Founded in New York in the 1920s by M.J. Donahue and Sayers Coe, Donahue & Coe grew slowly until 1932, when it was bought by Edward Churchill, who became the agency's president. From then on, D&C posted an average growth rate of $1 million a year until leveling off briefly around 1945 at $15 million in billings. Following a drop in revenue, it was slowly rebuilt through the 1950s.
Among the agency's 30 accounts in 1945, the largest part of D&C's growth was driven by the motion picture business. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lowe's Inc., Columbia Pictures and Republic Pictures made up the largest share of D&C business for many years, accounting for as much as 50% in the late 1940s.
Although movies were made in Los Angeles, the financial and marketing decisions of the film business were concentrated in New York. Following World War II, the rapid growth of TV hurt the movie industry, and D&C felt the blow; agency billings slipped about 15% as a result. By 1950, the agency had recovered to near its 1945 levels and continued to grow steadily, reaching more than $33 million in billings by 1960.
The Walter Weir agency merged with D&C in October 1951, bringing the combined shop's staff to 175; Walter Weir joined D&C as a senior VP and later became its chairman. In 1955, when Cowan & Dengler folded, agency principals Stuart Cowan Jr. and Horace Dengler came to D&C, bringing with them several accounts, including Bankers Trust, Seamless Rubber and Raytheon.
In December 1956, D&C added a Chicago branch to its network of offices in New York, Montreal and Atlanta when it merged with Arthur Grossman Advertising, bringing the Borg Warner Norge division account. As a result of the diversification of its client base, billings rose to $27 million, and the agency's share of motion-picture volume dropped to around 18%.
In 1958, the agency finally opened a Los Angeles office. But the new branch served regional Pepsi-Cola Co. bottlers and Alpha Beta grocery stores rather than the movie industry.
By the end of the 1950s, the agency was expanding and attracting senior people from such agencies as Doyle Dane Bernbach, Ogilvy & Mather and Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample. Their experience in consumer advertising helped produce a swing toward packaged-goods business, which by 1960 accounted for 30% of the agency's billings, with drugs making up 15%.
In 1961, the agency posted the most successful year in its history, billing nearly $35 million. It added Squirt Co., maker of the Squirt soft drink, and several U.S. Tobacco Co. brands; it even acquired another agency, Cohen, Dowd & Aleshire, which brought in Amstel beer, Grove's 4-Way cold tablets, the Lady Esther division of Chemway Corp., Kiwi shoe polish and Lydia Pinkham's vegetable compound. Although billings improved slightly the next year, D&C lost Grove, Fitch dandruff shampoo and Columbia Pictures.
D&C was hit hard by several account losses as well as the 1963 New York newspaper strike, which contributed to a reduction in billings of approximately $10 million from a 1962 high of $35 million. In 1963, Mr. Churchill, then retired, sold his interest in the agency to a management group that included Messrs. West and Weir.
Later that year, the new management team merged the agency with Ellington & Co., Philadelphia. In January 1964, the combined agency was officially renamed West, Weir & Bartel. With approximately $40 million in billings, it was the No. 33 shop in the U.S.
In 1966, the agency lost the $3 million MGM account that had once been the financial backbone of its predecessor. Finally, in 1968, West Weir, then billing about $20 million, disappeared in a merger with MacManus, John & Adams, taking with it the last remnants of Donahue & Coe.