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The Story of Poster Pete

Posted on May 13, 2010

In the Fall of 2008, with the world still drunk on Obamania, I designed a poster to take with me to USC games. I figured I’d sell some and hope the photographer who took the original shot wouldn’t come looking for me (see Shepard Fairey later.) Then, I recalled an afternoon spent at the Rose Bowl with the College Logo & Licensing police. After selling $1,600 worth of T-shirts with an inverted Texas Longhorns logo, they confiscated my remaining inventory. Hoping to avoid another cease & desist order and possibly improve my karma, I sent an idea to Pete Carroll’s agent, the author of his blog, and the head of Pete’s favorite community organization. I’d sell the posters to raise money for A Better L.A., keeping only enough to pay for ink & paper.

Ben Malcomson (PeteCarroll.com) was helpful. Brian Center (A Better L.A.) liked the idea. Gary Uberstein (agent) wasn’t buying. Given that he’s a kajillionaire representing dozens of pro athletes, many of whom are Trojan alumni, I was pleased that he took the time to write me off politely. It makes sense that he wouldn’t jeopardize his mega-deals with Nike or whomever, but it was still an opportunity missed. While I never mass produced the posters for sale, I did make a couple for close friends. It sucked because everyone asked where to get them and I started to see avatars with the image on the web. The guys at Trojanwire.com posted the image and got more buzz going, too. But alas, I wimped out (or took the legal high road) and never took sales underground. The viral spread was great but the production of posters never shaped up.

So, if I wasn’t going to make a bunch of little ones, I thought I’d make one big one. Georgina, Ignited’s studio head, printed out one ginormous version that was about 4×6 feet tall, mounted it to foamcore and we handed it to a young, strapping Ignited employee named John Maloney. This 6’4″ Trojan alum was more than happy to cram it into his truck and drive it to the nationally televised Ohio State game the next morning at the Coliseum. The plan – get on ESPN’s College Gameday.  Well, it worked. We were front and center for most of the hour-long broadcast. Guerilla marketing executed to perfection. If only I’d have been there with thousands to sell. A Better LA would have made a mint. The next week, Gameday went to Auburn and I saw someone do a version of the poster for Tommy Tuberville. I’ve since seen them for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and a host of other coaches.

But the story didn’t end there. Soon after the Trojans destroyed the Buckeyes, a reporter from Angeleno Magazine called. He wanted to do a feature on the image. We did a quick phone interview, I sent him some art and there it was on page 48 in the November issue. I’d never been called a “pictographic hagiographer” before. I don’t know if that’s a compliment or an insult. But it was a cool little mention in a trendy L.A. pub. Sadly, I jinxed Pete and he left us at the end of the following year for the Seattle Seahawks. I miss him already and I haven’t even been to a single game in the Lane Kiffin era. I loved Pete’s energy, positivity, charity work, embracing of new media forms and, well, he won a lot. The poster makes me a little sad nowadays but I’m sure it’ll become another trip down a happy memory lane. The Trojans’ success was always a source of creative inspiration for me, especially when the ad world was letting me down.

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