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Soar High Birdman

OOH ...Here’s One Thing by Jim Johnsen

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OOH …Here’s One Thing  


by Jim Johnsen,
Managing Director, Johnsen, Fretty & Company


Soar High Birdman

This past Friday brought the tragic news of Wally Kelly’s passing.  As I am sure many of you are, I am still in a bit of a state of shock.  How could someone so vibrant and energetic leave us so early?  I for one, was sure that he was going to do great things in the outdoor business in the next few years.  As we all know too well, destiny is not rational or fair.

I could not do justice to all the amazing things Wally did and all the ways he touched people in positive ways during his lifetime.  I will leave that to the Outdoor Systems guys who knew him like a brother.  I had the good fortune (in hindsight the amazing fortune) to enjoy a beer with Wally at the Tee Pee recently.  We talked a good deal about Wally’s next big play in the outdoor business (he was percolating something very large and very cool) as well as many good times we shared during the Outdoor Systems and CBS days.  We also talked about collaborating on a book about the golden age of outdoor.  At one point, we pulled out a napkin and started to pen up some of the chapters for the book.  Here is what we came up with:

  1. How Arte tagged me with the name Birdman
  2. Lemons to Gold.  Tobacco announces.  We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, fly to Detroit and bring home the largest (single page might I add) dollar ad contract in the history of the industry.
  3. The First Acquisition.  B&B in Houston.  God was on Outdoor Systems side…but not how you think.
  4. The Reynolds Deal.  Start to finish in a weekend.
  5. The day we rang the bell at the NYSE.
  6. Hold your nose Birdman…we are taking down Times Square
  7. The Fish that Swallowed Two Whales (Gannett and 3M).
  8. Sales Contest Jeopardy, or Lets Sell the Hard Stuff
  9. Welcome to the Club.  The Deal that Lit the Fire.  Louisville, New Orleans and Columbus.
  10. Monkeys will Fly Out of My ass before that Happens
  11. We got off to a rocky start with Phillip Morris, but she eventually warmed up.

It brings me great sadness to think that we will not be able to complete this book together, but I hope collectively we can bring something together that memorializes the great person Wally was.  To this end, Dave Yacullo was willing to share a snippet with me this weekend that does a great job demonstrating who Wally was.  Here it is.  

“Soon after we launched OMG in August 2001, we faced terrible headwinds from 9/11, we got hit with a frivolous law suit and we found ourselves with no clients. Finally in the first quarter of 2002, thanks to my partner Monica Denney, we had a shot at winning a large national account.  Before the pitch, I met with Wally, as I knew we had no chance of winning the business without his support.  Three minutes into the meeting he leans across his desk, face turning red, points at me and says “I wont let you fail, you tell the agency we are close personal friends and I’ll guarantee what ever they need as long as you are managing the account.”  Needless to say, we won the business and Wally backed up every word and then some.  That day, Wally’s unwavering loyalty changed the trajectory of OMG and my career.” 

Birdman, soar high.  We are with you.  


Securities transacted through StillPoint Capital Member firm FINRA/SiPC





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  1. Deirdre Prier says

    Thanks for this Jim. Write each chapter and publish here!

  2. Nick Coston says

    Awesome piece. Great storytelling about a true legend. Thanks for sharing this .

  3. Bill Board says

    We like the way you think Deidre Prier. Thank you for the comments

  4. Bill Board says

    It is what makes Jim Johnsen’s writing interesting and working with him a pleasure. Thank you Nick Coston