High on Grasse

It's a warm late summer evening, and high up in a Manhattan office tower, the American consumer mind is being plumbed for all it's worth. And it isn't pretty.Here, in one of the dimly lit conference rooms at the Focus Suites -- a kind of Orwellian factory of focus groups -- the clients are getting toasted. Four New Yorkers from an America Online site called the HUB, in search of feedback about both content and a planned $6 million ad campaign, are passing around a bottle of Haitian rum. Focus groups may be the oracles that increasingly dictate products, ad campaigns and the endings of major motion pictures, but according to one of the HUBsters, "They're so boring, you have to drink."On the other side of a two-way glass wall, seven twentysomething America Online subscribers are seated around a table in a bright, bare room. Each is being paid $50 for an hour or so of their time. Unaware of their hidden audience, they're nervously answering questions from a willowy blonde moderator whose marketing firm, optimistically named Youth Intelligence, recruited them (as well as a more "cutting edge" group scheduled for later in the evening) for the purpose of hearing their opinions. While they volunteer their hobbies and computer interests, the HUB crew keeps up a mocking running commentary from the other side of the glass. When one woman -- an office worker who elicited groans when she named Great Adventure as her favorite leisure time activity -- innocently leans forward to primp in the two-way mirror, the HUB posse howls with laughter.There's something perverse, voyeuristic, cynical, even mean about what's happening. But, hey, this is advertising. And Steve Grasse, leaning casually back in his chair, his fingers laced behind his glossy shaved head, is totally in his element. As the founder and leader of the Philadelphia ad agency called Gyro Worldwide, he's been hired to give the HUB a hip new profile. But for someone who's been called the Howard Stern of the ad world, Grasse has been uncharacteristically subdued thus far. It's only when the questioning finally turns to the HUB itself and Gyro's ideas for promoting what's they're calling "new fangled entertainment" (part magazine, TV show and online chat room) that Grasse leans forward intently.The frivolous mood dampens as the group behind the glass lets loose on the HUB. "Middlebrow," they say. "Trying too hard to be cool." Says a relentlessly humorless stockbroker, "It's like ten years behind. It's like when the networks try to make a show for teenagers." Ouch.Quips Grasse, "She's smart. She's not our target audience."The moderator talks about peppering the nation with HUB stickers (minimal reaction), shows a poster featuring a Hubby the Clown character (blank looks). "What if you knew he was a former proctologist. Would that make it better?" she asks, delivering a question that Grasse inexplicably insisted she add to the prearranged list (more blank looks). She passes out a stack of possible ads. There's a HUB logo on a giant fly, and the tagline, "Come fly with us." There's a baby with a HUB logo on its stomach and the ominous line "We are not responsible," and a piece of meat -- possibly a chuck roast? -- bearing the HUB insignia, beneath it the words "Be all that you can be."It's crude, cryptic, totally absurd -- and it's classic Gyro."When you look at them, you don't know what they mean but you feel like you should," responds a member of the group. "Yes!," crows Grasse.Finally, the big question: "If you saw these ads for the HUB, would you go to the site?" Blurts the deadly serious stockbroker, "Maybe if it said, 'Under New Management.'"Grasse and his clients erupt in laughter. "That's the best line of the night," hoots Grasse with delight. "Hey, maybe we'll use it: 'The HUB: Under New Management.' Or maybe, The HUB: We only suck half as much as we used to.'"He's the guy who came up with the name for the Milkbar and then enraged the Catholic Church by picturing the Virgin Mary with a cow's udder where her heart should have been in an ad for the nightclub. He's also the guy who used an image of serial killer Charlie Manson and the names Khadafi, Mussolini and Hitler to sell clothing. He ran photos of Michael Jackson and Newt Gingrich with the slogan "Some people are just too WHITE," to promote a tanning salon. And yes, he's the one who made those jaw-dropping commercials for the Philadelphia Zoo that paid homage to the high decibel, heavy-on-the-reverb spots made famous by Gary Barbera Dodgeland, the Atco Speedway and the "monster truck" shows at the Spectrum.A punk P.T. Barnum with an unerring talent for attracting media attention and a penchant for pissing people off (or, put another way, the perpetual class clown at the back of the room making fart