A WEEK IN WYOMING.
Last year, I was asked by Paul Smith to attend an Ogilvy senior management seminar in Wyoming.
Here’s an account of what we did.
First of all, you might well wonder what I was doing at a senior management seminar in the first place. At my age I am definitely a senior. But the only thing I manage these days is myself – and I am not much good at that. No, Paul asked me to go because a close family member was seriously ill and there was a possibility that Paul would have to return to England at short notice. He didn’t want to cancel the seminar. People were flying in from all over the world to attend. And Paul, who is the Europe, Africa and Middle East creative director at Ogilvy, was the host. I was to stand in for him if he had to leave. I had written the agenda for the trip, so knew as much about the seminar and its purpose as anybody. In the event, Paul didn’t return to England. Nor did I.
I flew out on Sunday the first of July, finally landing at Jackson Hole airport around six in the evening. I knew I’d arrived the minute I walked into the airport building. There to meet me and three fellow attendees was our driver, a man wearing a cowboy hat dressed head to foot in black; black shirt, black jeans, black boots, the lot. After a wait for luggage we headed to our hotel, the Snake River Lodge and Spa, Teton Village. As I climbed out of the people carrier, I took in the view. There was a ranch opposite and the hotel itself looked like an oversized Swiss chalet. Jackson Mountain, which rises to a height of 4,000 metres above the village, towered over it.
I barely had time to dump my bag when I went up to the suite that Paul was sharing with Leonie Boyle, Ogilvy’s Conference and Training Manager for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Michael Kutschinski, a creative director from Germany. A large oblong table was laid for dinner. The hotel’s head chef was in the suite’s kitchen preparing food. A waitress hovered, pouring drinks. Paul introduced me. One by one I shook hands with everybody and we sat down for dinner.
The dinner consisted of local specialties such as elk and bison. And, of course, there was the mandatory steak. We were in America, after all. Paul had asked the chef to demonstrate creativity in the cooking and the chef obliged with his own take on the local produce. The whole idea of the week’s seminar was to tease out creativity in all its forms. I should explain here that Ogilvy is committed to what it calls ‘pervasive creativity’. This obliges everybody in the organisation to be as imaginative as possible when doing their job, no matter what their job is, and to assist the creative processes in any way they can. Having said that, two of the people attending the seminar were Laurent, the financial director of Ogilvy’s Paris office, and Helmut, the FD at Frankfurt. I suspect that even Ogilvy would draw the line at creative accounting, even if it were pervasive.
The following day we rose early and met our driver for the week, Stephen. We climbed into Stephen’s van, and headed for the Diamond Cross Ranch to keep an appointment with a real life horse whisperer, Grant Golliher, and an Indian chief, whose name turned out to be Buddy. (I was hoping for something more Crazy Horse-ish, but sadly, no.) Neither was to disappoint, however. They were both straight out of central casting. Grant wore cowboy boots, jeans, plaid shirt and, of course, a cowboy hat. He looked to be in his late fifties, with greying hair and a long drooping grey moustache. Buddy, a member of the Shoeshone tribe, dressed similarly, except that he wore a feathered war bonnet in place of a hat.
We were led into a large barn with a corral inside. Grant, now astride his horse, and within the corral, told us a little about himself and demonstrated how a well-trained horse will behave. He held out his arm to the left and his horse’s head turned to the left. He held out his arm to the right and the opposite happened. He used no words of command. Only thought. And, just for good measure, in case we might think that the horse was following his arm movements, he held his hand out to the right again. This time, the horse’s head turned to the left.
At this point, Grant brought in a horse that he’d been asked to break in. He said he’d only had an hour with this filly, but he’d see what further progress he could make in the couple of hours or so we were to spend with him at the ranch. Grant explained that the way to train a horse was to set clear guidelines and not to let the horse overstep them. He demonstrated this literally by laying a rope on the ground an arranging it in a semi-circle at the front of the corral. He told us to kick up a fuss: shout, clap hands, make as much noise as possible, every time the horse stepped outside of the semi-circle, but to keep quiet the second it stepped back within it. This, we duly did, and after a few attempts the horse understood and remained steadfastly within the semi-circle of rope. Paul asked Grant if he’d applied the same principles to his kids. Grant said yes. Paul asked him if they worked. Grant said no.
