Touring in Sample's Rolls

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Advertising Age and I were together for more than 30 years of the second half of the 20th century. The publication chronicled many profound changes in the marketing field during that time-increased government controls, the influx of foreign carmakers, the dominating influence of TV and the exponential growth of ad budgets, to name a few.

The most significant story? I'd vote for the many articles we carried on the changes in the agency-client relationship. In the 1940s and '50s, ad agency giants such as Bill Bernbach, David Ogilvy, Fairfax Cone and Leo Burnett were held in high regard, even awe, by marketers. As these icons faded from the scene, we reported on how the new agency leaders faced increased client demands for accountability of the burgeoning ad budgets. When agencies later began to merge or go public, our reports on the high prices paid for these agencies led to client resolve to trim fees, and to the eventual death of the standard 15% agency commission. Faced with new financial realities, agencies expanded their services into media buying, public relations, research and other allied fields. But marketers then began to cherry-pick. Agencies often became service companies rather than marketing partners.

Biggest change in publishing: As managing editor, I saw Ad Age's publishing system change from Linotype to cold type to computer-set type to computer pagination, all in a relatively few years. When the first computers invaded our newsrooms, wary reporters and editors insisted on keeping their typewriters, "just in case."

My favorite interview: In 1962 I journeyed to Naples, Fla., to interview John Glen Sample, retired president of Blackett-Sample-Hummert. His agency was a pioneer advertiser on daily radio serials and had dragged a reluctant Procter & Gamble into that medium.

The agency created the shows in those days. Their fastest writer was an unreliable cuss, so they locked him in a hotel room until he finished the week's episodes. They rented the typewriter because the writer usually pounded them into disrepair.

Mr. Sample spun many tales of the pioneer days of modern advertising, and the fascinating interview became a two-part article in AA.

In retirement, Mr. Sample became a real estate tycoon, exhibiting much of the same flare that marked his advertising career. He bought up a large tract of land near Naples that he developed as Port Royal. Today it is one of the toniest communities in the area. He took me on a tour of the new site in his Rolls-Royce, rolling it over curbs and across undeveloped rutted land like a deluxe ATV. As we lunched at the country club he built, he described himself as a "benevolent dictator" of the community who had to approve all the buyers and their home plans. These buyers included a number of A-list business giants.

At his home, we shared Cuban cigars taken from his custom-built cigar closet ("I knew the embargo was coming, so I stocked up," he explained. "And the Upmann people are friends of mine"). He offered me a lot for future development for a mere $15,000. If I could have afforded it then, the investment payoff would have put me in my own Rolls-Royce today.

A 30-year veteran of Ad Age as reporter and managing editor, Lawrence E. Doherty retired as deputy editor in 1996.

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