Jim Copacino

Jim Copacino • Written October 2013

Upon graduating from Ohio University with a B.A. in English, Jim Copacino headed to Manhattan to pursue a career in anything-having-to-do-with-the-written-word. He landed a job as a copywriter at the McGraw-Hill Book Company—the beginning of a 40-year love affair with advertising.

After stints at DDB and Young & Rubicam, Jim moved to Seattle to work for the Chiat/Day office here. In 1985, he was hired at Cole & Weber as creative director, but returned to Chiat/Day two years later when GM Roger Livingston bought the Seattle office, rebranding it Livingston & Co.

Over the next several years Jim served as creative director and writer on one of advertising’s most recognized campaigns at the time, Alaska Airlines. The humorous commercials received nearly a hundred awards including a Cannes Gold Lion. In 1990, Livingston & Company won the Seattle Mariners account, beginning a 23-year association between Jim and the Mariners that continues to this day.

In 1992, Jim joined McCann-Erickson, helping to develop high-profile campaigns for Washington Mutual, Washington State Lottery and the Mariners. Five years later, he left to pursue his dream of starting an agency, partnering with Betti Fujikado.

Copacino+Fujikado has enjoyed more than 15 years of success with a roster of regional and national brands that have included the Seattle Mariners, REI, Seattle Children’s, Visit Seattle, Premera Blue Cross and Symetra. In July, C+F was named Ad Age Small Agency of the Year for the Northwest region.

Jim and his wife Jacki have been married for 40 years. They have a daughter, Allyson, who is an educator in Portland. Son Chris is an Account Supervisor at C+F. (Four-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, shows promise as an art director.)

Jim serves on the board of the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the advisory board of Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Three years ago he was awarded the AAF Silver Medal for his contributions to the advertising industry.

His proudest career moment? Probably the “Mariners Classic Commercials DVD Night” giveaway at Safeco Field. “Several hundred fans were there early, waiting for the gates to open,” he recalls. “It was quite possibly the only time in human history that people actually stood in line to watch commercials.”

Jim Copacino is Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director of Copacino+Fujikado. He began his career in New York then moved to Seattle in the early 1980s. Jim likes to say that he’s had the same job for 40 years. “I start every day with a blank piece of paper and try to fill it with something interesting.”

I’m humbled to be included in this gallery of Seattle marketing legends. The punishment for being selected as an “Immortal” is the requirement to submit a story of one’s professional life. Rather than bore you with a chronological biography, I’ll bore you with a series of short vignettes: snapshots of the people and events that have shaped my professional life.  I invite you to join me as we flip through some old black-and-white Kodaks.

American History 102
In January of 1970, I walked into a classroom at Ohio University: American History 102. I sat next to a beautiful young woman named Jacki Lord. We’ve been side by side ever since. Jacki is funny, smart, kind, adventurous and incurably optimistic. She’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. She’s been my rock and my lantern on this wonderful life journey.  As luck would have it, her dad started and ran a very successful Midwest ad agency so Jacki knew what she was getting into when we were married a few years later.

Little Barney, Big Inspiration
That same summer, I was home from college in New Jersey when a TV commercial for Barney’s New York caught my attention. Back then, Barney’s wasn’t the high-fashion clothier of today, it was a discount men’s suit outlet in lower Manhattan. The commercial depicted a fictional gathering of four famous men as young kids on a New York City stoop. The improbable lineup featured a young Humphrey Bogart, a young Louis Armstrong, a young Fiorello LaGuardia and a young Casey Stengel. Each kid shares his adult career ambition. (For example, the young Humphrey Bogart says, “I’m gonna be a big Hollywood movie star!”) After each kid declares his aspiration, they ask nerdy little Barney what he wants to be when he grows up. The bespectacled youngster looks into middle distance and has a revelation: “I don’t know…but you’re all going to need clothes.” Fade to title: “Even Then, He Knew.”  High concept. Great writing. Spot-on casting. Terrific production values. A perfect little 60-second movie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K1Pj4tKXtc

I clearly remember watching the commercial and thinking, “That’s what I want to do.” My love affair with smart, creative with advertising had begun.

Kleinert’s Dress Shields
My first agency job was for a small promotional shop on Madison Avenue called Alan Wolsky & Friends. It was the lowest rung on the advertising ladder, but I was being paid to write (a princely $8100 a year). One of our clients was Kleinert’s Dress Shields. These are absorbent cotton pads that women sew into the underarms of blouses and dresses to prevent perspiration stains. (I’m not making this up.) One of the first ads I ever produced carried the headline “Kleinert’s. We’re up in arms over perspiration stains.” Mr. Kleinert, the crusty founder of the company, loved the ad when we presented it to him. My boss Alan Wolsky gave me a $25 bonus after the meeting. Cash. In wrinkled bills.

