Frank Palmer - Advertising Legend

Frank Palmer - Advertising Legend

DAD.CEO Exclusive Interview

While attending college in Canada for advertising, our professor once told us that we would become the most powerful people in the world! We were the CREATORS with the highest chances to impact society by using our vision and imagination. We had the power to affect a company's growth by influencing consumers to purchase more products and effectively we could elevate the economy while shaping public opinions and trends.

From that moment, I was addicted to advertising and I would soon discover a truly trendsetting agency named Palmer Jarvis which was led by the creative visionary and legend in the making Frank Palmer.

Upon graduating, I was lucky enough to land my very first job at his agency as a Junior Art Director. I never had the chance to meet with Frank as I worked in another office of Palmer Jarvis (another city), but I knew everything about him as he was a constant fixture in the media by winning one client and award after another. 

27 years later, I finally got to meet Frank and I could not be prouder to be interviewing a true hero of mine.

DAD.CEO: What top 3 lessons did your parents leave you with that you feel are still relevant in today's digitally connected world?

FP: I believe the first lesson that I learned was to be on time as it shows that you care for the other person. If you are late, then you are basically demonstrating that your time is more important. So, for me, always be on time. 

Another thing that my parents taught me and that I try to do is to never bad mouth others. A good business example of that would be when other agencies would bad mouth us because they did not like what I or my agency was doing for whatever reason, I made the decision to not trash talk them back in return because all I would be doing would be adding more fuel to the fire.

I find this lesson particularly more important today since everything that goes online stays online forever and it can come back to haunt you at a future date. So, I believe it’s better to take the high road and not get sucked into unnecessary battles that will harm you regardless of ‘who gets the victory’.

DAD.CEO: That reminds me of a good saying my father once told me: 

“Never get into a pissing match with a skunk!”

FP: That’s a good one!

Frank Palmer in his childhood.

Another good lesson that I learned was when I was a kid around 6 years of age. I had stolen a comic book and my mother asked me where I got it? I told her I bought it (back then it was worth maybe 10 cents). She told me that she knew I did not buy it but that I stole it and I was forced to admit it to her. She then proceeded to take me back to the store, admitting that I had stolen it and making me feel like I was such a bad person at that moment and that I would be going to jail if I ever did it again. That lesson was so strong, that to this day I never lie about anything.

Frank Palmer (center) with his parents

Finally, I was taught to work hard and to be as generous as I can with others. You have to give credit to people where credit is due. Because all too often, people just don’t compliment others as they should. People should feel valued for the work they do. It’s that simple.

DAD.CEO: The word NO is a powerful word in business, but how does its meaning work as well in your home?

FP: For me, the word NO, means that you have to sometimes get around to saying it more often when it’s truly needed. Everyone tries so hard to work around it as opposed to saying it directly.

"For me, NO is clearly always NO!"

And it only works when there are penalties involved. I mean in business there is always a penalty when you can’t get something done.

In family life, it was the same. When I was a kid, whether is meant picking your clothes, doing your homework, taking the dog out for a walk, or mowing the lawn. If I didn’t do it, then I would not be getting paid for the work I had done. For me, you have to respect the word NO and I agree with what you said earlier that it’s not always followed to a ‘T’ as they say.

DAD.CEO: How do you ‘unplug’ with your family?

FP: I was never really good at the act of relaxing or ‘unplugging’ as you put it. I always found it very difficult to unplug because my mind as a creative person is in a way always ‘rambling on’ and working full-time. 

Sometimes I can put myself on ‘mute’ for a while and be able to get away from my day-to-day issues from the office and I’ll put on some music. As well, after a certain time of the day, I will make it a point to not phone others so I can help them to ‘mute’ even though I’m really not that great at muting myself. As well, I try to make it a point to not send any emails over the weekend so as to not ruin their private time. 

The only time that I could truly ‘unplug’ was when I had my art studio and started painting, then I would be truly involved in what I was doing and nothing else mattered. So, I would have to say that painting would be my only way to truly unplug, and often I could lose all track of time and I could finally stop thinking about advertising or any other stresses that life brings.

Big White Hat Cowboy - Acrylic on Canvas (38" x 24")

Jagger - Acrylic on Canvas (24" x 30")

Cowboy - Acrylic on Canvas (24" x 24")

You can see more of Frank Palmer's paintings at www.frankpalmerart.com.

DAD.CEO: Being in the advertising industry where stress and pressure can be quite high, do you have any advice on how to not let it affect your relationship with your kids/family?