Previously, we’d all had a go at holding out our hands for the horse to sniff. Then, one or two of us, had been able to stroke the horse’s neck. When my turn came, Grant made me go a step further. He told me to kneel down on the ground in front of the horse and lift up my head to meet her muzzle. The filly bowed her head to meet mine. This, I can tell you, was an amazing experience, if a little scary.
Now it was Buddy the Indian’s turn to talk to us. Surprisingly, he told us that he was a Roman Catholic. He said that Indians still follow their old religion, but as a new faith comes along, they pick and choose what they want from it, and add it to what they already believe. As he said, ‘I don’t buy any of that going to hell stuff’. Being a Roman Catholic myself, I can tell you that being able to ignore the possibility of eternal damnation presents the opportunity to commit all sorts of delicious sins. By the way, you’ll notice I have referred to Buddy as an Indian. One of us asked him whether we should describe him as a Native American or an Indian. He said he didn’t mind either. So I’ve chosen Indian because it’s shorter, and quicker to type.
Afterwards, we went outside and took some pictures. Several of us tried on Buddy’s war bonnet, which he said exuded heap big medicine. (Yes, he actually used those words.) I can’t vouch for the medicine, as I never got to try on the bonnet. We said our goodbyes to Craig and Buddy, climbed back into the people carrier, and headed for another ranch, the Heart Six, for lunch.
The Heart Six lunch was pretty much what you’d expect it to be, steak, baked beans, corn on the cob, and potatoes. Having eaten like cowboys, we were about to spend a couple of hours living like cowboys. One by one we mounted up for a trail ride in the mountains. I don’t remember the name of anyone else’s horse, but mine was called Dangerous. My heart sank as I heard his name announced, but he proved anything but when I rode him. He did have one major fault, however. At any given opportunity, he’d stop and start pulling up clumps of grass. I found that if I allowed him a few seconds to grab the grass, he was quite happy to walk along eating it. That way I was able to maintain the same progress everybody else.
The climax of the trail ride was a high ridge in the mountains, which afforded views all along the Great Teton range. We had set out as two parties, and it was at this breathtaking spot that we met up again and posed for a group photograph. We slowly retraced our steps and reached the Heart Six again. I was grateful for the mounting blocks that the ranch had installed to help old codgers like me. I didn’t so much climb off the horse as fall off. My right leg, which had remained in the same position for over two hours, had seized up. As I raised myself from the saddle, I was a whisker away from collapsing on to the horse dung infested ground. Grateful to have survived the trail ride, and got off the horse in one piece, I headed back with the others to the Snake River Lodge.
We ate dinner that night is what the Snake River Lodge described as its ‘award-winning’ Gamefish restaurant. The food was good enough, certainly. But I’d be interested to know which awards the restaurant had won. It couldn’t have been for the service. But best I gloss over that. The waiters appeared to.
Tuesday was destined to be a less active day than Monday. We were going to spend the day drawing and painting. First, though, everybody trooped off to a local art gallery. Everybody, that is, except Martin Morris and me. Martin is a visiting lecturer in drawing at the Royal College of Art and Paul had asked me to help him set up the room we’d taken over for the day at the Jackson Center for the Arts. Also with us was Lidia, an Italian life model, who’d flown in from Sao Paulo. (Don’t ask.)
Around eleven we all sat down to learn how to draw. Martin showed us some examples of drawings he admired, then explained that drawing a figure from life entailed spending most of your time looking at the model, not at the paper. That was fine by me as Lidia disrobed to reveal an attractive, curvaceous figure. It was ease itself to study lingeringly the lines of her body, and then briefly commit them to paper. Talking of briefly, we now discovered that we were attending what amounted to a speed drawing course, as Lidia adopted one quick pose after another, and we were given less and less time by Martin to capture her likeness in all its beauty.