jokes), Steve Grasse has also done something unique in a town with a lackluster ad industry: He's built his tiny seven-year-old ad firm Gyro into a high profile commodity. "We have the accounts everyone wishes they had and that's just because we have the balls to go out and get them," says Grasse, who has made a hobby of trying to alienate his Philadelphia ad agency colleagues.Adding the "Worldwide" suffix to the company name as a goof a few years ago seems to have been a lucky charm. Since 1996 Gyro has been handling the $70 million international account of German company Puma, which is making a serious run at the mighty Nike. (In fact, Gyro is producing a new Puma commercial, directed by Hollywood guy Joel Schumacher, that will run in 135 countries.) Gyro is also creating worldwide campaigns for Killer Loop Eyewear, a brand Bausch and Lomb recently purchased from Benetton. On the national front, they have Reactor jeans, and Paddington Liquors (makers of Bailey's Irish Cream and Sambuca) for whom they're doing a happening "G Spot" club promotion for Goldschlager and creating new brands. (Puccino coffee liqueur -- "coffee to go-go," is being test-marketed now.)And last February, Gyro launched Red Kamels, a new retro-styled cigarette brand for R.J. Reynolds that is not only selling like gangbusters, but whose sleek package design is winning kudos (including a best of 1996 nod from Time magazine). They're also responsible for Kamel Menthe, whose unusual Gyro-designed side opening box is being touted as "the only brand with slide-o-matic action." Then there are the spots for Coca Cola, Budweiser, MTV and HBO.Though Grasse is tightlipped about his income and his company's revenues, a 1994 Advertising Age article about Gyro estimated billings at $13 million. And Grasse says business increased 20 percent after the firm snagged the prestigious Puma account.It's not that Gyro doesn't have competition. Many of the major agencies have started their own youth divisions to capitalize on the trend. It's just that Grasse brazenly refuses to compete.Take The HUB account. Said to be the biggest campaign ever launched for an online site, forty of the nation's major ad agencies competed for the $6 million piece of business. Gyro wasn't among them, but, in the end it was Gyro that HUB called. "It took three phone calls to get Steve to agree to come up and talk to us," says Peyton Kay, HUB's director of sales and marketing. "I guess it didn't sound that interesting to him over the phone.""We don't have to pitch any more," boasts Grasse about the expensive dog-and-pony shows that are the cost of doing business for most agencies. "You have to know you want Gyro. No one else can be on your list. The only kind of pitching we do is called 'creative exploratory.' You have to pay me between $50,000 and $60,000 for two weeks of my time to take a look at your product. If you like the ideas, then we'll keep going and I'll start charging you a lot of money. If you don't, then we're done. So, I make money on failure as well."But Anthony Vagnoni, editor at large for Advertising Age, says he's skeptical. "I've heard that 'we don't pitch line' before and I don't know how much is hyperbole and how much is real. A number of agencies get paid a fee to explore a product, but in most cases they spend ten times more than that trying to get the business. And anyway, if the world's greatest piece of business wanted them to pitch, they might re-examine that."Still, from all appearances Gyro does seem in the enviable position of picking and chosing their clients. "I don't have any debt -- I don't believe in it -- and we run the company very tightly," Grasse says. "Because of that I'm not desparate to do business with people. I can say fuck you. That's why we do good work."These days he says he gets most of his business either by clients seeking him out or through his provocative pitch letters. He told Budweiser that they were missing the boat with an ill-conceived Gilligan's Island spot. And he reeled in the Red Kamel gig with a missive decorated with hot dog stickers and other weird Gyro images. (One of the strangeds is a disembodied encephaletic head the Gyroites refer to as Billy, the company mascot.) "It was such an odd letter, we called him in," says Brice O'Brien, R.J. Reynolds' marketing assistant.Steve Grasse, a Souderton, PA. native who started the firm with his wife Emma Hagen at the tender age of 25, has created an empire by carving a specific niche. His is the agency that can deliver the much-salivated-over and mythically difficult-to-reach youth market.Grasse's pitch? "We are your market. We won't take on a product we won't use ourselves." (Gyro turned down VHI, for example, because, Grasse says, "I didn't get it. I asked, 'Why do you play this Michael Bolton