As a studio staffer way back when, I met a lot of agency people. But for the first 10 years of my advertising career, no agency would hire me. The Bonsib agency in Fort Wayne, Ind., wouldn't even see me. (Although I did hear from them a few years ago. Bonsib's new president had just learned that my 1955 job application had been turned down. He wrote to say that his executive committee would be happy to reconsider if I was still interested.)
Eventually, I was hired by the Biddle Co., a Bloomington, Ill., promotion agency that worked for State Farm Insurance Co. I got lucky when my creative efforts there caught the attention of State Farm's Chicago-based ad agency, Needham, Louis & Brorby. When Needham's creative director looked at my book and suggested I forget about art direction, I became the agency's oldest beginning copywriter at age 29. That was my first big agency job and my last job interview.
From then until now, the agency business has been even more fulfilling than I could ever have imagined. On a panel not long ago, three of us were asked what we would have done if advertising hadn't been invented. My answer was easy. I'd have invented it.
Where else can you touch the worlds of music, art, literature, entertainment, psychology, anthropology, technology and commerce? All in a single business, sometimes in a single day? And do so on behalf of myriad companies and diverse brands? (How cool was it to work on Amtrak in the morning and Hubba Bubba bubble gum-"Big bubbles, no troubles"-in the afternoon? Then spend the night on Pledge or Parkay or V8 Vegetable Cocktail Juice? Wow!)
How exciting to help the world's leading fast-food restaurant chain redefine its business category with five words and a hooky jingle.
And could any other career surround you with such stimulating people? In my case, I still get to hang out with the likes of Ken Kaess, Bob Scarpelli, Lee Garfinkel and Spike Lee. Could any other job have provided so many great teachers? Like August Busch, who hates pretense and values integrity above all. He taught us the importance of being prepared with straight answers to tough questions. At State Farm, the late Ed Rust showed us great leaders can also be gentlemen and need never lose the common touch. When his farm machinery broke down, Ed himself did the repairs.
Advice from Turner
There were so many more. There was Fred Turner, McDonald's CEO who advised against moving from creative director to agency president. "You'll hate the president business," he said. When I opted for the promotion anyway, Fred said, "OK, if you must. But don't let them tangle you in details. If you ever find yourself in a meeting about the dental plan, you're dead." Fred was right about that but wrong about one thing. I didn't hate the "president business." I loved it.
Before Fred there was Ray Kroc, McDonald's founder. After viewing our first commercial in a campaign powered by the jingle Advertising Age would later name best of the century, someone suggested to Ray that the spot might be a little too "show bizzy." Ray said sharply, "McDonald's is show business." That was the same Ray Kroc who believed persistence is everything-a lesson never lost on me during the 15 years it took to win back McDonald's from the agency that took it from us in 1981.
Beyond inspirational clients, the agency business itself gives us giants to learn from. For me there was Paul Harper, who built Needham Harper & Steers into Advertising Age's 1977 Agency of the Year. From Paul we learned the importance of a clear vision, and how to form a culture that honors the creative process. There was the legendary Bill Bernbach, Advertising Age's Adman of the Century. Bill was my idol since the 1950s, though I'd met him only twice. But I was so inspired by his work I resolved to build a new, worldwide creative network on his creative philosophy.
I couldn't have done that without my friend Allen Rosenshine, and the others who joined us in 1986 to put three creative agencies together to form Omnicom. The union that joined Doyle Dane Bernbach, Needham Harper Worldwide and BBDO was one that surprised everyone and was criticized by most.
Ad Age was the welcome exception. In an editorial dated May 5, 1986, and headlined "A merger with special meaning," Ad Age said, "Awesome, positively awesome." The editors concluded by saying: "There's nothing wishy-washy about this three-way merger deal. The advertising community should send up a rousing cheer for the people who had the boldness and the imagination to look beyond the moment and pull it off."
Looking beyond today's moment, advertising leaders need to keep challenging the status quo so that what we do becomes even more effective for marketers, and even more attractive to the young people who will shape our future. By the time Advertising Age celebrates its 85th anniversary, I hope the magazine will have reported at least that media planning has somehow been re-integrated into the agency creative process, that pay-for-results plans are near universal, that agencies are creating additional revenue through the licensing of intellectual property and the ownership of agency-created content and brands, and that agencies are using their increased earnings to raise entry-level salaries so we can better compete for talent. That way, more young people can experience what I've been lucky enough to enjoy: the incomparable rewards of a lifetime in advertising.
Keith Reinhard is chairman of Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide.