Cramer-Krasselt is distinguished as being among the oldest continuously operating advertising agencies in the U.S.
Frederick Cramer, born in 1878, was a typesetter by profession. William Krasselt, born in 1872, made his living selling cutlery to butcher shops. Both lived in the Milwaukee area and were members of the Badger Wheelmen, a bicycling club. When the club decided to publish a house magazine, The Wheelman, the two men were asked to take on the job. They set up a company called the Pneumatic Press and, to finance the venture, the company decided to accept advertising.
Soon Messrs. Cramer and Krasselt discovered there was more profit in handling the magazine's advertising than they could earn in their regular jobs. With capital of $3,000, Pneumatic Press became Cramer-Krasselt Co. in 1898.
Early clients included local businesses that were heavily weighted toward the dairy and beer industries, as well as the emerging automobile business. C-K represented Kessel Motor Co. ("The car that stands up"), Miller High Life and Pabst beers and Maytag washers. As early as 1909, C-K ads for Miller used the celebrated tagline, "The champagne of bottled beer."
By 1920, C-K claimed annual "sales" of $500,000, though its formulas for compensation were vague. Growth was substantial enough, however, for the agency to open offices in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York.
During the Great Depression, the company's printing business helped compensate for lost ad revenue, and was a major contributor to its survival. However, financial pressures still forced the agency's retreat from Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, and in 1937, it reported the first unprofitable year in its history.
After the deaths of Mr. Cramer in 1934 and Mr. Krasselt in 1940, A. Walter Seiler, who had joined C-K in 1907 as a stenographer, took over the company. After World War II, C-K grew to be the largest agency in Milwaukee, though it was still a regional shop by national standards, with such clients as Milwaukee Gas Light, Wisconsin Telephone and First Wisconsin National Bank.
By the mid-1950s, estimates put the agency's billings at $6 million. By the end of the decade, billings had grown to just more than $10 million—only 10% of which was in the booming medium of TV.
Growth continued at an unimpressive but steady pace through the 1960s. C-K's creative prestige began to grow when it won various awards. But by 1970, billings still were only about $15 million, limited by the huge competition for major accounts 90 miles south in Chicago.
To break this barrier, C-K established a presence in Chicago in 1980 with the purchase of two agencies, Hackenberg, Normann, Krivkovich and Alex T. Franz Inc. A C-K office also opened in Phoenix and soon grew to become one of the largest agencies in the Southwest. Clients Wausau Insurance and Master Lock became platforms for some of the agency's best creative work, which further enhanced its reputation.
Strong mid-level shop
Moving against an industry trend toward consolidation and merger in the 1980s, the agency sought to position itself as a strong, mid-size shop able to serve mid-level advertisers. It built up its capacities in direct marketing (1981), research (1986), public relations (1987) and strategic planning (1996).
By the late 1980s, C-K claimed it was "master of the $2 million account"—the middle market. On that basis, it successfully expanded into Orlando, Fla., in 1990.
In 2001, C-K, with offices in Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Orlando, was the No. 44 agency in the U.S. with gross income of $72.7 million, up 2.9% from 2000, on billings of $478.2 million. Much of that volume came from its largest clients, Corona beer, AirTran Airways, Hyatt Hotels Corp. and Kemper Insurance Cos.
Aside from the 2001 addition of public relations unit CKPR and the late-2003 acquisition of Manhattan-based Nichol & Co. that got CK a foothold in New York, by mid-2004 the agency had yet to expand its presence to the degree it had hoped for at the turn of the century. Still, it remained doggedly independent, despite rumors as well as overtures from bigger agencies.
In 2003, it ranked No. 26 among the U.S. agency brands and No. 37 among the world's top marketing organizations, according to Advertising Age, with U.S. revenue of $79.1 million, up 6.1% from 2002. on estimated billings of $527.9 million. It was the No. 4 independent agency in the U.S. in 2003.