crap?' And I couldn't understand the answer.") Says HUB general manager Jon Sacks about Gyro, "They are hip, they are trendy, and they understand our demographic better than anyone."Still, in one of his famously over-the-top press releases, Grasse chortled about winning the HUB account: "Gyro's quest to dominate World Youth Culture seems to be right on track," he wrote. "We own this territory. Before you know it, I'll have the Federal Trade Commission on my ass for being a monopoly."But how plugged into the MTV generation can a 33-year-old who owns an impeccable, antiques-filled mansionette in the Spring Garden neighborhood of the city and a 27-acre horse farm in Chester County really be? And though he might surround himself with post-pubescent art directors and sales reps, and show up to business meetings in jeans and Chuck Taylors with no socks, how much of a foot-in-youth-culture can a guy who goes to bed at nine, gets up at five and recently traded in his black Porsche 911 for a Range Rover, really have?Self-promoting bombast aside, the unfailingly shrewd Grasse is keenly aware that the enfant terrible act has a shelf life, and that encroaching middle-age could shoot his Gen-X credibility straight to hell. In fact, he's already working on a new schtick. And there are other signs that the Sid Vicious of Madison Avenue may be recasting himself. "I think we learned the power of controversy, how to use it to our advantage," says Grasse. "But I think at the end of the day it tends to be shallow. You can only do it so much. There has to be some real substance. And I think the work we do now has it. We don't go for shock value anymore."Could it be? Could Steve Grasse and Gyro dare to grow up?Even Grasse's critics, who have been legion, seem to be mellowing. Just a few years ago, hatred is the word most would have used to describe the Philadelphia ad world's feelings about Grasse and Gyro. It may have had something to do with his tendency toward outrageous self-aggrandizement -- he once plastered the town with stickers advertising the Gyro crew as "conceptual engineers"; another time it was posters that read, "Don't try to define us. We'll define ourselves."Or perhaps it was his habit of taking nasty potshots at his competitors, or that time he publicly heckled Lonny Strum, then head of Earle Palmer Brown, at an ad club dinner. He didn't confine those kinds of antics to Philadelphia either. Recruited by the Cleveland Ad Club to come and give a speech, he sent an imposter in a baby blue tuxedo and Afro wig who gave a bizarre, rambling talk on the Gyro philosophy: "Advertising's goal is to envelop the viewer in ignorance and bliss. The more outrageous, tentative and fractioned the message, the better the sell." Says Grasse, "They never found out it wasn't me."Then again, the local antipathy may have had to do with little Gyro coming out of nowhere and sweeping the local Addie awards. In 1992 they won five first-place prizes, including one for Grasse's campaign for his 13-year-old brother Peter who was running for class president of his Mennonite high school in Towamencin. (One Gyro hallway poster touted the candidate's exemplary conduct during the Vietnam War -- which ended five years before he was born.) In 1993 alone Gyro won 17 Addies, tying with Wieden & Kennedy, the Portland, Oregon-based powerhouse (Nike is a client) that ran a Philadelphia office for a time to service their Subaru account.But then, just as suddenly, Gyro quit the ad clubs and boycotted all awards shows, declaring they'd rather put the money (they spent $20,000 on the contests one year) and energy into other creative endeavors, including employees' personal projects, such as demo tapes and independent films. Gyro, of course, would retain 60 percent ownership, just in case there were any future profits. And Grasse had a few of his own ventures. There was a brief fling at feature film producing. Too expensive he decided. Gyro also published two issues of Hollywood Highball, an aggressively sleazy men's magazine that Grasse's accountant put a stop to."Quitting the awards shows was one of the best things we ever did," says Grasse, who once wrote a sarcastic screed for Adweek on the subject and boasts that he threw three shopping bags of awards in the trash. He says it freed the firm to experiment, instead of "writing ads the way they need to be written to win awards." Says Grasse, "Companys like Puma don't say, 'Oooh, you won a Philadelphia Addy, you must be good.'"Since nothing succeeds like success, all those hard feelings among his local colleagues -- who in a 1994 Philadelphia magazine article were hotly speculating on the supposed demise of Grasse and Hagen's marriage (which endures), the clients who'd fired him, and the predicted downward spiral of