Chuck Damon, CD and Sage
After Wolsky, I worked at two more New York agencies: DDB and Y&R. I was fortunate to have great creative mentors and partners who approached advertising as an art and craft. These two agencies were elite graduate schools that provided a priceless education in the ad business (combined with nighttime portfolio classes at the School of Visual Arts). At DDB, a wonderful creative director, Chuck Damon, gave me some unforgettable advice. “Just remember,” he said. “Someday, someone is going to do a great campaign for that crappy account you’re working on.” His message was both a challenge and a life lesson: You have two choices when you come to work every day. You can bitch about the unenlightened clients, boring brands and dim-witted account executives in your life. Or you can hunker down, work hard, respect those around you, and come up with a great idea for clients and products, regardless of the real or imagined obstacles in your way. Thanks, Chuck.

Yes, You Can
Working in a small agency in a midsize market can inhibit your sense of the possible. Budgets aren’t always large, resources can be thin and clients can be cautious. But with a lot of hard work and a little luck, you can overcome these hurdles and stand shoulder to shoulder with the industry’s best. I learned this lesson from three strong and visionary people: Roger Livingston, John Kelly and Joe Sedelmaier. Roger was General Manger of the Chiat/Day Seattle office, and he offered me a job as a writer when I was working at Y&R in New York. (A few years later, Roger purchased the agency from Jay Chiat and rebranded it Livingston & Company.) Jacki and I were ready for a lifestyle change, so we packed up and moved west. One of Chiat/Day’s clients was Alaska Airlines, then a small regional airline with only northbound routes from Seattle to Alaska destinations. John Kelly was the newly named VP of Marketing whose job it was to promote the airline as it opened new routes to Portland, The Bay Area and Los Angeles. John was determined to distinguish the airline in every way—with great service, great schedules and great marketing. Roger was convinced that we could do the best airline advertising in America. I was lucky to be paired with Jerry Box, an outstanding art director who had transferred from Chiat’s L.A. office. We came up with the idea of doing a series of funny spots that exaggerated the discomfort and stress of business travel—making the point that Alaska Airlines understands the beleaguered traveler and can offer a better experience. At the time Chicago-based Joe Sedelmaier was the hottest commercial director in the industry, a comic genius whose specialty was capturing the plight of the little guy caught up in a situation he can’t control. John loved Joe’s work but worried about the high cost of production. Roger boldly assured him that the money spent on the commercials would return a multiple in awareness and sales. John approved the budget and we headed to Chicago to work with Joe. The result was an eight-year collaboration that produced some of the best comedic advertising of its time. We won every national and global award for the commercials, including a couple of Cannes Gold Lions. Alaska Airlines used the spots to successfully introduce the brand into market after market, fulfilling Roger’s promise to John. Joe taught me a great deal about TV production, storytelling, and the art comedy. Roger, John and Joe provided an invaluable lesson: be confident in your abilities and reach beyond your grasp. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q8ylG4c3qE

Management vs. Leadership
To many people today, Washington Mutual is the poster child for the greed and excess that led to the financial meltdown of 2008. But before the company sold its soul by selling bad mortgages, it was one of the Pacific Northwest’s great brands and success stories. Wamu grew dramatically from a local retail bank with a few dozen branches in Washington state to a nationwide financial powerhouse. The company did it the right way: with a laser-focused strategy of great service and respect for the individual customer and employee. I joined McCann-Erickson in 1991, working with CD Jim Walker and GM Hank Barber. Wamu was just starting its expansion outside of Washington—to Oregon, Idaho, California and, eventually, Texas, Florida, the Midwest and the east coast. Our client was the remarkable Deanna Oppenheimer. Deanna wasn’t formally trained as a marketer. Her previous experience was as a media rep for Sunset magazine. But Deanna was a natural leader: smart, strategic, compassionate and motivating in the most positive ways possible. Deanna never got angry, raised her voice or lost her cool. She set high standards and enabled people to exceed them through optimism, energy, positive reinforcement and an unwavering belief in the mission and her team—which extended to her ad agency. Our “Merge With Washington Mutual” campaign attracted hundreds of thousands of new accounts in an era when regional banks were being gobbled up by the corporate giants. http://bit.ly/17OreuR  Wamu steadfastly maintained its independence and its focus on the customer. Deanna was more than a skillful manager, she was an inspiring leader. Working for her was a privilege and a joy.

