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Use humor, but don’t offend

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

The worst business decision he ever made, says Andrew Deitchman, co-founder and former CEO of the ad agency Mother New York, was making an ill-advised joke.

“When I was leading Mother,” he says, “I found myself in the conference room of the largest fragrance company in the world, where the walls were lined with celebrity fragrances: J.Lo, David Beckham, Shania Twain, Halle Berry. It struck me as funny.”

So funny that Deitchman opened the meeting with a pitch designed to draw a laugh. He jokingly suggested that the fragrance company consider launching a perfume for the Yale-educated, Academy Award-nominated actor Paul Giamatti, famous for his roles in the movies Cinderella Man, Sideways and Straight Outta Compton, as well as the TV miniseries John Adams and Downton Abbey.

The room fell silent. No one laughed.

“Never underestimate how seriously peo­­ple take their industry,” Deitchman ad­­vises. “And no, we did not get the business.”

— Adapted from “Well, That Was a Bad Idea,” Arianne Cohen, Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

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