the firm -- seem to be so much water under the bridge. "I think 80 percent of it was jealousy," says Geoff Weiser, a former Gyro art director, now at Earle Palmer Brown. "These people would make comments and the irony was, it was people at sucky agencies who had been doing shit work for ten years. Where do they get off?""There's something about Philadelphia where if someone gets really successful, the first thing everyone wants is for them to fall on their face, " says Brian Tierney, whose Tierney & Partners is one of the city's major advertising players. "People need to get over it. He's an extremely talented guy. I love what he's doing. It's what we're trying to do in a different way, which is to put Philadelphia back on the map as an important advertising city.""Before Gyro came around, Philadelphia wasn't known as a hotbed of any type of creativity," says Marc Brownstein, head of the Brownstein Group. "They have a national reputation for doing irreverent work, and they've had great national publicity. They may not be for everyone, but at least they've stepped out and created their own personality." Brownstein, whose firm handles And 1 sneakers, shilled by NBA player Stephon Marbury, says he's also trying to build his national accounts. "If anything, Steve is helping us. When I travel around the country, people say, 'Oh yeah, Philadelphia. You've got that agency called Gyro.'"Alison Childs, the winsomely spacey young Gyro designer responsible for the HUB ads with the baby and the piece of meat, floats into the company's conference room wearing an inside-out baby tee and holding a book called "Thriftstore Art." She wants to know if she can steal an image of a cow and a little girl for the Reactor jeans ad she's designing."Not unless you can change it enough," says Shyamala Joshi, a pale, reed-thin 30-year old who looks 19 and is Gyro's second-in-command. "Why don't you use the black velvet painting of the bull we talked about?" (Later on, Childs will add medical diagrams and pictures of dairy products to create one of the crudely put together, text-heavy Reactor ads that have become famous for their refusal to make any sense whatsoever.)"If we had titles, Shyamala would be senior vice president," says Grasse, whose ever-changing, exceedingly nutty business cards, replete with lobsters, vintage photos, and odd scraps of text, describe him alternately as "the chief" and "CEOEIEIO.A seven-year Gyro veteran, Joshi gets a percentage of the firm's profits and is widely acknowledged to be the organized, buttoned-down ballast to Grasse's perpetually off-the-handle energy. In some ways, she's taken on the role of Emma Hagen, who left the firm four years ago, after it became clear that working together so intensely was sorely straining the Grasse-Hagen union. "Something had to give and that made the most sense," she says. "It was hard to give up, because I'd put so much into it. But it was Steven's vision, not mine." After a stint as Boyd's creative director, Hagen's gone back to her champion equestrian roots and is riding horses full-time on the couple's farm.While Grasse remains absolute Gyro monarch -- he has a tendency to order Joshi around and talk over her during interviews -- it's also clear how much he relies on the West Philadelphia native whom he met when Gyro pitched the Albert Nipon account. Joshi was the company's startlingly young advertising and p.r. director at the time, and when the dress line's parent company went into Chapter 11, Grasse snapped her up.In many ways, Gyro's odd headquarters are just like Grasse himself -- eccentric yet somehow deeply conservative. An old bank, it's got all of the original classical architectural details and all Gyro has added is a sense of ornament that can only be described as early dorm room. The long counter where customers once filled out deposit slips is covered with Puma sneakers, cigarette boxes and liquor bottles. The walls are plastered with old Gyro ads, band flyers and quirky found images. A bust sporting a bad brown wig and taped-shut mouth sits on a shelf. Stacks of magazines with names like Paper, Raygun, Bikini and Huh sit on the floor. Forget actual offices or desks. A half-dozen youthful designers and their Macs are crammed into the gleaming wood tellers' cubicles and a trio of bare-legged nymphs sits cross-legged on the floor sorting through papers. Music pulses out of a boom box.Grasse wears faded jeans, beige hush puppies, and a tee-shirt that reads "Porn Star." The broad, flat nose and heavy brow give him a slightly thuggish air, all of which offers a strange contrast to the genteel conference room, with its garden view and hand-painted wallpaper picturing strolling 19th-century couples and parading troops.Grasse and Joshi are jawing about Gyro's evolving