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The Art of The RELATIONSHIP

Lessons taught me by Frank Santa-Donato, Tony Brandi, and Sam Diamond.

While majoring in Theatre in college, I also started to seriously scratch an art itch that had festered for years. I fit art classes in during both the regular school year and summer breaks. By the time I graduated with my theatre degree, I decided that “commercial art” (whatever that was) would be a more realistic profession for me than acting. After I spent months attempting to “make contacts” (networking), my father, unbeknownst to me, interceded on my behalf. He called a Boy Scouting friend and fellow leader who lived in our town of Harrison, NY. Mr. Anthony Brandi was a fine man who seemed to know everyone, and my Dad apparently asked him if he had any friends in the commercial art business. He did. Tony Brandi called his friend, Sam Diamond.

Sam also lived in Harrison where his sons attended the same high school as my siblings and I. I knew Mr. Diamond as a member of the country club where my brother, and my friends and I caddied to make money for college. The caddies all regarded Sam as a “great loop” – a good golfer, a genuinely nice person, and a VERY generous tipper. What I did not know was that Sam Diamond owned one of the largest, most successful advertising art studios in New York.

Mr. Brandi set up a meeting for me with Sam Diamond.

I was surprised to be greeted at Diamond Art Studio by Gary, Sam’s younger son. Gary and I knew each other and had several mutual friends in high school, but I was not aware that he and his brother, Doug, worked for their father. Gary introduced me to Sam, who quickly flipped through the odd collection of sketches I brought with me, asked me several questions about my interests and said good bye. Done.

About three weeks later I got a call from Mr. Brandi. In his gentle, deliberate manner he said, “Paulie, Sam Diamond was quite impressed with you. He wants to see you again.”

When I arrived at Diamond Art this time, I was escorted directly into Sam’s office. He grilled me about what I wanted to do with my career. I explained my intention to work in a creative role. I knew not what an illustrator, or designer, or art director actually did, but those were the jobs I aspired to, or so I thought. Sam barked, “You’ll be in SALES!” I protested, albeit, VERY respectfully (Sam was a wonderful guy, but a mighty force to be reckoned with). As we debated further, what was not clear was that Sam had, in fact, hired me. So, after a few awkward and confusing moments, I sheepishly queried him on said employment status, to which he blurted, “What the hell do you think you’re DOING here?”

It started as a classic entry level job – I delivered work to clients and ran errands all over the city. I was trained to operate a “stat camera,” and learned to mount, assemble, and prepare artwork for both presentation and production. At the same time I took night courses in ad concept, copywriting, graphic design, typography, print production, and drawing. For this kid from the suburbs, I had a dream-like creative thing going on, and in New York – working in a big art studio by day, attending SVA, Parsons, and The Art Students League by night. Eventually, some clients started giving me instructions and feedback on jobs – I took to that immediately! It occurred to me that maybe Sam was right – though creative, and with some visual talent, maybe I was wired more for the…business of the business. Barely a year into my tenure at Diamond Art, Sam was tragically ill. Before he sadly passed away, he instructed Gary and Doug to promote me to rep. What was an apparent training period had come to its conclusion and now, true to his prediction (actually, his plan), Sam Diamond made sure I would “be in sales!”

I did not like, nor did I take naturally to selling, in and of itself. The repeated cold calling and constant banging on doors were a struggle for me. But once I got to meet people I was in my element. What I loved (and still do) and was best suited for (and still am) were building business relationships with and servicing clients, and then bringing in jobs for, and consulting with all the talented artists in the studio. Evidently, I was pretty good at it.

Given how my career started, I learned early on to appreciate the value of RELATIONSHIPS. I got “a foot in the door” because of a personal relationship. I had to work hard and be damn good at the jobs I had in order to succeed, but I would not have had that first opportunity without my Dad reaching out to a respected friend from our community, the kind gestures of both that man, and a guy HE knew who, coincidentally, had a son I was friendly with in high school. I made certain to pay attention to the PEOPLE I met – who worked where, who worked for who, who did what – regardless of their position or role. In addition to the potential clients – the art directors, copywriters and producers – I became friendly with account people, agency studio artists, production people, security guards and receptionists, as well. I trained my focus on building RELATIONSHIPS. The SALES – the clients, jobs and the resulting commissions – all came in good time. As my relationships grew in number and quality, so did my level of success.

After about a year of repping, I pondered a career change to agency account management. I had been cultivating a number of productive relationships with people I respected and took a shot at placing my trust in one such relationship. I confided in Ted Warwick, the Head Art Buyer at NW Ayer, who introduced me to a Head Account Director. I cannot remember that gentleman’s name, but will never forget how he so graciously took the time to meet with me, deciphered my interests and talents, and adamantly encouraged me to stick with the art studio business. He felt I was perfectly suited for it, and he was right.

I am grateful for what my Dad did for me, for what Tony Brandi did for me, and for Sam Diamond’s sage instinct and guidance, and for the lessons they all taught me at the very beginning of my career.

It has always been, and still is, mostly about the people – about the relationships.

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