I first met Mike Tesch in the summer of 1966, the year he joined our agency-he was a shy, awkward, insecure, manic art director.
Today, 38 years later, he’s a gregarious, sophisticated – insecure, manic art director.
Despite his five-foot six-inch frame, he became a towering figure in advertising- an art director who, I think it is safe to say, has won more gold medals in the ten years between the mid-seventies and mid-eighties than any other art director in the business.
Tonight, Mike has made my job easy. I don’t have to take a lot of time with tedious explanations of his work. It speaks eloquently for itself. So I’ll spend a little time to explain the personal side of the man.
Mike Tesch is a tightly coiled, super-charged, unremitting, hyperventilated personality. A white-hot fire of life boils within him and around him. He’s great to have on your side.
Mike created his own special style in his work and his own special style in his dress. On Monday, he’d show up at the office attired in Giorgio Armani spendor. He looked like he just came out of a fitting room at Barney’s on Madison Avenue. On Tuesday, he’d show up at the office attired in baggy pants acquired from either Paul Stuart or K-Mart, a faded plaid shirt, and brown suede shoes. He looked like he just came out of a Blarney Stone on 9th Avenue.
But somehow, it all worked.
Yet, it’s a small part of what makes Mike Tesch an authentic original talent. In the agency he could he spotted darting down hallways, bursting out of conference room s, gesturing wildly, laughing, cajoling, encouraging and supporting people around him. He’d start in one direction, then be torn in another. Were he to crouch down while moving in those baggy pants, he’d look like an over- caffeinated Groucho Marx.
He’s a perfectionist who’s easy to like.
What impresses you about him at first when he is standing fully erect – he doesn’t block your view.
Then, after a few minutes of his intense, arm-clutching conversation, you’re struck by a characteristic manner that is direct and honest.
Mike listens as intently as he talks. A rare quality in these self-absorbed times.
I never knew him to be a deeply divided man with layers of personality that peel away like the transparent skins of an onion. He’s all out front with little, if any pretension. Nothing is hidden or artfully disguised. What you see is what you get.
But his intensely adamant approach was seen, by some, as a persistent pain in the ass.
He wears his emotions, all 93 of them, on his shirt sleeve – his Armani shirt sleeve.
He’s not adroit at deceiving or manipulating people. Although I used to encourage him to try in order to become a more well-rounded business executive.
He has a conscience. He was once fired from another agency for complaining bitterly about the unjust firing of a kid in the mechanical department.
(For those of you too young to remember mechanical departments, or bullpens as they were sometimes called – they were places where tired and anxious people sat late into the night in large windowless rooms, crouched over drawing tables with T-squares and glue-pots and foul-smelling-lung-congesting fixative and cold pizza – and they would cut apart type and paste down Photostats of illustrations and photographs and assemble what were called mechanicals. They were the coal mines of the art department. A taken-for-granted, but vital asset of an agency.
Mike made passionate appeals for clients to buy good work. He disagreed vigorously with clients who didn’t wish to be disagreed with, who would test his courage, challenge his thinking and reject his hard work routinely.
Those of us who work in advertising know how turbulent a business it is. And how easy it is to be defeated by rejection and mindless demands. To become consumed by a system that, at times, strips away your desire and self-esteem.
To his credit, he resisted becoming an angry cynic – that debilitating affliction that too often robs creative people of the ability to make honest contact with consumers.
Cynicism, as Tom Wolfe observed, is the coward’s form of arrogance. Mike is neither.
Remarkably, in all those years, his passion never dwindled. He never gave up trying.
He threw himself at everything. And everything became equal in importance. Priorities flew out the window. His intensity level remained as high for designing a simple tent card as for creating a national television campaign.
He possesses an old-fashioned sense of loyalty. When things got tough, as they often did, he was someone you could depend upon. Rare qualities in these indifferent times we live in,
Like any respectable creative person, he was chronically late.
A devout hypochondriac, he would be there sitting alone in his darkened office, rubbing Tiger Balm ointment on his temples to relieve the tensions of the day.
He was driven, I suppose like many of us here tonight, by a fear of living an ordinary life – by a fear of checking out before he made his mark. But make his mark he did.
A street-tough-vertically-challenged kid from Brooklyn, he never lost his sense of machismo. In his fifties, he played full-court basketball in the schoolyards of Greenwich Village every Saturday with nine black guys who were 20 years younger and a foot taller. Curiously, he always showed up at the office on Monday without a scratch. I guess he must have been an outside shooter.
He has depth of conviction. Years later, after the agency’s meteoric success, things went very wrong. And, during the depths of these hard times, many people ran for the exit doors – with money in their pockets from a buyout and bright new opportunities made possible from their long experiences with the agency.
But Mike stayed on. Determined to make a bad situation better. He never gave up trying. And for that loyalty – I will never forget.
Mike Tesch is his work. His work is him. That’s what makes him so good. He’s an art director who has helped elevate advertising by demonstrating how this potent form of communication can rise far above its frequently trivial inclinations.
And that is what you are about to see: Advertising’s possibilities. Honest, powerful work filled with humanity and warmth, satire, irony and irreverence.
Mike’s legacy is a collection of images, words and ideas that make you feel good about this business – that make you laugh and cry and think. Ad, most of all – believe. Advertising that makes you proud to be in advertising.
It was inevitable that Mike Tesch would stand here one day to be inducted into the Creative Hall of Fame. It has been my privilege to help honor him this evening.
- Richie Kahn
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