marketing strategy. They've even got a neat graphic handout plotting "The Life Cycle of Hipness," in which the obscure (cool), becomes the cutting edge (hip), becomes mainstream (hot). "That's when all the cool people drop out and the whole thing starts again with another trend," says Grasse, who has the delivery of a barracuda car salesman. "So what we say to our clients is develop a unique brand personality that transcends the cycle because when you try to chase the trends you're dead. Clients call us up and they say" -- here Grasse puts on a deep, goofy voice -- "'We're trying to reach that Gen-X thing.' What we say is it's not about that, so don't get so hung on the age group. William Burroughs was just as cool at 83, so are David Bowie and Iggy Pop at their ages."Grass proceeds to deliver the new and improved Gyro pitch. "This is patented," he deadpans. "There are three kinds of people, and it doesn't matter how old you are. There's the mainstream -- those are the mini-van drivers, the guys who wear Dockers. Then there's the cutting edge of the mainstream and the bleeding edge. Nobody can approach the bleeding edge 'cause they're freaks. But the cutting edge -- people who are marginally underground -- they still buy products. No one else talks to these people. Everyone goes for the mainstream. That's why there's this big gap in the market."Says Grasse, "People say to us, 'Aren't you going to outgrow that Gen-X thing?' We already have."For all his talk about the cutting edge, that mini-van mainstream is exactly what Grasse and his wife Emma Hagen were going for when they launched Gyro in 1990. Ferociously focused from an early age, Grasse did advertising internships at agencies in Bangkok, Hong Kong and London while still a student at Syracuse University.After college he took a job with Saatchi & Saatchi's Auckland, New Zealand, office. "I write very good letters, and I wrote a letter to the Saatchi brothers and said I want to work in New Zealand. And they wrote back and said, 'You're very odd.' But I knew that if you worked in a smaller market and you were American, they would think you knew a lot and let you do things. So I was making commercials when most people my age were fetching coffee."Grasse met New Zealand-native Hagen at the office. A recent architecture-school grad, she was working as a designer. The two married in 1989 and did a stint in Miami, before Grasse decided it was time to come home. He took a job as a copywriter with the now-defunct Ketchum agency, at which he lasted only months before setting out with Hagen to launch Gyro. "I wanted to do it by the time I was 25," he says. "I guess I read too many Ayn Rand books about forging your own destiny."Grasse now admits that his parting from Ketchum wasn't exactly amicable. "The truth is, the first week I was there, the boss called me in and said, 'Steve, you're an asshole. People hate you. Shut your mouth and stop talking back to everyone.' So I just accelerated my plan. But I wasn't very straight about it. I said I was going to work at my Dad's printing company."In fact, Grasse and Hagen did rent an office there briefly, but Gyro took off so quickly they were soon leasing the old bank (on whose second floor they also lived for a time). In some ways the agency's very first job -- a project for MTV, for whom they still work -- should have been an omen. But like any typical Philadelphia agency, the couple was thrilled to get local accounts like record chain, Wee Three, Comcast Cable, and a short-lived tour with women's clothier Nan Duskin. They were happy to win those local awards. Then, in February of 1993, Gyro's infamous Jeffrey Dahmer and Charlie Manson ads for the South Street clothing store Zipperhead appeared. "Go a little insane now not a lot insane later," read the text. So incensed was the reaction, they ended up pulling the the ads. "Everyone in Philadelphia fired us," says Grasse. "It was shaky for a while. But then it was better."The campaign's sheer outrageousness and the widespread press it garnered created a buzz about little Gyro, then just a six-person firm. National outfits started calling. The Youth Culture thing, which had never been a part of any Gyro five-year plan, started looking more and more like the main chance. They grabbed it.Coca Cola tapped them to do a spot, in conjunction with Mike Ovitz's Creative Artists Agency, directed by music video hotshot Spike Jonz. "They asked us to pitch Cherry Coke, but then they decided we weren't big enough to do it worldwide," says Grass. "So this was a consolation prize. The spot was about $900,000 and we got to keep 20 percent of that."Budweiser called them in on a project basis to give Bud a new twist. Some describe their spots as an ahead-of-its-time effort to make a timeless beer cool