The time finally came for Lidia to put her kit back on, and for us to lay our charcoal to rest. Martin, Paul and Leonie scrutinized our pathetic efforts but, as Martin had said earlier, it’s okay to make mistakes when you are creating art. The same is certainly true of advertisements. When you’re doing an ad, there can be any number of false starts before you hit on the right idea. Here was another point that played to Ogilvy’s drive for pervasive creativity. It’s important to understand that creative people often toy with ideas that are patently wrong. Allow them time and space to discover one that’s right.
We took an hour or so off for lunch and then returned for an afternoon of painting. Our cue came from Jackson Pollock, who spent several years creating abstract masterpieces in a Wyoming barn that acted as his studio. But first, we had to dress from head to foot in overalls. We even had to cover our feet. Yes, painting like Jackson was likely to be a messy business. And so it turned out. Martin instructed us to eschew brush strokes and to chuck the paint at our canvasses. I have to say, this was great fun. It was like being back at school. No matter how much of a mess you created (and that’s just on the canvass) everything would be fine. It was totally liberating, which was of course why we were doing it. It’s that ole’ pervasive creativity again.
Having splashed around for a couple of hours we got cleaned up and walked the short distance to the Snake River Brewery, one of the many micro breweries that have popped up in America over the past 20 years. As it was the eve of July 4th, the place was packed. We settled down on a long wooden table and ordered pitchers of Snake River Lager. From what seemed like out of nowhere, all manner of snacks and pizzas materialized on the table and we began tucking in. Just then, four guys who looked to me like members of the cast of Deliverance joined the table. They even had a banjo with them. Just as I was about to start practising snorting like a hog, Leonie revealed that they were the bluegrass band that would be staging a private concert for us that evening.
And what a concert it was. We sat in chairs below an awning, or lolled on the grass under the stars, as the band explained the roots of bluegrass music and played examples. I have to confess that I didn’t recognise any of the numbers they played except one, a bluegrass version of Atlantic City from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album. It didn’t matter. The music sounded great, whether you knew it or not.
By now the Snake River Lager had caught up with me big time. So I went off in search of a toilet. I was directed down a long corridor in the Jackson Center for the Arts, where we’d returned for the concert. As the sounds of bluegrass grew fainter, another form of music began to insinuate itself on my consciousness. And I couldn’t believe my ears. Here I was, in the middle of America, listening to the unmistakable strains of that great Cockney anthem, the Okey-Cokey. I quickly relieved my bladder and sought the source of the music. It was a large ballroom filled with young students. Not only were they singing the Okey-Cokey, they were dancing it, just like my family used to do when I was a kid in Tottenham. Surreal, or what?
The next day was, of course, Independence Day, a public holiday in America. After breakfast we set off in the van for a place in town that organised white water rafting. I, for one, approached this activity with certain amount of trepidation. I consider myself too old to engage in dangerous activities of this nature, yet far too young to drown. The long form I was asked to fill in that both asked for my medical history and seemed to sign away all my rights didn’t help matters, either. I’d already filled in a similar form when I’d done the horse riding. Two sharp reminders of what a litigious country the United States could be.
Having been suitably kitted out, we headed off in the van to a landing stage on the Snake River. Here we were given a briefing on how to survive falling out of the raft or what to do if the raft overturned. The gist of this briefing was don’t panic. But if I wasn’t panicking before, I certainly was now, as I climbed aboard one of the two inflatable rafts we’d chartered.
I stepped onto the unsteady rubber floor of the craft and, feeling it shift under my weight, was reminded of the condemned man who, upon placing his foot on the first step of the scaffold at Tyburn, asked ‘Is it safe?’ I took up station at the stern of the raft clinging on for dear life to a rope attached to the side. We pushed off and were soon scudding along in mid-stream. As we got going I slowly started to relax, even as we crashed through the wildest rapids. For some reason Stephen, the driver, who by now was fast becoming a permanent appendage to the group, jumped off the other raft. He swam over to ours and began trying to wrestle Joe Nutt, chairman of Ogilvy’s Moscow operation, into the water. Joe was sitting perilously close to me so I clung even tighter to my rope. After a brief struggle, Joe succumbed and fell headfirst into the raging river. Following our safety briefing, we were able to adopt the correct technique to fish a freezing Joe out of the water.