FP: It’s not every day where you will have the same amount of stress. I mean, when you had a hard day because of a deadline or a challenging client and you come home, you always try to leave that stress at the door and to contain it from your family. You’ll get the obvious question of “how was your day” and of course, you’ll answer that you had ‘a great day’ because who wants to say it was a bad day? That would mean having to explain why it was a bad day and therefore having to relive the whole experience again. I would therefore try and contain the pressure within myself so that I would not have to expose my family to it, but I would later most likely share it with my wife when everyone was in bed as she would ask me again the same question, but strategically rephrased; “How was your day… really?”

I tried my best to contain it with a straight ‘poker face’, but there are times when you simply can’t hide it. I mean everyone always wants to know, because when you are in the advertising business, each day can be drastically different when working with several clients of well-known brands and products. So of course, when I would return home, everyone genuinely was interested in how my day was!

I want to make it clear that I love what I do and I never viewed the pressure that came with my work as seriously as other professions who have greater risks and consequences. It never felt that intense aside from a few times when certain major clients owed us lots of money and we had the real risk of possibly going bankrupt and not knowing what the next steps would be. Thankfully, we never came to that point and all was eventually solved. But those were the rare times where stress really came into play and it took a lot for me to contain that when I would come home so that my family was not exposed or affected.

Frank Palmer winning a coveted Cannes Golden Lion (advertising award).

DAD.CEO: Looking back, what would you have changed on being a father considering the huge responsibility and sacrifice of being a CEO and building a major international agency?

FP: I think that when you look back on what you did and whether it was right or wrong, I believe there is always something that you could have done better. For myself, I believe that spending more time with my kids in their early years, participating more in their school work, going to games, etc. is something I wish I had done more of. But I need to accept that while I could have spent more time, I was what you might call a ‘workaholic’ as compared to most fathers and I would spend more time at the office and I still do and not much has changed in my life! But looking back, I probably did not spend as much time with them as I could and should have. I missed that part of their life, a part that I presume I would have enjoyed quite a bit. But I believe where I’m now in my relationship with them, I am now making up for it as I see my son and my daughter more than I did when I was first starting the business.

We pretty much talk every day and we see each other at least once a week. Better late than never as they say!

DAD.CEO: How do you want to look back and be remembered as a father and a CEO?

FP: That’s a great question! Like I said before, I wished I had spent more time with my kids and made that a priority. That’s why I am trying to make up for that now as I am now the one who is running out of time. There are only so many turkey dinners left in one’s life, and hopefully, I still have a few more left as I truly want to make up for the lost time. But I want to make it clear that I’m not apologizing for who I was and what I did. I’m simply trying to spend more time now and demonstrating that I care. 

About how I would like to be remembered as a father? I would like to be remembered that I was a responsible dad who took care of everyone in a way that no one was every short on their schooling and making sure they had everything they needed. I feel I was a great dad when it came to taking care of those details. 

As a CEO in business, I would like to think that everyone who worked for me felt that I was able to help them with their careers and when they would move on, they would take the key lesson on knowing how to treat others with respect in our business. I think on my tombstone it would read.

GOOD GUY. TRIED HARD. DID HIS BEST.

These are the things that you want to be remembered for. I mean even today, people look back on what they learned at DDB and they still thank me and that’s a pretty special feeling to have.

DAD.CEO: What traditions have you continued from your childhood to your children? or have you created new ones?

FP: I think if there are any traditions, it wouldn’t be a tradition on a simple form, but more so in the form of laughter and having fun. For me, I own the word and the domain ‘FUNSHUI’

Frank Palmer is a well-known serial prankster both at home and at the office

I’m known as a practical joker and I’m always trying to play a joke on people at work and my family. Nothing serious, but more harmless and all in good fun. I’m always proud of myself when I can pull it off perfectly and some of them go further than they should. But, it’s all about having fun with people who mean a lot to you. 

DAD.CEO: Do you feel that mothers who are CEO’s have it harder at balancing their work/life duties than DAD.CEOs? Or is it now becoming an advantage due to the new realization of the ‘home isolation double-duty’ that fathers are now facing?

FP: One of the things that I have learned in the business is the fact that women are better than men at balancing their work/life duties. For the longest period of time, my agency's senior leadership to Presidents at a number of our offices was run by women. They make better account people as they tend to be more caring and more detailed oriented.  

For me, I found that I had less to worry about with a leader who happened to be a woman running the office as I felt they were taking better care of certain things that say a man would. Now, that might not go over too well with men, but facts speak for themselves when it came to my personal experiences. 

The women who ran our offices, many of them had younger children and after a long day of successfully running our office would then go home and take care of their kids and spouses. I found it quite remarkable, to be honest. 

"I feel that women are simply better at balancing work and home than men ever could."