again. They never ran. "They never intended to run them," claims Grasse. "It was more of a political move that had to do with their main agency. But we learned a lot about how to handle a big company and how to get people to believe in us." Clothing companies Oaktree and Union Bay came onboard. One by one the national accounts started flowing in. Gyro never looked back."If someone had told us when we first started what we would become, we never would have believed it," says Hagen. "If someone had described our lifestyle, with Steven traveling all over the world, we wouldn't have believed it could be true."It's another day at Gyro, and Grasse is on the warpath. While a photographer sets up to take a group shot of the staff, Grasse is pursuing Joshi around the office like a rabid dog. He's unhappy with the results of a New York photo shoot that Joshi shepherded, concerned that the photos don't deliver the kind of action they promised the client.Exasperated, Joshi lashes out, "Steve, I haven't even had time to look at them. After I do a hundred other things I will and then we can talk about it."But Grasse, typically, will not let up. ("I'm the kind of person, when I ask you to do something, I'll ask you five minutes later if you've done it yet," he admits.) He keeps following, nudging, questioning. "Shyamala," he says, his voice rising, "You're wasting my time." Later, he'll come over the intercom, "Everybody, Shyamala wants me to apologize for my outburst," and then in a fake Chinese accent, he does as he's told: "I sorry."Later, he will play a videotape for a reporter of a recent appearance on a CNN business show panel. While the other two panelists are busy making weighty and responsible-sounding pronouncements about their agencies' aims, a leering, grimacing Grasse can be heard making his trademark outrageous pronouncements. "Our agency is what we're selling," he barks at the amused moderator at one point. "Everything in my agency is about me."Watching the segment and looking pleased, Grasse observes, "I come off like an arrogant asshole."Working for Grasse is by all reports a singular experience. He freely admits he's a screamer. "When I yell in the office, I'm just trying to get things done," says Grasse. "And if I yell at you a lot, I usually feel bad and give you a raise." He doesn't deny he's gotten interns to walk his dogs (two long-haired Akitas named Skunk and Possum), and that he demands from his employees the kind of relentless "Pennsylvania Dutch" work ethic that he himself adheres to. When he's in Philadelphia, which is less and less, due to his grueling international travel-schedule, he gets up at five, works until 8:30 a.m., runs 10 miles along East and West River Drives and then goes into the office where he remains until 8 or 9 p.m. He also works, reports his wife, on planes, trains and in airports. "I've never met anyone in my life with a work ethic like his."Grasse prefers to hire young people in school or just out of school. And the less advertising experience the better, because Gyro's mad method doesn't remotely resemble the way things are typically done at most advertising agencies. "What would take another agency three months will take them less than a week," says Hagen. "It's more of a gut thing. It either looks great or it looks bad and you change it." Says Grasse, "We make a very good profit margin because we don't do things the way they're supposed to be done."The work load, the micro-managing and the fireworks are not for everyone, acknowledges Gyro art director Ron Short. Short looks 14 but has a wife and two children and has been with Gyro since nearly the beginning, having turned an Art Institute of Philadelphia internship into a free-form full-time work study program. ("Ron came here for $10,000," says Grasse. "We finally had to tell him, Ron, you can't live on that. Now we pay him a lot of money.")"People look at Steve and say, 'Oh my god, this guy is a nut,'" says the mild-mannered Short. "We've had people in here for half a day and they were out of here so fast they left their lunch box behind. He seems really crazy. But he's really fair. He doesn't seem understanding, but he is. He's just really focused and he knows what he wants. Some people he can convey it to, but other people sort of fight it."Designer Geoff Weiser, now at Earle Palmer Brown, describes himself as the first person to ever leave Gyro on good terms. "Steve told me everything up front. He said 'I'm an asshole, I'm cheap.' I thought I could deal with it, but it was a difference in philosophies. I'm into eliminating stress from my environment and I think he feeds off it. It's necessary for him to operate."There is a certain kind of insanity to the place. What they're doing is really cool, but it's not like they're saving