Fuller & Smith & Ross emerged in the late 1930s and '40s as one of the leading ad agencies specializing in industrial and business-to-business advertising, generally ranking among the top 20 to 25 U.S. agencies in terms of billings.
The agency opened in Cleveland in 1907 as Fuller & Smith. It was born with a single account generating $50 a month in fees. The founders both left the agency by 1910, and the company was run for the next 19 years by its senior management.
In 1916, Westinghouse Electric Corp. assigned some work to the agency just as radio production for World War I was driving Westinghouse growth. The Westinghouse account became a mainstay of FSR for the next 44 years.
Another factor in the agency's growth was the leadership of Allen Billingsley, who joined the company in 1923 as an account exec on Westinghouse and became Fuller & Smith president in 1928.
In 1929, Mr. Billingsley approached New York-based F.J. Ross Advertising Agency and in 1930 the two agencies merged to form Fuller & Smith & Ross. Frederick Jeffrey Ross became the agency's chairman, based in New York, but the real authority was in Cleveland, where Mr. Billingsley served as president. In 1938, Mr. Ross retired, and John E. Wiley, who joined in 1932, assumed the chairmanship, serving until 1950.
Under Mr. Billingsley, FSR achieved its greatest growth, moving from billings of nearly $2.5 million in 1929 to $41 million in 1954. While FSR handled only print for Westinghouse, it was involved in TV with client Alcoa, which sponsored Edward R. Murrow's CBS series "See It Now."
On Oct. 8, 1954, Mr. Billingsley died suddenly of a heart attack. Robert Allen, who had replaced Mr. Wiley as head of the New York office in 1950, though without the chairman title, assumed the presidency, and FSR's headquarters moved to New York.
Then in March 1955, after 39 years with FSR, the print portion of Westinghouse's consumer business went to McCann-Erickson, a loss of about $4 million. In 1960, the remaining trade portion of the business, about $1 million, moved to Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove.
In 1957, FSR absorbed New York-based Robert W. Orr Agency, and Mr. Allen opened a 90-person office in Pittsburgh to serve Alcoa and the remaining industrial portions of the Westinghouse business. FSR also had offices in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and London.
In January 1961, FSR formed Fuller & Smith & Ross International, allying the agency with 70 others in 58 countries.
In 1958, FSR created one of the great classics of business-to-business advertising for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. The print ad pictured an executive in a bow tie hunched forward in a swivel chair and scowling into the camera. It was an image that represented every salesman's worst nightmare when making a cold sales call. The copy read: "I don't know you. I don't know your company. I don't know your company's product. I don't know what your company stands for. I don't know your company's customers. I don't know your company's record. I don't know your company's reputation. Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?"
The ad was conceived by FSR account exec Gilbert Morris, who initially posed for the picture to convey the kind of look he wanted in the final ad. His forbidding image fit so perfectly that he ended up using himself in his own ad. In 1999, Advertising Age's Business Marketing named it the best business-to-business ad of the 20th century.
The agency continued a modest growth curve in the 1960s. In June 1960, it acquired Stomberger, LaVene, McKinzie, Los Angeles. Early in the decade, it won Lestoil Products' Lestoil brand cleaner, Air France, Remington Rand Corp.'s Uinvac Division, Renault Inc. and the presidential campaign for Sen. Barry Goldwater. But none turned into a long-term relationship.
Arthur Durham succeeded Mr. Allen as chairman in 1965, with FSR billings nearing $59 million. But in 1972, billings dropped to $45.6 million, and by 1975 to $31.2 million.
FSR began searching for a partner. Merger discussions moved to an advanced stage with Conahay & Lyon and de Garmo Inc., both in New York, but collapsed with FSR's loss of the $7 million AMF Inc. account in November 1975. Finally, in April 1976, FSR became the lesser partner in a merger with New York-based Creamer, Colarossi, Basford, creating a $50 million company with about 60% of its business devoted to industrial accounts.
The 1976 merger ended the life of FSR as an independent company. The initials lingered for two years in the new name, Creamer/FSR, but were dropped in 1978 when the company became simply Creamer Inc.