What's best for consumers is best for advertisers

By Published on .

Most Popular
It's more than a little astonishing for me to realize that I've been with Advertising Age for 45 of the 75 years that it's been publishing.

Astonishing because it doesn't seem that long ago when I jumped in the Ford Falcon my parents gave me after graduating from Northwestern University and headed to Washington, D.C., for my first job as a reporter for Ad Age. My first boss, Stan Cohen, was my best boss. He taught me to challenge my own beliefs, and he also imbued in me that what's best for consumers is best for advertisers, a bedrock editorial position that shapes our judgments to this day.

One of my proudest moments was getting a note from Sid Bernstein, our longtime publisher and in many ways the conscience of our company. Sid also was the man my Dad, G.D. Crain Jr., the founder of Advertising Age, most relied on. I had taken over the D.C. office for three weeks while Stan vacationed, and Sid wrote me he thought I'd "covered all the bases."

I worked in Washington for 11/2 years and then transferred to our New York office. One of the first persons I met was Fred Danzig, who arrived a week earlier from UPI, where he was the TV reviewer. Fred told me he'd "found a new home," and I guess that was true. He stayed with us until he retired in 1994. He became one of the best editors we had, in a long line of great editors, including Sid, Jack Graham, Jim O'Gara, John Crichton, Todd Fandell, Dennis Chase, Steve Yahn and now David Klein and Scott Donaton.

Let me do a little bragging about the crackerjack editorial staff we had back then in New York in the '60s. In addition to Fred, we had Maurine Christopher, the best broadcasting editor in the business; Ramona Bechtos, our international editor; the always dapper Brit, Frank Sinclair; the insistent Jim Forkan; Phyllis Johnson, our unflappable bureau chief; Larry Bernard, who we called Whispering Larry Bernard because of the way he'd talk into the telephone so we couldn't discern his source; and Bob Heady, surely the most dogged reporter Ad Age ever had.


In those days, we were edited out of Chicago, and that bifurcated setup led to some interesting dynamics. Jack Graham and Don Morris were the key editorial guys in Chicago (later Larry Doherty and Larry Edwards filled those roles). The New York reporters always harbored the view Chicago wasn't giving their stories enough play, but I think the Chicago contingent wanted to give Ad Age more of a world view. We struggle to this day to reflect broader parameters.

We had an equally feisty and provocative group of outside columnists who were not shy about stating their opinions. There was Harry Wayne McMahon, who wrote about TV commercials with the definitiveness of the view from the mount. There was E.B. Weiss, a diminutive but scrappy man who wrote about retail trends. There was Scotty Sawyer, who wrote under the nom de plume of Copy Chasers. My Dad wrote a weekly column of quips, which he called Rough Proofs and signed Copy Cub. And Sid wrote his popular weekly Con-Sid-erations column.

Boy, did we have fun. One time we got a tip about a press conference for the following Tuesday to announce the head of the National Advertising Review Board. It was Friday (the day we go to press), and we were having a hard time coming up with the name.

In desperation, I called Milton C. Mumford, the chairman of Lever Bros., whom I had talked to about Darien, Conn., where we both lived. I knew Mr. Mumford wouldn't know who the head of NARB was, but I also knew that Sam Thurm, Lever's VP-advertising, would know. So after exchanging some pleasantries, I asked Mr. Mumford if he would mind asking Sam who the next head of NARB was going to be. Mr. Mumford said, "Wait a minute." A few minutes later he came back and said the man was Charles Yost, our U.N. ambassador. I thanked Mr. Mumford profusely, hung up the phone and yelled, "I got it!"

Ms. Christopher wrote the story, which led the issue; she reported that at the press conference the following Tuesday, John Crichton-American Association of Advertising Agencies president (and our former editor) and the man most responsible for Mr. Yost's appointment-looked dourly at his shoes during the conference. (Years later, after Mr. Mumford died, I told Sam Thurm about how we got the story. He said he had always wondered why Mr. Mumford had wanted to know the identity of the NARB head!)

When I showed up in D.C. in 1960, much of the heavy lifting making Ad Age a success had been done, but in the early days our survival was in doubt.

But Dad was an optimistic guy, and he had a loyal employee named Miss Kebby, who negotiated with our suppliers so Dad was never bothered by people demanding to be paid. He was free to go around and give our spiel. The advertisers would listen to Dad's enthusiastic pitch, smile and say, "You really believe this stuff, don't you?" and my Dad would say, "Yeah, I think it's great!" Advertisers would tell him that they didn't have any money then, but when things turned around they'd be with us. And they were.

Our principal competitor at the time was Printers' Ink, one of the great trade papers of the era. But PI was a how-to-do-it publication. It closed on Wednesday, when much of the news was still developing. We closed on Friday and mailed over the weekend.

We've had formidable competitors over the years, such as Media Decisions, Madison Avenue and Inside Media. A guy named Bernie Gallagher used to write an ad/media newsletter that was must reading. Phil Dougherty wrote the ad column in The New York Times, and it was always a kick to see the Irish Mafia of Phil, our own Jim O'Gara and Steve Kelly, who headed the Magazine Publishers Association, regale the late-night crew during ad conventions.

Our feistiest competitor has been Adweek, especially in the days when the original owners were very involved in industry activities. Adweek was started in 1978 when Pen Tudor, operator of MAC (Media, Agencies, Clients); Jack Thomas, publisher of ANNY (Advertising News of New York); and Ken Fadner, head of SAM (Serving Advertising in the Midwest), got together under the Adweek banner. Believe me, they gave us a real run for our money.


Business was a lot different in those days because there weren't yet giant consumer-goods companies, agency conglomerates and media combines. It was probably inevitable agencies in the '80s and '90s raced to keep up with their clients' insatiable appetite to acquire, driven by a stock market that rewarded growth.

Bob Goldstein, then VP-advertising of Procter & Gamble, called attention to this dilemma in the '80s. We ran an editorial warning about the consequences of agency deals, and I received a note from Bob: "Well said. Perhaps you'll now understand why we took a hard line. It wasn't and isn't who calls the tune-it was all about looking ahead to the shape of the world that might be." Those words were his last to me. He died a couple of months later in a rafting accident.

Bob couldn't hold back the storm, but recent events give me a glimmer of hope that his warning about the downside of agency consolidations may yet prove to be the shape of the world he envisioned.

At any rate, we always have been about how marketers find new ways to bring their products to the marketplace. We thrive on change, and marketing is our economy's high-powered change engine.

Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement. (And special thanks to you, Mr. Mumford, wherever you are.)

Rance Crain is editor in chief of Advertising Age and president of Crain Communications Inc.

In this article: