I have a simple story to tell. It’s about being a rock star. But before I tell my story, I want to discuss the term rock star. Within the last two years those two words have taken on a definition much different than what most of us normally associate it with. Images of Mick Jagger and David Lee Roth may come to mind, but in the context of my workplace it’s taken on something different. A rock star is often seen as someone who is doing great work and going above and beyond what’s expected of them. Often, people here at Palio receive gracious compliments from their peers, and with those accolades inevitably comes the term rock star. If you’ve been on the receiving end of such an honor, be grateful that someone appreciates your efforts enough to say so.
In the summer of 1982, long before commercial art was a twinkle in my teenage eye, I became a rock star of a different kind. I was working for my cousin, Abe Acee. At that time, Abe was a hay and feed merchant catering to the local harness racing clientele of Vernon Downs, a racetrack located in the very small town of Vernon, New York. My job was to assist Abe with early morning deliveries of hay bales, horse feed, and the occasional dirty joke. Actually, I just listened to Abe deliver the obscenities — I did the other stuff. We also baled hay in the late mornings, throughout the day, and into the early evening. It was tough work and a reminder to me, as Abe would often tell me, of “what you don’t want to do with your life.”
On one rather humid morning after the round of deliveries, my best friend, Butch, and I were asked to meet Abe at his truck to discuss alternative plans for the day’s work ahead. A couple of his other hired hands had to make deliveries to other horse farms, but we were slotted for something else. We hopped into his finely aged red F-150 pickup truck and headed out. The ride to our destination was relatively uneventful with casual conversation. At one point, Abe decided to light up a Camel and drop the question every high school junior hears during the course of his or her summer break. “So… boys … what do you want to do for a living once you finish school? It sure as hell can’t be what you’re doing right now!”
I thought for a second and blurted out, “I’d really like to try to make a living playing baseball. Yeah, pro baseball would be great!” At the time, that’s what I really wanted to do. It was an obsession for me, and I did not give my proclamation a second thought.
Abe took a drag from his Camel, inhaled, hesitated, and then exhaled without blinking an eye. “Huh… baseball. You really think you’re that good? F@cking Joe … baseball?”
Abe paused a moment then looked over at Butch and posed the same question. “How ’bout you dingle-fritz? What the hell do you want to do with yourself?”
Butch smartly replied, “Rock star. I want to be a rock star.”
There was an awkward silence, which Abe used to his advantage. He took another drag and slung his hand over the steering wheel and projected a Wile E. Coyote–like grin. This type of grin had many meanings to those who knew Abe. It usually meant he was up to something or thinking about something that he would eventually be up to. He was not impressed by the answers delivered by his summer help and did not hide his expression of humorous disappointment.
He looked at Butch, exhaled out the window and said, “Rock star… eh? Rock star. Well isn’t that somethin’? We’ll see about that.”
The timing could not have been more appropriate. We had reached our destination and loaded out of the truck. In front of us was a freshly plowed field, all 30-something acres of it. Right in the middle of the field was a tractor with a front loader attached to it. Abe looked at both of us and said, “You want to be a rock star, Butch? Well today I’m makin’ you and Joe rock stars. See all those large rocks popping up out of the dirt? You have to pick ’em up and drop ’em in the front loader. I’ll be in the tractor movin’ as you go. Before the day’s over you’ll be real-life rock stars alright.” This statement was followed by the classic smokin’ Abe laugh. It was a cruel or amusing roar depending on which side of the situation you happened to be on. Needless to say, Butch and I did not laugh. Nor did we laugh for the remainder of the day.
That was one of the longest days of that summer and, coincidentally, one of the hottest. I think I remember cursing many times about Butch’s self-proclaimed career ambitions, as I dropped 30- to 50-pound rocks into the front loader. By the end of the day Butch and I had cleared the field of every possible obstruction weighing more than 3 pounds and managed to drop 10 pounds of water weight in the process. There were no post-concert parties, no groupies to praise our heroic efforts, and certainly no encores. Abe just handed us a wad of cash for an honest day’s work and smiled that Wile E. Coyote smile. “See that, boys? I told ya I’d make you little f@ckers rock stars –– REAL rock stars.”
I always reflect upon that day whenever I hear the term rock star here at Palio. It’s a fond memory of a simpler time. A reminder of what is truly hard work and what is not. I’ve recently witnessed something worthy of rock star status here at Palio. Amazing teams of individuals who have spent the better part of two years helping a major pharmaceutical company launch a global brand. A specific example that comes to mind is two young creatives who, in less than four weeks, assembled a client-wowing interactive iPad demo. It was an inspiration watching them create something magical in such a short period of time and handle it with professionalism beyond their years.
I also witnessed rock-solid leadership guide our team through the minefield of drug launch chaos; dedicated account execs managing countless mounds of client requests and revisions; studio designers who gracefully orchestrated those changes with can-do brilliance; project and production managers keeping their eyes on the ball and on the schedule; editorial and medical services making sure nothing was left unchecked; art buyers and digital media gurus who kept our resources fresh and capable. To see such outstanding performance from a group of people is humbling and an honor.
Palio is an agency of rock stars and that’s something even my cousin Abe would agree with.
Palio is a full-spectrum global pharmaceutical and consumer advertising, marketing, and communications agency that excels in brand creation and specializes in brand strategy, product launches, global marketing, and digital and integrated media.