Beers, Charlotte (1935- )

Published on .

Most Popular
In a career spanning four decades, Charlotte Beers was the top executive of at least three advertising agencies, carving out a reputation as a sharp business executive as well as paving the way for women to become a competitive force in the advertising industry.

Ms. Beers was born July 26, 1935, in Beaumont, Texas. She majored in mathematics and physics as an undergraduate at Baylor University.

After graduation in 1957, she moved to southeastern Texas to teach engineering algebra to petroleum managers in the oil fields. But she soon realized she wanted to do something else and in the early 1960s accepted a job as a consumer market research supervisor with the Uncle Ben's division of food and candy marketer Mars Inc. in Houston. She was promoted to brand manager for Uncle Ben's in 1966 and then group product manager.

In 1969, Ms. Beers was offered a position as an account exec at J. Walter Thompson Co., Chicago, the ad agency for Uncle Ben's. At JWT, Ms. Beers discovered she enjoyed what she called "orchestrating service" for such clients as Alberto-Culver Co.; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Gillette Co.'s personal care division; appliance marketer Sunbeam; and Quaker Oats Co. She became known for being able to forge close client bonds.

Within five years, Ms. Beers was elected JWT's first woman senior VP. The agency did not promote her further, however, so in 1979 she accepted an offer from Jerry Birn, CEO at JWT rival Tatham-Laird & Kudner, also in Chicago, to help put that agency back on a winning track. At the time, Tatham was struggling with low employee morale and tenuous client loyalty. Ms. Beers' hard work paid off and, in 1982 when Mr. Birn retired, she was named CEO.

The 1980s were good years for the agency, which quadrupled its billings and developed a reputation for providing opportunities for women. Ms. Beers also prospered, becoming the first female chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1988.

In 1991, she helped guide Tatham's merger with Paris-based Euro RSCG and was named a vice chairman of the parent company. But when she was required to move to France, she surprised the agency by resigning instead. In 1992, she accepted the chairmanship of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

Ms. Beers helped her new agency win the $500 million IBM Corp. account in 1994 in what was at that time the largest account consolidation. During her tenure, Ogilvy also signed other large accounts-including Kentucky Fried Chicken, with spending estimated at $80 million-and worked to woo blue-chip clients such as American Express Co., Shell Oil Co., Ford Motor Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and Unilever. Ms. Beers helped develop the agency's strategy of "brand stewardship," or what she called the art of creating, building and energizing profitable brands.

Ms. Beers is credited with bringing Ogilvy out of a slump and guiding it to become the No. 6 U.S. agency. In 1996, Ms. Beers turned the company over to Shelly Lazarus, a longtime Ogilvy executive; the following year she retired to Florida, where she planned to write books.

But Ms. Beers was not long absent from the agency world. In 1999, she returned to the ad business as worldwide chairman of JWT, her first agency. Chris Jones, JWT's chairman, relinquished his duties in an unusual job-sharing arrangement, accepting instead the title of CEO. Ms. Beers' return to the agency was widely credited with helping JWT recover after a tough period. Within a year of her return, JWT won more than $700 million in new billings, including Qwest Communications, Elizabeth Arden Co., Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Genuine Draft and Shell Oil Co.

In March 2001, Ms. Beers' contracts with JWT and its parent WPP Group were not renewed, but she rebounded quickly with a nomination from President George W. Bush to become undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. She was confirmed for that post following the Sept. 11 attacks.

In that role, Ms. Beers took on the challenge of revitalizing and revamping the State Department’s public relations and outreach activities to reflect the need to give more attention to Muslim countries and to more directly target the general public rather than civic leaders. She tried a variety of methods, including advertising, but had mixed success as the U.S. readied for war with Iraq. In March 2003, Ms. Beers resigned, citing health reasons.


Born in Beaumont, Texas, 26 July 1935; graduated from Baylor University, 1957; taught engineering algebra to petroleum engineers, before accepting a market research position with Mars Inc.’s Uncle Ben’s Rice, where she was promoted to brand manager, 1966; named account exec at J. Walter Thompson Co., Chicago, 1969; joined Tatham-Laird & Kudner as chief operating officer, 1979; named CEO, Tatham, 1982; resigned after Tatham was acquired by Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG, Paris, 1991; named chairman-CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York, 1992; retired, 1996; named chairman of JWT, 1999; left agency and was named U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, 2001; resigned, 2003.

In this article: