Mary Trump, Bob Woodward, and others have recently written bestselling books about their experiences with our president. Although I haven’t written a book about him, you can add me to the list of folks whose lives were affected, albeit many years ago.
From 1990 to August 1991, I worked for Great Scott Advertising in New York, the agency that snagged the Trump account from Scali, McCabe Sloves. During this time, there was plenty of work to keep Great Scott a bustling shop.
“Trump Hires New Ad Team” is a more realistic account of why Great Scott was hired. The spokesperson from Scali told the New York Times, “… his agency had not done any ads for Trump in months because of budget cuts.”’ He also said that Trump “owes us a great deal of money and we’ve been very guarded about going public with the problem because we didn’t want to hurt him when he was hurting so much.”
Good Times. At first, I was brought in as a freelancer but was soon hired with full benefits. My role at the agency was always changing. I was part producer and part art buyer. My morning might include helping the production team in the bullpen proofread an ad before releasing the mechanical (ad artwork). In the afternoon, I’d head downtown to a few stock photo houses to research images for the art directors and account executives. My favorite activity, by far, was directing photoshoots, either in the photographers’ studios or in brand-new apartments across the city. I had direct contact with our clients, including Donald Trump’s personal secretary, Norma Foerderer, whose phone number I carefully guarded in my Rolodex.
We knew that Trump was beginning to focus more on licensing his name than building development, which he has claimed to have done over the years. Even back then, it was an open secret in New York that Trump didn’t pay his bills — or, if he did, they were often renegotiated after a project was delivered. One day, Lorraine Borden, the head of Great Scott, returned to the agency after a meeting and announced excitedly, “I’ve got good news! Donald finally paid our invoices. And the bad news? He gave us more work.” Basically, this was his method of stringing along the agency.
To be clear: The Trump Organization was just one of Great Scott’s real estate clients. While we produced luxury ads and elegant brochures promoting the Plaza Hotel and his yacht, The Trump Princess, we also handled the advertising and marketing for middle-class properties, like Brightwater Towers in Coney Island and a massive new construction project for the South Bronx’s low-income tenants. The agency prided itself that “Great Scott owned the first half-dozen pages of Sunday’s New York Times real estate section.” Our clients included billionaire Sheldon Solow’s 9 West 57th and his Solow Townhouses; View 34, The Future, Alexandria, Lincoln Towers, and Turtle Bay Towers.
Beyond Great Scott’s real estate ad portfolio, we also worked for Pace University, the New York Post, and the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Long Island. We also handled Off-Broadway plays and promoted several indie film clients, including New Line Cinema and Fine Line Pictures, and Orion’s “Slacker.” These were fun times.
Trump’s Brand Begins to Lose its Luster. Then there was that time when I got to go on Trump’s private plane. Our agency needed location shots because we were engaged to produce a series of ads featuring Mr. Trump (we were instructed to refer to him by his proper name). Because the plane was parked in Boston, the photographer and I flew the Trump Shuttle from LaGuardia to Logan. Little did we know that the Trump Shuttle was in serious financial trouble. When we arrived, Trump’s assistant told us that “Ivana decorated the front of the plane’s interior,” which was furnished with white leather seats and off-white flocked fleur-de-lis wallpaper. In stark contrast with the front, the aircraft’s back section was a mix of dark burled wood and gold fixtures with a massive bed covered with a plush, burgundy velvet bedspread. While the trip was fun, the ad series was never produced. I later learned that the Trump Shuttle ceased operations in 1992 and was sold to US Air.
As word spread about Trump’s business troubles, his brand was becoming a liability. I was part of the team responsible for removing his name (“Trump”) on several properties, including Trump Plaza on the Upper East Side. To remove his name, I must’ve called a half-dozen sign companies within the five boroughs, but only one would oblige. In hindsight, I believe the Trump name was toxic. Today, the nondescript building entrance (pictured above) is no longer Trump Plaza – and known only as 167 East 61st Street.
Bad Times. By the summer of 1991, we were on COD basis with the New York Times because, along with Trump, many of our other real estate clients were also facing financial troubles. For one of our clients’ ads to run, we needed a check along with our mechanicals for placement in Sunday’s real estate section. If I remember correctly, the ad deadline was Thursday morning, and our production manager was forever in a tizzy getting a “good” check over to West 43rd Street. I knew the agency was heading south the day I dipped my Citicard into the ATM and saw that two critical checks (rent and American Express) had bounced. When I returned to the agency to tell our COO about my situation, he calmly explained, “There was a problem with ADP.” I knew there were no problems with ADP; the problem was a lack of funds in the agency’s bank account. I was given a replacement check but was laid off a few weeks later. Eventually, Great Scott was forced to close its doors.
Interesting Times. Barbara Res, often regarded as Trump’s #2 during her days at the Trump Organization, just published her book, Tower of Lies, an account of her 18 years working for Trump. In 2016, Res wrote an article for the Huffington Post, “How 5 Women Engineered Trump’s Greatest Commercial Success.” Among the five women mentioned in that article was my boss at Great Scott: “Lorraine Borden, with her Great Scott Advertising, packaged the project for ultimate exposure and created a buzz here and abroad.”
I have recounted these stories many times — especially during social situations, with drink in hand. As a former New Yorker, I know the man has not changed his stripes. Trump’s strategies and tactics were clearly evident well before he was elected president. He has been treating our country, and its people, in the same scornful, disrespectful manner for decades. I saw first-hand what two years in Trumpworld was like. He doesn’t deserve another four. It’s time to cut him off.
In case you missed Part One, here’s the link.