Homeward Bound: An Honest Recollection

Somehow my mom convinced me I was needed at the family reunion, even though I might have known better. So I flew in from Denver and it was one of those glorious Midwestern Saturdays, with startling blue skies dotted by friendly white clouds. At the time, I was reading Jim Harrison’s sequel to Dalva, The Road Home, a fact that would later take on great significance, the kind only English majors can truly appreciate. For my life, like the life of Harrison’s characters, was firmly rooted in Nebraska. That I’d lived the majority of my years elsewhere scarcely mattered. Nebraska had a hold on me, and it still does.
I started thinking about how inexpensive it was in Omaha. I could buy a house in this city, I figured. Something that was out of the question in the Mile High City. I wanted a house, and even more I wanted a home. So when my parents let it slip that Bozell was actually founded in Omaha in the 1920s, it got me thinking. My first thought was that my parents must be mistaken. Sure, there was an Omaha office, but Bozell was a New York operation through and through. As usual, my parents were right. Leo Bozell and Morris Jacobs, two enterprising journalists, founded Bozell + Jacobs in 1921, and the agency’s headquarters remained in Omaha until the 1970s, when new leadership caved to the magnetism of Madison Avenue.
A month later David Moore flew me out for an interview. It went well. David mentioned that he had a hard time drawing outside talent to Omaha. The idea that I wanted to be there seemed to him almost too good to be true. That I also wanted to be paid a decent wage, sadly threw a monkey wrench into our negotiations.
“How can I pay you more than our Clio winning copywriter?” David asked. “Don’t you understand that this is great money for Omaha?” he followed with.
“Don’t you understand you need to compete on a national level?” I countered.
We didn’t talk again for five nonths. The Clio winner was on her way to Los Angeles, where her husband had accepted a job training race horses. In those intervening months, I had turned down an offer from an agency in downtown LA. Who wants to work in downtown LA? I’d also been enticed by Goodby. Linda Harless said she’d get me freelance if I moved to San Francisco. I almost fell out of my chair at that revelation. Yet, when I came to my senses, I knew a speculative move to the most expensive city west of the Hudson River was not going to serve me. A couple days later, sitting in traffic waiting my turn to board the Bay Bridge, my phone rang. It was Carter Weitz at Bailey Lauerman. “When can you be in Lincoln for an interview,” he wanted to know. I said, “I’m on I-80 now, I could stay on it and be there Friday.”
After spending the day at Bailey, I knew it was the place for me. I went home to Denver and started packing my boxes. Then one day melded into the next and the next and I painfully accepted that the offer might not come. Why the hell not, I couldn’t quite figure at the time. That I was too bold, too outspoken and too ambitious for the gentle admen in Lincoln I came to understand later. I also wore jeans to my interview at an agency that doesn’t wear jeans.
The night after Carter called to say he’d been dreading this call, I figured I might as well reach out to David Moore at Bozell again. My boxes were packed, I simply needed a place to unpack them. I sent David an email detailing all the twists and turns of the past five months, then headed to the espresso shop for my morning ritual. As I was in line for my jolt, the phone rang.
“Do you know who this is?” he asked. I had an idea from the 402 area code. “Do you believe in destiny?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
David explained to me that he’d written to me that very morning, but to my old email and it had bounced back. While he was trying to figure out how to reach me, my email to him arrived.
He said, “We want you.”
I said, “Great. I want to be wanted.”
He threw out a number—the number he was previously unwilling to pay—and I said yes, without hesitation. I called my mom and said I’m moving back to Nebraska, but not to Lincoln. To Omaha. I went to the truck rental place, and the next day I was on the road home.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Nice story, David. And also eye-opening to the realities of where-to-go that’s both creatively rewarding and yet financially affordable.
    I would LOVE to work for Venables Bell in San Francisco, but seeing a report by Fortune came out that the average home in the Bay Area is $780,000. $780,000! That’s insane. San Francisco is a beautiful, world-class city, no doubt, and I’m sure the tech sector makes a viable argument why real estate is so outrageous. But for the roller coaster ride most advertising people endure, it is a scary proposition.

  2. Thank you, Jay.
    Have you seen this?

  3. Oh dear God is that frightening? That’s like three times smaller than my house and four times as much.
    You know, there are good agencies in smaller markets. You’ve seen that with Lincoln and Omaha no doubt. And no doubt, a few people are snickering over that reading this entry.
    Gotta tell you, I was a candidate for a job for a highly-creative shop’s potent satellite in a small Carolina town. I saw the price of the average house and nearly fainted. My family would’ve lived like royalty there.
    Opposingly, I could work at one of these NY upstarts for peanuts, and have to travel an hour and a half from Conneticut. Which is three times as much as my pad in Denver.
    Just an FYI

  4. Thanks for linking to Burbed – but that house is really far away from San Francisco. It’s about a 1-2 hour drive during rush hour.
    Here’s one that’s right in San Francisco:
    Only $469k!
    Oh… uh… if you do move there, you might want to get some second hand armor from Iraq. People in that neighborhood generally don’t go into their front yards without first locking the door(s).

  5. Hey if this is a real estate board. Somebody can buy my house. There’s a chicken in every house and an unused pot in the garage.
    I lie, those are only the reefer wrappers I find when I go on my walk out in the fields. The walks northeast are filled with other trash people throw out of their cars. It’s really amazing what I find on the roadside.

  6. Great story David. So this is why people in advertising move around so much. No other industry is like this. Crazy huh.
    I guess agency prestige is nothing without a place to live.

  7. David, great story and I can relate. I was working in the Middle East for a whiel and came over to San Francisco to join an interactive agency. That lasted all of 6 weeks. Hated it. Trying to find work at another agency out here in SF has been mission impossible. NO-ONE is hiring. That’s one of the major problems with working in advertising in this city. Yes, you get the beautiful scenery, that lovely bridge, the mysterious fog. You also get doors closed in your face and ridiculous rents. I rent a small, one-bedroom place. Rent? $1840 a month. It’s insane. I tried freelancing but there’s not enough to go around. So I’m sadly packing up my bags and heading to Vegas. Talk about taking a gamble with my career?!

  8. Peter Shakey says:

    Hi David,
    Whatever happened to David Moore after he left Bozell & Jacobs? I’d like to drop him a note to say hello.

  9. He’s President and Executive Creative Director at Liggett Stashower in Cleveland, Ohio.