; just the threat of one is a big news story. The northern border is again quiet, and Sderot is, if not quiet, considerably quieter than it’s been. Israelis don’t think twice about getting on buses or shopping downtown. Judging by their behavior, as opposed to their words, people in this country feel safe.

Meanwhile, the economy keeps growing. The war in Lebanon last summer didn’t cause anything more than a brief downturn. True, about half the Israeli population is either poor or close to it, but that’s nothing new. For this country’s “haves,” and for the national economy overall, it’s clear sailing.

Even driving a car in Israel is becoming safer all the time, believe it or not. Last year there were fewer road deaths than there have been in 20 years.

Yet to listen to Israelis, and to listen to the news media, the whole country is falling apart. All systems are in collapse. The leaders stink. Corruption and incompetence are everywhere. Tragically, people have become alienated from the state, from the society.

Oh, do me a favor.

First of all, Israelis have no real problem with corruption. No elected Israeli politician ever lost popularity because he was corrupt, or suspected of corruption. Some, like Arye Deri, Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, even gained popularity by claiming the police were persecuting them for political reasons.

Is Arkadi Gaydamak not suspected of massive corruption? Did this stop him from becoming one of the most powerful, popular men in Israel?
I don’t know which complaint I’m hearing more — that the leaders are corrupt, or that the justice system is too hard on the leaders.

Could it be that Israelis just need to kvetch about whoever’s in the headlines?

What a terrible situation, they moan. The new chief of police is already in hot water, the one before him was forced to resign, the head of the army resigns before he can be fired, the justice minister is convicted of sexual molestation, the president is going to be indicted for rape, the prime minister may be forced out for corruption or incompetence, or both, and the defense minister may be forced to go with him.

What can I say, except — that’s entertainment. Because the point is that this country is not falling apart. Can anybody explain how Katsav’s disgrace has hurt anyone but himself? If his disgrace has hurt the institution of the presidency, does anyone give a rip? If Shimon Peres becomes the new president, will it make a difference to anybody but Shimon Peres?

This is a very interesting show we’re watching, that’s all. These resignations and firings and investigations don’t hurt Israelis’ lives, and they don’t hurt the life of the nation, either.

While I think Dan Halutz got a bum rap, is the army lost without him? Do we have any less personal security, does Israel have any less national security, now that Gabi Ashkenazi is the chief of staff? Is any 18-year-old Israeli boy going to dodge the draft, or become any less of a soldier, because of the Winograd Commission?

The same holds true for the rest of the leaders under fire, or fired already. Can Israel survive, can we Israelis survive, without Moshe Katsav as president, without Moshe Karadi (or even Ya’acov Ganot) as chief of police, without Haim Ramon as justice minister, without Amir Peretz as defense minister, without Ehud Olmert as prime minister?

I think we can survive just fine. Maybe even better.

People are saying this is a corrupt country, a dysfunctional country.

I think all these investigations show just the opposite, but even among those who think Israel is going to the dogs — are any of them leaving the country, or thinking of leaving, because of what Katsav did to “A” or what Ramon did to “H”? Is anyone holding off on having another child, or on remodeling the house, because Halutz failed to make Hezbollah disappear, or because Karadi fiddled while the mafia bought a few police officers?

In 22 years living in Israel, I’ve never been approached by a civil servant for a bribe, I don’t know any woman who’s been raped or sexually molested by a politician, I haven’t been threatened by the mafia — and I don’t know anybody who has. These things happen here, but corruption and lawlessness are not the way of life in Israel like they are in Russia, China or dozens upon dozens of other countries in the world.

Furthermore, the Israeli army is one of the world’s best armies, and if the Israeli police aren’t one of the world’s best police forces, it’s not because of corruption.

I think the reason we’re seeing Israeli leaders dropping like flies is partly because law enforcement is getting tougher and more victims are coming forward, which are good reasons
Israelis may be in a terrible mood about the country, but the country is in very good shape. There are security threats, but there always have been and always will be. The important thing is that except for the 33 days of war last summer and the intermittent rocketing over the border from Gaza, this has been a safe country to live in for the last three years, and there’s a good chance it will go on being safe for years to come.

The economy offers a Western standard of living to people with good professional skills, which is a lot of people. The Israeli middle class lives well.

The only problems in this country that I would call grievous are: 1) the extent of poverty; 2) the second-class citizenship of Israeli Arabs; and 3) the increasingly extreme attitudes of many citizens, Jewish and Arab.