The Donny Handle

Writing the last post, about radio and my mentor, Austin Howe, got me thinking about all the people I’ve learned from in this biz. (The list is long.)

One of the single most useful things I ever learned came from Greg DiNoto, when he was one of three ACDs at Deutsch in 1993. My partner Chris and I were juniors assigned to IKEA, but, like everyone else there, we were thrown in on countless gang bangs. At that time, Donny Deutsch was the CD, and so he passed final judgement on everything.

Donny Deutsch

It was frustrating for many of us. We’d gather around, sometimes all 12 of the creatives, and present concepts, and most of the time before we were finished explaining an idea Donny would dismiss it. “That’d be fine…” he’d say, “if we were Lowe.” (Ironic, now, isn’t it?) Or “That’s not a concept, that’s an execution.”

Anyway, one day after a particularly humiliating (for most of us) round of this, Greg and I were talking. I wasn’t even part of Greg’s group (my partner and I had lost our ACD and reported directly to Donny), but he saw my frustration and Greg’s a compassionate man so he gave me some advice.

“What I do,” he said, “is make sure that every concept I present has a Donny handle.”


“It’s a short phrase, a few words, that sum up the idea in a way that he can totally get it.

I couldn't find a picture of Greg, but he played lacrosse in college

So he can understand it immediately just by the title.”

A dim bulb flickered to life inside the dark basement of my brain. I had seen that in action. The entire creative department had been mustered to present concepts for I don’t know what, some big potential client, and we went around the circle with concepts falling dead on the conference room table just as they left people’s mouths. We were all pretty much striking out and Donny was not very happy. The last to go was Mr. DiNoto.

All he did was pronounce two words slowly and succinctly: “Perturbed Genie.” Then he was silent.

Donny sat there thinking about it, and slowly started nodding his head as he repeated the concept aloud. “Perturbed Genie…Perturbed Genie…I like it.” He smiled and nodded more emphatically.

Everyone else at the table slapped their hands to their faces and thought to themselves, “What the fuck?” After the meeting broke up, the creatives walked around stunned and muttering to themselves.

That was a Donny handle. I had seen it in action. And it helped me grasp, as I pondered Greg’s advice, that a concept had to be strong enough to live by a short description without a long, drawn out explanation that began with “We open on the interior of a medieval torture chamber…”

For the last 18 years I have told that story to countless creatives to help them understand how to evaluate — and present — their concepts. So it’s finally time to say thank you, Mr. DiNoto. That was a good one.


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