A Marriage Made In Baseball Heaven
In 1990, Indianapolis media mogul named Jeff Smulyan purchased the Seattle Mariners form George Argyros. The two men could not have been more different. Argyros was a shrewd, tight-fisted finance guy who bought the Mariners for $12 million, intent on keeping costs low and eventually selling for it for many times the purchase price. Smulyan was a charismatic marketer who set out to turn the dreary Kingdome into an entertainment venue that would bring millions of fans streaming through the turnstiles. Jeff hired Stuart Layne, one of his radio station executives, as the Mariners VP of Marketing. Stuart crackled with creative energy and was intent on bringing new life to the moribund franchise. His innovations included the Mariner Moose; the animated scoreboard features (the animated hyrdroplane races and the hat trick); up-tempo ballpark music through big, loud speakers; creative promotions (Remember “Elvis Night”?); and the “Louie, Louie” tradition during 7th Inning Stretch. One of Stuart’s first tasks was to hire an ad agency that could help bring his many ideas to life. As a lifelong baseball fan, I was thrilled when he invited Livingston & Co. (formerly Chiat/Day Seattle) to pitch the Mariners account. We won the business, marking the start of a personal relationship with the ballclub that continues to this day. Stuart hired a bright, young marketer from ABC Sports in New York named Kevin Martinez to oversee the advertising. Jeff Smulyan’s tenure as owner was short-lived, but Kevin Martinez stayed on with the Mariners when the current owners purchased the team from Smulyan in 1992. That was the year I joined McCann-Erickson. Shortly thereafter, the Mariners moved their account to McCann and I worked on the brand for four more years. Then, in 1996, I went out on my own to freelance. I got a call from Kevin and Randy Adamack in the fall of that year, asking if I had the resources to handle their account. I proposed a “virtual agency” and made a presentation to Kevin and Randy showing how I’d handle the strategic, creative, media and financial aspects of the account. In one of the most irresponsible business decisions I have ever witnessed, the Mariners replaced the global agency McCann-Erickson with my ragtag group of freelancers—headed by myself and the talented, baseball-loving Steve Cunetta as Account Supervisor. 2014 marks my 25th season as a partner of the Mariners. In an industry where agency-client relationships are like Hollywood marriages, I treasure the long and loyal partnership we’ve enjoyed. It’s been a joyous combination of professional and personal passion. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clRZOM4K8ws

Living The Dream
Few people who have worked in advertising have not fantasized about starting a shop of their own. For years I pondered the possibility, wondering how people like Ron Elgin and Jack Anderson pulled it off. Then one day, sitting at McCann-Erickson, I had a revelation: The agency opportunity is not going to present itself, I have to go out and make it happen. So in June of 1996, I left the security of a large agency and became a freelancer. I was 47 years old and it was a “now or never” moment. With a strong network of industry connections, and the local economy booming, I was confident that I could earn a living as a freelance writer. My hope was that my freelance business could be the seed that would sprout an agency. My good friends, Pat Doody and Tracy Wong, took me in as a “freelance orphan” and didn’t even bother to charge rent. (Thanks, guys!) I had my own office with a door, a window, a Mac, a dot matrix printer and a fax machine. Copacino Creative was in business. I worked ceaselessly, running around to meetings and new business proposals by day, writing furiously at night. Washington Mutual gave me a lot of contract work, as did other clients like Precor, Real Networks and Washington Energy Services. I had a steady little stream of revenue and a group of reliable freelancers to work with. Then came the Mariners account, followed by an invitation to pitch an expanding new telecommunications provider called Nextlink. I called my good friend and old colleague from Chiat/Day and Livingston & Company, Betti Fujikado. She had been the chief financial officer at C/D Seattle and Livingston & Co. and is a Swiss Army Knife of skills: finance, operations, sales, marketing, and strategy. (She also had significant telecom experience.) I explained that I had some revenue flowing, some opportunities brewing, and it might be a good time to combine forces. I caught Betti at a good time—she was ready to come back to work after having kids, and the agency opportunity appealed to her entrepreneurial spirit. We pitched Nextlink, won it, and Copacino+Fujikado was born. Sixteen years later, we are an established brand with 38 talented employees, a dozen great clients and a reputation for combining strategic smarts with creative exuberance. In 2013, we were named Ad Age’s “Small Agency of the Year” for the Northwest Region. The agency I envisioned is a reality. Sometimes dreams do come true.