lives, it's not something to devote your life to. But Steve is dedicated to it the way an artist is to painting. I wish I could work there because it's the only place in the area doing anything exciting. But it's like joining a cult."It's the first day of a three-day shoot for Gyro's new Killer Loop sunglasses campaign and up on a hot, sunny roof in New York's financial district, a quartet of anemic looking models in an Army-Navy surplus wardrobe take turns creating a kind of slacker James Bond scene. Dressed in formfitting Air Force flight suits, or baggy camo pants, they crouch at the roof's edge pretending to talk into a cell phone. They clamber up a ladder and slink cat-like along a ledge. One plays gorgeously dead on a fire escape, her legs splayed out, her hair artfully arranged by a stylist.Steve Grasse is hours late. He's been holed up in his Manhattan hotel room, trading calls with Shyamala Joshi, who has been pacing around the set with a phone glued to her ear. They've been putting out fires at Puma, where one of the execs who was supposed to sign off on an ad concept is apparently balking.Finally, the Puma crisis dealt with, Grasse comes bounding onto the roof, prepared, as always, to take over as life of the party. "I feel horrible. I am so hungover," he shouts, looking radiantly cheerful and not the least bit ill as he grabs one of the photographer's cans of compressed air and shoots it playfully at Joshi until she tells him sternly to stop. He reports that he spent the evening visiting chi-chi cigar bars with a Reynolds exec and famed futurist Faith Popcorn, who is consulting for the tobacco giant.Joshi offers the news that the agency has gotten a call from Smirnov. Grasse grins. "Big liquor, big tobacco. What's next? Fur?""No, I draw the line there," says Joshi. "No fur.""And no housing developments," chimes in Grasse.For all of his breathtaking cynicism, his perpetually mocking attitude, his bullshitter's taste for hype, and his chosen profession's absolute elevation of style over substance, it seems Grasse actually does have some convictions.While he's utterly immune to criticism that Gyro's Kamel campaigns, with their "vintage rebels" spin, are aimed at getting young people hooked -- he thinks the government should lay off tobacco and also legalize drugs -- there are two subjects that spark a moral fervor in him. Suburban sprawl and the life and death of the city. "Malls are so evil. Suburbia is so bland. I grew up in a nice, small town surrounded by fields and now it's surrounded by shit box houses. I'm conservative about a lot of things but in regard to raping the land I'm an environmentalist."The man who once threatened to run for mayor and who last June tried to spark a citizen's revolt against the Comcast tower planned for Fairmount Park ("The city sold those rights for only $600,000 so that Mr. Suburbia in his mini-van can talk on his car phone on the Schuylkill? That's disgusting.") is also a surprisingly heartfelt Philadelphia booster. "I'm really adamant about staying in Philadelphia. Everyone wants to run away, instead of staying and making the place they live better. But I think the city is our heritage. To let it rot is irresponsible. If I were governor, I would make the entire state of Pennsylvania responsible for the city of Philadelphia."If not a run for office, what's next for solid citizen Grasse and a maturing Gyro? To cut down some of Trans-Atlantic travel, which he purports to hate, he and Joshi hope to open a London office -- just as soon as they can find the right workaholic maniac to run it. And though plenty of international ad firms have come sniffing around of late, they say they're not interested in selling. "The chemistry hasn't been right. They all say they love the work, but they don't understand it, and they'd destroy it," says Grasse.And though some see Gyro's still minuscule size as a negative comment on Grasse's managerial style, he's in no hurry to expand, preferring the in-your-face intimacy of a small team. "We're already seeing office politics," he says doubtfully.Says ex-Gyroite Geoff Weiser admiringly, "It's one thing to know what you want to do and go work in a place. But he just totally said fuck that and went out and created this free form-thing that's his own, that's exactly what he wants it to be."In the end, it seems, Grasse's definition of success isn't the size of his agency or even the money (though he's happy to see it rolling in), it's always the work. "No one can ever take Red Kamel away from us," he says. "We created it. No agency can come in and say we have a better idea. How could they? Only we know what comes next, we're writing the story. That's what's really great about what we're doing now."


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