It was now time for lunch so we put in to a small beach to eat a picnic of wraps washed down with more Snake River Lager. I switched places with somebody so I was aboard the other raft as we kicked off from the shore and struck out for mid-stream again. On this stage of the voyage we passed a high outcrop from which people were jumping into the river for fun. It may have been fun for them but it didn’t look it to me. I can’t think of many things worse than plunging 50 feet from a cliff deep into a freezing and fast-running river, except maybe plunging 100 feet.
Before much longer we reached a second landing stage where the van was waiting to meet us. Rather as I imagine you feel after parachuting out of an aeroplane or doing a bungee jump, I was exhilarated once the white water rafting was over – and pleased that I’d done it.
An hour or so later we found ourselves attending an event that is known as ‘Music in the Hole’, an open-air concert of patriotic music held every fourth of July. There was no shade so we sat on blankets in the sweltering July sunshine. After an hour or so, we abandoned the concert for the air conditioning of the Snake River Lodge. It was either that or die of sunstroke – and there’s only so much De Souza the human ear can stand.
That evening we travelled on the cable car from Teton Village to the top of Jackson Mountain. We were dining at Couloir, a restaurant perched atop the summit. As we sat down at our two reserved tables, Paul appointed me wine monitor for my table and gave me a budget that I shouldn’t exceed when ordering. Scouring the wine list, I discovered a modestly priced South African Sauvignon Blanc that I recognised from many commercial shoots in Cape Town. I ordered two bottles, together with two bottles of Gigondas, a quaffable red from the Rhone valley.
Little did I realise that I was surrounded by wine buffs. Jordi Urbea, the managing director of Ogilvy’s Barcelona office superseded my choice and suggested a Spanish red he was fond of. Sitting opposite, Laurent Weber, the Paris financial director, not only superseded both our choices but also Paul’s budget when he ordered a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage from his native land. This was duly delivered to the table, opened, and a small amount poured into Laurent’s glass. With great anticipation, Laurent took a sip of the deep ruby coloured liquid. The smile soon vanished from his face as he realised that the wine was corked. It now became obvious that the waiter was a fully paid up member of the Basil Fawlty school of sommeliers. ‘Of course it’s not corked, I’ve just taken it out’. He didn’t actually say this, but he may just as well have done. As it was, he returned with the same bottle saying he’d spoken to his boss and been told that the wine was fine, it just needed time to breathe.
Americans may have been fobbed off by this dishonest and pathetic response but for a bunch of wine-loving Europeans it went down like a fart in a phone box. One after another we sampled the offensive wine. There was no doubt that Laurent was right and that the wine was corked. After some persuasion, we convinced the waiter to bring a replacement bottle. This time, when Laurent tasted it, the smile remained on his face.
The highlight of the day was intended to be a firework display at midnight but this was cancelled because the forests that surrounded Jackson Hole were tinder-dry. Neighbouring states were in the clutch of wildfires. Thus far, Wyoming had escaped and wanted to keep it that way. So, dinner over, we drifted back down the mountain on the cable car.
The next morning we were up long before dawn. Morris Weintraub, a local professional photographer, was there to meet us. Morris conducted us to Ansell Adams’s old stamping ground, the Grand Teton National Park, where he give us tips on taking pictures. When we got to the first location, an old farm building known as the Mormon Barn, there was already a photographer there, like us, waiting for God’s early light. Morris told us to walk round the barn and try out different angles for our photograph. As we did this, he moved among us telling us what we were doing right or wrong.
