William A. Marsteller bought out Chicago-based Gebhardt & Brockson in 1951 and, shortly thereafter, the Pittsburgh office of McCarty Co. The new agency was renamed Marsteller, Gebhardt & Reed.
In 1953, Mr. Marsteller took the unusual step of creating a PR agency, Burson-Marsteller, to work with his ad agency. Burson-Marsteller became the first company to successfully combine public relations and advertising services.
In 1955, Marsteller merged with New York-based Rickard & Co.-which at one time had been the premier business-to-business ad agency in the U.S.-to become Marsteller, Rickard, Gebhardt & Reed. Mr. Marsteller turned the office into his agency's New York headquarters and in 1960, he moved from Chicago to New York. From 1966 through 1978, the agency was known as Marsteller Inc.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Marsteller clung to a culture that made it an anomaly among other major agencies, which were in the midst of advertising's "creative revolution." The atmosphere at Marsteller was extremely conservative, and the agency had no separate creative department other than a staff of art directors and a few creative directors.
While advertising was undergoing its creative revolution, Marsteller was a "copy-contact" agency, in which account execs prepared copy while at the same time providing their accounts with regular client services. The agency grew to become a leader in business-to-business advertising, and for several years, it was the primary agency for The Wall Street Journal and McGraw-Hill Co.
In August 1968, Marsteller acquired Zlowe Co., a small, New York-based ad agency whose principal account was Dannon Milk Products, the marketer of Dannon yogurt. Marsteller's TV spot, featuring a 100-year-old Russian who attributed his longevity to eating yogurt, became one of its better-known campaigns and was named by Advertising Age as one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century. Its "Crying Indian" commercial for the Ad Council's "Keep America Beautiful" campaign also won the agency renown.
In 1979, Young & Rubicam acquired Marsteller Inc. In 1985, Y&R and the European agency network Eurocom entered into a joint venture, Havas Conseil Marsteller, which, in 1989, became HDM with the addition of Japanese advertising agency giant Dentsu. The effort—and Marsteller's advertising entity—folded in 1990 when Eurocom bought out Y&R's and Dentsu's shares of European agencies in the partnership.
Going into the 21st century, Burson-Marsteller continued as a specialized PR unit of WPP Group (acquired in WPP's purchase of Y&R).