How I did it with Jeff Goodby in Inc.
I got interested in advertising because I couldn't find a job on a newspaper. I decided to try advertising, and opened the Yellow Pages and started with A. I'd find myself visiting Al & Joe's Advertising one day and BBDO the next. Along the way someone advised me to create a resume of myself that would show a sense of humor. So I did a parody of an encyclopedia entry of myself, as if I were dead. And that got me a job at J. Walter Thompson.
The idea of starting an agency came up while I was working on a freelance project with my partner Rich Silverstein and another partner, Andy Berlin. Berlin had this primitive spreadsheet program and ran some numbers on it to figure out whether we could actually pay rent and the phone bill if we started a little company of our own. According to the spreadsheet, it seemed like we could. But I'm sure if we looked at that spreadsheet now we'd think it was really shaky ground to start a company on.
We were so worried about running out of money. We really lived frugally. For example, we pitched Honda scooters at the time, and we didn't win but ended up keeping a scooter. And we used the hell out of that thing to go all over town. It got really good gas mileage.
To try to get attention we started looking for things we could do that might be controversial. We took on the account of an obscure local football team with the old USFL. The guy who owned the team was an entrepreneur with a lot of chutzpah, so we had him go on the radio and challenge the San Francisco 49ers to a game. This got so widely ridiculed that it worked.
Then I was lucky enough to meet Will Hearst, the grandson of William Randolph Hearst, at a local business luncheon. He was publisher of the San Francisco Examiner at the time and invited us to compete for the account. The idea we presented was a parody of the film Citizen Kane, which was of course a damning indictment of Will's grandfather. Nevertheless, he liked it and even agreed to act in the commercials, playing the tortured figure who ran the newspaper. The campaign really got a lot of notoriety, and we were on our way.
hat tip to claymore