While this was going on, a herd of Bison strolled by. One or two members of our party ventured rather too close for comfort to the animals, notably Ghassan Boujacli, the managing director of Ogilvy’s Bahrain office, with whom I was sharing a suite. Just as I was fantasising about rifling through the contents of Ghassan’s room for valuables following his untimely death, the bison sauntered off, leaving Ghassan a safe distance from the herd and me with no prospect of looting his property.
We moved to a second location overlooking a tributary of the Snake River with the three Tetons in the background. Despite the beauty of the spot we’d been taken to, Paul suddenly asked Morris to show his work to us, rather than, as he put it, ‘just take snaps’. We gathered around Morris’s laptop as he showed us some of his photographs. To me, Paul seemed somewhat disengaged at this point and, just as Morris was getting into his stride, seemed suddenly to change his mind and sent us off to take more pictures. That’s Paul for you. Moving in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.
I should point out that Stephen the driver was one of the most enthusiastic photographers of the party, sporting what looked like a professional set of kit, complete with long lens. By now Stephen was such a ubiquitous member of the party that I honestly started to believe that he must have joined Ogilvy in some sort of management capacity.
At the dinner at Couloir the previous evening a young man and young woman who represented an organisation called The Moth had joined us. The Moth is an outfit that teaches the art of story telling. And, after our photography outing, they hosted a session wherein the Ogilvy senior managers learnt how to tell stories to their colleagues. Paul excluded me from this segment – presumably because he believed I didn’t need any help when it came to telling stories, particularly tall ones. So I can’t describe this session. Instead, I whiled away the morning with Martin Morris cutting up pieces of paper and yarning away, telling him tales from advertising. So maybe Paul was right.
Martin had spent some of the time coaching me in the art of lino cutting. Fresh from my experience with Grant, the horse whisperer, and Buddy the Indian, my design took on a Native American air. I carved a couple of tepees, some feathers then, for good measure, put a couple of Tetons in the background. Martin was kind enough to say it looked good, but I wasn’t so sure myself. You can judge for yourselves above.
The others returned from the story telling session. I was relieved to see that Stephen the driver wasn’t amongst them. After lunch we were divided into pairs and told to illustrate our partner’s story from the morning’s session. As I hadn’t attended I was paired up with Paul Smith, a situation that I am awfully familiar with*. What’s interesting is how people who believe themselves to have no creative or artistic ability can produce great lino cuts. The same was true of the Jackson Pollock session. Some of the best paintings came from the unlikeliest quarters.
For dinner that evening, we headed back into Jackson and a place called The Snake River Grill. Needless to say, Stephen accompanied us, relegating the task of driving to a stand-in, and even brought along his wife for good measure. Stephen had previously described his wife as a ‘stress head’. (Whose wife isn’t, I hear you ask.) I found her charming. We all did.
The Snake River Grill is said to be a favourite of Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, who own a house in the area. I craned my neck and looked around the packed tables in a vain effort to catch sight of the Hollywood couple. They must have been eating at home that night. Back at the Lodge, Paul and Leonie invited us all to their suite for a nightcap. I stayed for a few minutes but soon decided that bed was more welcome than the beer I held in my hand.
Friday, and my last day in Wyoming had arrived. We were all due to have brunch together but, in a late move, Paul decided to confine the party to the senior Ogilvy delegates. So I joined Martin and Michael (universally known as Mini), who had acted as photographer for the trip, at the breakfast table. Now it was just a case of hanging around until early afternoon. Mini and I were to be taken to Jackson Hole airport, thence to fly home.
I walked around the village and did some window-shopping. I felt an acute sense of anti-climax after the activity packed four days I’d just spent. But you know what they say, after the Lord Mayor’s Show, the dustcart. Or, in my case, after a wonderful week, 10 hours cooped up inside a metal tube, eight miles above the Atlantic. As I sipped the British Airways claret, I thought about the people I’d met and the things that I’d done. I soon settled down for the night and, as the claret worked its soporific magic, fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Copyright: Michael Everett 2013
*I was Paul Smith’s creative partner for nearly 25 years.