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Brandon Stickney: An ‘ad brat’ remembers Buffalo’s ‘Mad Men’

Mom said I was going to be off school for the day. Any elementary kid is exuberant at the news. It was a cool, leafless morning in April 1974 and I wound up at the wooded Outwater Park in Lockport with good friends.

Not only were we off school, we were on the swingset! Me, Christian Hayden and his little sister, Sarah. “Do what you like,” my father said. And we did. The swings, merry-go-round, spinning fence and slides. Hired photographer Gary McGranahan captured it all for a print ad on banking, family and American security.

My Dad was a “Mad Man” of the time; the title given to executives of Madison Avenue 20 years earlier. Pat Stickney was senior vice president at Buffalo agency Faller Klenk & Quinlan. After graduating UB, and a short stint at Sears in design, he landed a job as a creative director. Though its initials seemed unwelcoming, FKQ became an East Coast “player.”

Thumbing through copies of Ad Age as early as 9, I was an “ad brat,” a good-looking kid who could be inexpensively employed – the housewife/decision-maker draw. Today it’s still comedians, kids, athletes, puppies and cartoon characters that sell.

I had no idea what I was doing except helping out Lockport Savings Bank (now First Niagara), Pratt & Lambert Paints, Firestone-Dunlop, Charlotte Motor Speedway and many other international brands.

For a day, the Haydens and I ran about. On another shoot, I was alone. I was the bad little boy who used Crayola Crayons to draw all over your residential walls. P&L Paints had a “cover” for that.

Dad hired Orson Wells for a Dunlop voice-over, former Miss America Mary Anne Mobley to sell clothes and a Penthouse model named Penny to pose next to a motorcycle.

When I was younger, I was given my first tour of FKQ’s new offices (now a luxury hotel) on Audubon Parkway. I was surrounded by big men with big voices. Ad men. Smoking men. Moneyed men. Future men. The guys in control of what America thought. The real Mad Men of long ago: Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach, and of today: Fran Pahl, Jack Martin and Jamie Phipps.

Ad men never retire; some go off and teach in Tampa, like my Dad. Telling him how much I miss him never seems to sink in.

Among Buffalo’s Mad Men – there were no women in executive roles in the 1970s at FKQ – I felt short, but important. A Mad Boy. I began a writing career.

Al Klenk, my father’s boss, employed me in 2009 as a copywriter. Bob Faller and my father are friends in their new home state of Florida. And I have exchanged much correspondence with today’s president of the Sunshine State’s FKQ, Bob’s daughter, Lisa Faller. I never met Lawlor Quinlan. He moved mountains in his day.

I had embarrassing stints at local agencies: the Partnership, Stand Advertising and J. Fitzgerald Group, knowing with sadness how there are no longer any real Mad Men around here. Or Mad Women.

With social media, we are all copywriters and graphic designers. No college degree, portfolio or inside buddy needed.

So, goodbye to “Mad Men,” a fascinating TV show, and a business, as character Don Draper would say, that did the thinking for us.