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Just An Online Minute... Palin, Puppies, Pearls, And Public Service At The Waldorf Astoria

The Ad Council's 56th Annual Public Service Award Dinner, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York
November 18, 2009

Last night I attended one of my favorite events, the Ad Council's Public Service Award Dinner, this year honoring Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company. It's a night of black ties and cummerbunds and floor-length gowns draped with furs (faux, I'm sure)(not really) of varying lengths, never-ending drops of drinks and jewels, and a plate of perfectly cooked meat slab all topped off with an after-party hit by a class 5 hurricane of chocolate-covered and powder-dusted desserts. All this is in honor of the best kind of advertising: the kind created not to inspire consumers to super-size it, but to come to the aid of those hurting, alone, unable to help themselves fulfill their needs -- and those on the cusp.  Yeah, the night began on shaky ground, but the sour attitude of one vexed clipboard captain is nothing that a little Tina Fey can't fix.

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The Waldorf Astoria was awash in a sea of black and white, broken up by bits of Yahoo purple and the rainbow of Coca-Cola products serving as centerpieces on clusters of round tables that bordered the cocktail reception.  The cocktail reception was broken into two rooms, one delightfully empty, which made champagne-getting and mini-Reuben-gathering a breeze.  Guests from Univision, Time Warner, The Home Depot, MTV/Viacom, PRWeek and more slithered through the room, rustling in formal gowns and long lace gloves.  I spotted two new moms-to-be and their satin covered +1s surveying the room, as well as Wenda Harris Millard, president of Media Link, LLC all decked out in velvet and a fur stole, which is a major departure from the power suits I usually see her in on industry panels.  I ran into Barry Frey, SVP, Cablevision Advanced Platforms, whom I'd sat next to the day before at Cipriani.

Due to the tiny seating snafu, I used the power of my memory to lead me to the balcony tables in search of random press types.  I knew once I located them, I would recognize my place. Peering over the balcony at the assembling Young People's Chorus of New York City  -- "or what I call 'The Jolie-Pitt Family Singers,'" joked the adorable and sharp as cheddar Tina Fey -- I was entranced by the ceremony of it all. 

And then, when Fey grabbed both sides of the podium and tickled the pits of the audience with tidbits like how unfortunate it is her book, "Gong Rouge" is coming out at the same time as Sarah Palin's memoir, and the delightful factoid that the same porn actress, Lisa Ann, played Fey in a porn version of "30 Rock" and played Palin in the porn version of... I guess... something Alaskan. "Of the three of us, [Lisa Ann] knows the most about foreign policy," Fey said. I had to smack my +1, to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Even when she switched to the official script, Fey couldn't resist some transitional shots at the former vice presidential candidate -- now "Person Palin" -- as she laughed, "I feel like Sarah Palin right now!  All your ideas are in these glass things," she snarked, referring to those plexi-teleprompter screens.  Yes, she brought the house down with her next sentence delivered in Palin-ese.

The featured PSAs were incredible, as always.  The messages focusing on dads being in their kids' lives, the drunk vs. buzzed driving spots (which I think would be more meaningful with more gore), the naked spotlight shone on veterans and the depression that comes along with returning from war to a world that has been moving along without you. Maybe because our positions on Americans involved in wars are so volatile, it's easy to forget that regardless of position, these men and women, these kids, are doing what their job defines.  And when they return, they're different, and rather than being judged, they need to be understood. That isolating empty feeling of alone is the battle they face. 

It was the spots for communityofvets.org and supportyourvet.org that audibly moved the audience the most in sympathy/empathy. It was the scruffy dog whose master threw his ball for fetch and then took off in a cloud of dust, leaving Mr. Scruffy behind, that first evoked murmurs of "how mean!" and then cheers when the scruffy dog said, "Oh yeah, when you see [my master], tell him he dropped his wallet," and began shaking the contents of Jerk Master's wallet all over the dirt road.  That spot was for adoptus.org.

The night was an around-the-world exhibit of personalities, amazing food, emotional messages, and hilarious overheard tidbits at my table alone, with one guest's overindulged +1 suggesting, "Let's skip the after party and just go back to my house." Another reporter from a certain large grey company needed to operate on a very special arrival, feeding, and drinking schedule that was at least an hour behind everyone else's. 

Want some good news in a down economy for those in the beat-down sector?  The Ad Council tied their fundraising record, with $2.5 million raised this year.   It's good to know that those who can give are giving.

This morning I got up bright and early with the intentions of delivering this to you all kinds of early -- only to discover that I had left my notebook of chicken scribble in the bag of my guest, which meant a fun little jaunt up to the Radio City Music Hall area, where I experienced the scariest thing a person can experience in New York:  Going salmon-upstream in a tidal wave of tourists freshly dumped from the blue-hair bus.  I'm still shaking.  It's not Friday yet, is it?

Photos of everyone in their finery are up on Flickr(many more coming!)

Send invitations to kelly@mediapost.com!

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