In October 1929, when Ray D. Lillibridge decided to retire from the New York-based agency that bore his name, employees Otis Kenyon and Henry Eckhardt bought him out and formed Kenyon & Eckhardt.
In the 1930s, one agency success led to another. Kellogg Co., a Battle Creek, Mich., breakfast food marketer, became a client in 1934 with its Kaffee Hag coffee, followed by its All-Bran cereal and Gro-Pup dog food. By the end of the decade, K&E was handling Charles B. Knox Gelatine Co., Bosco Co., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Munsingwear Inc., John B. Stetson Co. and Quaker State Oil Refining Co.
In July 1942, Mr. Eckhardt died unexpectedly at age 48. Mr. Kenyon, the elder partner who had been content to run his research office and serve as treasurer, assumed the post of chairman, which he held until his death seven years later in 1949.
But real authority fell to Thomas D'Arcy Brophy, who would succeed Mr. Kenyon as chairman. Under his stewardship, the Kellogg accounts expanded to include Bran Flakes and Pep and by 1947, Raisin Bran, Rice Krispies and the coveted Kellogg flagship, Corn Flakes. The list of other packaged-goods marketers grew as well: Wesson Oil & Snowdrift Sales Co., Morton Salt, Borden Co., Pepperidge Farm and Bristol-Myers Resistab.
In March 1948, K&E, now with offices in Chicago and Hollywood, won Ford Motor Co. corporate business ("Ford has a better idea") and, soon after, Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Division and the Lincoln-Mercury dealer account. The Ford account came just in time for TV. In 1949, Lincoln-Mercury became the sponsor of Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town." In addition in 1949, K&E launched "The Ford Theater," which presented live dramas once a month, and "Ford Startime" in 1959. Then the agency came up with a program the industry would dub TV's first "spectacular": "The Ford 50th Anniversary Show," a two-hour, $500,000 compendium of show business that aired June 15, 1953, simultaneously on NBC and CBS.
In March 1954, K&E won the Radio Corp. of America account and helped launch the first color TV sets to the U.S. market in 1955. Agency billings reached $68 million in 1955 and $81 million in 1956.
Still, it was not an easy decade for the agency. In July 1951, Burnett won the Corn Flakes account and in 1952, took the last of K&E's Kellogg business one week after National Distillers and Piels Bros. left the agency. Losses came to nearly one-fourth of the agency's total billings.
Salvation came just before Christmas 1955, when K&E won the Pepsi-Cola account, two months after it lost a competition with McCann-Erickson for the Coca-Cola account. For K&E, the victory meant profit, stability and a seventh-place standing among U.S. agencies. For Pepsi, it meant a repositioning from a budget beverage to an upscale refreshment through the "Be Sociable" and "Pepsi Please" campaigns. Growth slowed after 1956; yet despite the loss of the Pepsi account in May 1960, by 1961 billings stood at around $90 million.
In 1971, K&E purchased the Coleman, Prentis & Varley international agency network. CPV added nearly $80 million in worldwide billings to K&E's nearly $100 million domestic revenue and gave the agency offices in the Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina, as well as Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Brussels and Cologne.
In July 1978, Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca, who on Nov. 15 took the top job at the moribund Chrysler Corp., which lost $205 million that year. Starting in early December, Mr. Iacocca and his close friend, K&E President-CEO Leo Arthur Kelmenson met frequently and secretly. On March 1, 1979, Mr. Iacocca announced that he had fired Young & Rubicam, Ross Roy and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn and moved all $120 million in consolidated Chrysler spending to K&E. According to Advertising Age, the move lifted the agency's overall billings to $328 million.
The shock wave quickly hit Detroit, where K&E dispatched a hand-delivered note to Ford saying it was resigning the automaker's $75 million account. It was the largest account shift in U.S. history up to that point. Most of K&E's middle and upper management knew nothing about it until it happened.
After Chrysler stabilized its financial position with loan guarantees and the advertising came together, Mr. Kelmenson began to think about the way agencies had once produced programming for their clients. If Chrysler and other major advertisers could fund their own shows, he reasoned, they could not only have some impact on the quality, but they also could profit from their distribution overseas. He began to talk with Lorimar, producer of "The Waltons," "Dallas" and "Knots Landing."
The two companies had complementary objectives: K&E wanted to get the best programming for it clients; Lorimar wanted a good investment, and K&E, then the No. 23 agency (billing $434 million), looked like one. In 1983, Lorimar acquired the agency for $21 million, and Mr. Kelmenson became a member of the Lorimar board.
Lorimar's stock went from $20 to $31 in six months, and by 1985, it had a reserve of $58 million for more shopping. That year, Lorimar put together the No. 14 agency in the U.S. by acquiring Bozell & Jacobs for $41 million. At the time Bozell had billings of $808 million; K&E, $412 million. Bozell was eager to jump-start its growth and felt it had to merge to do so; when the agency decided K&E was a logical partner, it sold itself to Lorimar.
Mr. Kelmenson, who knew nothing about any of it until the deal was done, threatened to leave K&E, taking Chrysler with him. Instead, he agreed to a six-month trial marriage. The deal closed in January 1986, and the two agencies became Bozell Worldwide under a parent company called Bozell Jacobs Kenyon & Eckhardt. In 1997, BJK&E was acquired by True North Communications, which also owned Foote, Cone & Belding, and BJK&E was dissolved as a holding company, thus ending the K&E brand.
Bozell continued to function as an independent worldwide operation until September 1999, when it was formally merged into FCB. Mr. Kelmenson became chairman of FCB Worldwide. The merger brought the huge Chrysler account briefly to FCB, before it moved to BBDO, a unit of Omnicom, in 2000. In 2001, True North was acquired by the Interpublic Group of Cos.