February 15, 2018


by Suka Creative

For those of you who don’t know, Bernie Karlin (the father of our founder and CEO, Susan Karlin) ran his own Madison Avenue agency through the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Between winning over clients with his firm’s stunning work and cultivating dozens of talented photographers, illustrators, and designers, Bernie developed some great words of wisdom about the business behind being creative. He never hesitated to share them, knowing full well that his advice extended far beyond the world of skinny ties and three-martini lunches. And while the ties may be gone and the martinis replaced with juice cleanses, Bernie’s philosophies are timeless.

The images used here are all Bernie’s illustrations, from children’s books to album covers.




“Clients can love you on Monday, and you can be history on Tuesday.”

Nothing was more valuable to Bernie, and to Suka today, than client relationships. Approaching creative work with mutual respect ensures that both the agency and the client are allowed to bring their best selves to the project. Bernie also knew that he should never take advantage of the goodwill he had built with his clients or take those relationships for granted. Tastes can change. New leadership can bring in new strategic partners. There will always be someone who can do the work cheaper. The best way to avoid getting a “Dear John” letter from your clients is to do excellent work and to build quality, trusted, and long-lasting relationships.



“You are only as good as your last job.”

At a time when Madison Avenue was littered with the stories of failed agencies, Bernie knew that his past successes had limited value. His firm’s reputation was strong, yet he didn’t want to rely on that alone to carry the business forward. He would rather look to what may be coming in the future than spend his time celebrating the past. He built a culture of creative growth and tenacity, one that Suka still champions. Markets today are hungry for progress and rife with competition. Whether you are in the service industry or not, looking forward rather than backward is the best way to ensure your future remains bright.



“Always leave a meeting with something.”

Not every meeting you have will feel productive. You may walk away thinking that your idea was not heard or that you have no ownership over the next steps. Meet-and-greets, networking events, lunches, and happy hours can seem more like an excuse for free drinks than a forum to make connections. Over the years, Bernie learned there was always an opportunity inside every meeting. The takeaway may be something tangible, like the name of a new contact or a lead towards new business. However, what you leave with may be something you have learned, whether it is about emerging problems your clients or industry may be facing, resources you can use to improve your business, or a bit of inspiration. Believing there is value in every meeting has helped both Bernie and Suka find the opportunities that may not be obvious.



“Youth has something to teach you.”

Bernie didn’t dismiss young people as inexperienced. Rather, he knew they could be a valuable resource to learn from. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City so he could build a connection to the newest crop of creatives. He believed in having a diverse group of friends, getting to know artists, photographers, and designers of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. He stayed young-minded and contemporary, looking to the latest trends in art, music, and design and trying to anticipate how they may shape the aesthetics of the future. Building on Bernie’s example, Suka seeks to cultivate a team of employees and strategic partners with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and skills. Growth, success, and truly good work can only come by being diverse and remaining open to new ideas and innovations.





The images used here are all Bernie’s illustrations, from children’s books to album covers.