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Speaking Deutsch

What's the big idea that keeps ad-man-turned-CNBC-talk-show-host Donny Deutsch running?
Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
"24", Jan/Feb 2006

(continued from page 1)

He prefers not to compare himself to other advertising executives, such as Jerry Della Femina and Lois, who also became well-known outside the ad game. A better comparison, to his mind, would be Donald Trump, as he was also able to make a complete career segue from the business world to entertainment. Trump befriended Deutsch when he used his ad agency for the training of the contestants on his show "The Apprentice."

Trump also shares a similar background, in that he took over his father's established business, a real estate company. Deutsch's father created David Deutsch Associates, the agency that Donny now heads under a slightly altered name. Deutsch often jokes that he is a member of the Lucky Sperm Club, as though his success were simply an accident of birth.

But in Deutsch's case, it was never assured that the son would pick up the reins from the father. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school, Deutsch, who says he had never considered an advertising career as a child, went into the business—but at the giant Oglivy & Mather agency, not his father's small ($10 million) print-ad firm. Quickly disaffected at Oglivy, he quit to do nothing for six months, before arriving at David Deutsch Associates on the account side. Still his heart wasn't in it, and his father told him to take a walk. He took a series of non-advertising jobs and it was only after the older Deutsch arranged to sell his firm that the son recognized its value. He returned, but this time to sell creative.

While his father's business model was elegant, conservative and tied to print media, Deutsch immediately set to work securing the television account of the local Pontiac dealers association by the bold move of sending car parts every half hour to the home of the man responsible for hiring an agency. A headlamp would show up with a note saying, "We'll give you bright ideas." A steering wheel would arrive tagged with the message, "We'll steer you in the right direction." The unorthodox approach won the agency the largest account ($3 million) it had ever had.

Deutsch eventually took over the business and modeled it on his own irreverent and innovative personality. The agency is now known for creating some of the industry's freshest work. The edgy advertising of accounts like Nike, Old Navy, Coors and Monster.com arises from its offices. It was Deutsch Inc. that convinced Ikea to feature the first gay couple in a commercial. Along the way also came a slew of awards.

Even while he so drastically changed the face of the agency, Deutsch says his father couldn't be prouder of what he has done. "We have different styles but we both strive for excellence, we share a value system. I stand on his shoulders every day."

Still, the wild-and-crazy image of Deutsch Inc. is something he's also had on occasion to live down to reassure clients who spend their money with the agency. He insists that while the firm comprises free thinkers, it is conservative when it comes to business. In part that is the purpose behind the offices' severely spare decor, which Deutsch refers to as an "industrial art gallery. I want it to look utilitarian to the client to send the message that we put our money in our people and the product. I'm outspoken, a daredevil, but I'm a blocker-tackler. It's hard to see through the exterior."

That may be because this blocker-tackler emits the personality of an effervescing quarterback. At CNBC studios, he walks into the lobby and spies a huddle of cameras and lights. "What's going on here?" he asks and strides right into a temporary set constructed for a promotional spot for the new crew of "Squawk Box." After some good-natured disruption, he comments, "CNBC spares no expense."

Then he meets with "Big Idea" executive producer Mary Duffy and the staff in a production meeting, and Deutsch, who claims to have attention deficit disorder, lasers in on the job at hand. He will shoot two segments today to air on different dates.

"We've got a lot on today," says Duffy and brings up the first topic: Terrell Owens. The ongoing story of the wide receiver who was suspended by the Philadelphia Eagles for insults hurled at the organization and teammates, particularly the quarterback Donovan McNabb, is spiking this day because Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter has accused the team of restraint of trade in stopping him from playing for other teams. The staff has lined up two guests to comment by live feed: former Raider and Fox sports commentator Howie Long and Jesse Jackson. Both have different slants, which are translated to Deutsch in a sort of shorthand. Long will come down on the side of Owens as a horse's ass who deserves what he got, while Jackson will argue that the suspension is an outrage, considering the minor nature of the offense compared with athletes accused of drug and spousal abuse. Specter has said that though T.O. is a jerk, you can't strip a man of his livelihood without giving him a chance to work elsewhere.


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