As to men, I feel the isolation is now forcing them to take a closer look at their parenting duties. I look at my son who has 2 kids who are now 11 and 7 years old, and I would say that he probably learned to be a better father than I was as I was not there as much as I should have been. He, on the other hand, has learned this fact way before the COVID-19 isolation. He would take his kids to school and spend quality time with them such as going to the park and engaging more on a 1-on-1 basis. I would think that his generation of working from home and taking care of the kids is something that is considered more normal now that it was when I was a younger dad. 

I feel that everyone will now become better at it than they were before and now men will understand that they have to truly share equally in the responsibilities. 

DAD.CEO: Being a business leader, can you give us some financial tips that a father should be teaching his children so they may have a better chance at succeeding in life?

FP: Kids today are very different in terms of their wants and needs. But regardless of which generation you come from, it always comes down to putting some money aside for a ‘rainy day’. A good example of that is some years ago, I had a client who came to me and informed me they would be declaring bankruptcy and therefore would not be able to pay their bills with us which would equate to millions of dollars by today’s standards. 

The first thing that I did was to take responsibility by calling every person that my agency owed money to, and I offered them to pay them 100 cents on the dollar of what we owed them provided they gave me longer payment terms. We were able to pay them back much quicker than was agreed to, but in doing so and sticking to what we had promised, I ended up with probably the best credit rating in the city.

So, I think it’s important to demonstrate to your children about the responsibility of making good on what you owe. It’s something you should always follow through on. And in doing so, your reputation will become stronger where you can take a very serious situation and turn it into a positive one. 

"It’s all about protecting your reputation in the long run!"

DAD.CEO: Do you have time management tricks to balance work and family?

FP: As I said before, I was a workaholic and 24/7 was basically my lifestyle. Every day, I get up early and can’t wait to get in the office to start making a difference to my client’s businesses. The only person who can truly get me to stop working is my wife when she threatens to take my computer and throw it out the window. At that point, I usually stop as I know she will actually do it! It’s gotten to the point where I’ll get up 2 hours before her and sneak off to get some work done like a person sneaking away for a cigarette in hiding (says with a laugh). 

When it comes to time management, I have to listen to my wife who is the real CEO at our home who gives me the options to either turn off the computer or it will get thrown out the window. It’s that simple and appreciates her firm stand on the matter!

Frank Palmer with his wife Marika Palmer

DAD.CEO: What would be your best advice on being a successful CEO?

FP: Respecting the people you work with even though they know who the boss is. Never demonstrate that you are the boss! Everyone knows who the boss is so you don’t need to carry a ‘big stick’ to prove to people that you are in charge.  Show people that you care and ensure that there is respect above all else!

DAD.CEO: Covid-19 has forced many leaders to rethink their business and parenting models. Before they had the luxury of separating life in order to focus on 1 at a time. Will we return to the 2-world system or are we now evolving to a new way of life?

FP: I don’t think we will ever be back to business as usual but will be more like

"Back to business as unusual"

I also believe that the values we may have lost over time will somehow return to make us a more caring society where we will all have discovered a new way to operate our businesses in terms of working from home and getting back to what is truly important whether that is at home or at the office. 

I think we will find a better way of balancing them together than what we had before.

DAD.CEO: Any last words, advice, etc.?

FP: In these challenging times it’s not really right of me to be giving advice as everyone’s situation is different, but I wish everyone to try and become more caring and better listeners at home and at work. 

I would say I have become a better listener because of this whole situation we now find ourselves in.  

Thank you for having me for this interview. This was fun!

About Frank Palmer, Chairman & CEO 

From his humble beginnings in Vancouver, Frank has created Canada’s most creatively acclaimed marketing communications agency, and in the process, has changed the face of Canadian advertising. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the advertising industry, Frank has been inducted into the Canadian Marketing Hall of Legends by the American Marketing Association and is a recipient of the Association of Canadian Advertisers’ prestigious Gold Medal Award.

But it’s not only his abilities as an exceptional business leader that make Frank unique. He is also a philanthropist at heart and a true believer in corporate social responsibility. In fact, he is a Founder of the National Advertising Benevolent Society (NABS) in Canada and has provided his expertise and influence to numerous industry and charitable organizations. 

Frank is most likely best known as Canada’s Mad Man of Advertising. His new book “Let’s Get Frank” was just published this year by Douglas and McIntyre. But for anyone who knows Frank (or has been on the receiving end of one of his famous practical jokes) knows he is a strong advocate for what he calls ‘FUNSHUI’, a.k.a. having fun at work.

A graduate of the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design), Frank still enjoys painting in his free time.

www.frankpalmerart.com

 

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