Of course it can. In fact, it is needed more today than ever. If we need to debate that idea, perhaps we can do it another day.
There was another lesson Peter taught me, which happened on a very busy winter day.
I mentioned that he was the former secretary to the agency's founder, and had become over time the head of its largest and most profitable account -- a position he held, brilliantly, for three decades. He ran this account with one assistant for all those years, and for a few of them, I was that assistant.
We were working on our key, first-quarter member solicitation campaign. It involved the integration of television, print and mail, with the kind of complex test vs control plans that direct marketers routinely execute. This was just on a major scale.
One of the key components of the campaign was tens of millions of preprinted newspaper inserts. They were to be supported by the TV buy and provide a supplement to the mail, to build up a critical penetration level in each market.
We were really busy when we got the call.
One of the trucks carrying several million of the inserts was late with its delivery. After a few more phone calls, we discovered there was a massive snowstorm on this route, and no one could assure us when the delivery would be made, or if it would be made. This was our key campaign of the year. As John Belushi might have said, millions of dollars and thousands of lives (or maybe the other way around) were at stake.
Several hours later we got another call. The truck was found. It had slid off the side of the road and lost its cargo.
We were frantic. Production directors were calling printers, media directors were calling publications and TV stations, and we were all trying to figure out what to tell the client about the status of the campaign.
We gathered in Peter's office to review the options. After allowing us to vent and pretend to have a plan, he sat back in his chair, removed his ever-present cigar and asked, "How's the driver?"
No one else had asked that question. We looked at each other, understood that we had lost sight of the important stuff, and left his office to find out.
The driver was OK. The inserts were lost. We reprinted them and everything else fell into place, delay and all. It always does.
I think of Peter often when things get a bit frenetic. And I thank him for reminding me of the important stuff.