DDB Needham Worldwide traces its history to 1925 and the founding of the eponymous Chicago-based Maurice H. Needham Co., which became Needham, Louis & Brorby four years later when Melvin Brorby and John J. Louis became partners.
In April 1935, Needham adapted a local Chicago radio show as a vehicle for S.C. Johnson. Called "The Johnson's Wax Program With Fibber McGee & Molly," the agency used the program to launch Johnson's Glo-Coat. In "Fibber McGee," Needham became one of the first agencies to use the "integrated commercial," in which an ad message presented at the midpoint in the show was woven into a developing story line.
With its network radio work, Needham's reputation and billings began to rise. By 1941, the agency had won Kraft Foods and, in seeking a radio property for its new client, Needham hit on another broadcast innovation: It created a series based on a character from "Fibber McGee." "The Great Gildersleeve" was the first spin-off in network broadcasting.
State Farm Insurance became another major client in the years before World War II, but even with two successful network series on the air, billings were still only around $2.5 million. During the war, the agency partners began aggressively to pursue growth from within and added Swift, Morton Salt and Pepsodent tooth powder to the agency's roster. By 1945, Needham was billing an estimated $8 million and broke the $10 million barrier in 1946.
In 1951, Needham became the first major agency to fully disclose all its operating numbers. Billings that year were $15 million, and continued to grow through the 1950s when a second generation of management began to take control. In 1957, Mr. Louis retired, and in 1960 Mr. Needham became chairman, relinquishing the presidency to Paul Harper, who had joined Needham in 1946 as a copywriter.
Earlier, in 1956, Needham suffered a series of account departures, including Quaker, Ken-L Ration, Hotpoint and Wilson Co., as well as a number of personnel losses. By 1959, however, the agency recovered, hitting $38 million in billings.
Mr. Louis died in February 1959, and in January 1964, Mr. Needham retired; he died in June 1966. Mr. Brorby continued in semi-retirement into the 1970s; he died in 1996.
Meanwhile, Mr. Harper moved to strengthen the agency's New York profile by merging with Doherty, Clifford, Steers & Shenfield in December 1964. At the time, the merger was the second-largest in advertising history. Needham, Harper & Steers became the No. 10 U.S. agency, with billings of $90 million.
In November 1966, seeking to expand in Europe, Needham teamed with the Benson Group, London, to form Benson-Needham Europe; it also acquired majority interest in agencies in Frankfurt, Paris and Madrid in 1967.
Several accounts in New York, including Bristol-Myers Co., departed following the 1964 merger, but Needham continued its relationships with Johnson's Wax, Kraft (Parkay, Manor House) and State Farm. The merged agency won several significant pieces of new business, including Xerox (1968), for which the agency produced the celebrated "It's a Miracle" commercial (1975), in which a medieval scribe miraculously produced several hundred copies of a document using a Xerox machine. Other highly praised Needham campaigns from the 1970s and '80s included "The Night Belongs to Michelob" for Anheuser-Busch and "We Make It Simple" for Honda.
After a 43-year relationship, the agency lost the S.C. Johnson account in 1974. It recovered the account in 1977, but lost it again in 1983.
"You deserve a break today"
In 1970, Keith Reinhard, a senior VP-creative director, led the new-business team that won the $5 million McDonald's Corp. account from D'Arcy MacManus with the tag "You deserve a break today," which drove Needham's growth and reputation for a next decade.
In April 1972, two years after winning McDonald's and with billings at $50 million, NH&S joined the trend of agencies going public. Six years later, however, it reversed course and returned to private ownership.
In October 1981, the ad industry was shaken when McDonald's moved the bulk of the $53 million account to Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co. Ignoring conventional wisdom, Mr. Reinhard did not pursue another fast-food business but set about to win McDonald's back.
Having succeeded the retiring Mr. Harper as CEO in 1984, Mr. Reinhard put together a global network for Needham and renamed the agency Needham Harper Worldwide. The name change, though, did not change the reality: The agency ranked only No. 16 in the world in terms of income.
In April 1986, London-based Saatchi & Saatchi targeted DDB for a takeover. DDB, which had been talking to both Needham and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, instead agreed to what now is known as the "big bang" deal that joined Needham, DDB and BBDO. DDB and Needham were merged into a single agency with Mr. Reinhard at the helm, while BBDO functioned independently, all under the Omnicom umbrella. At the time of the merger, Needham billings stood at $847 million.
In 1990, the renamed DDB Needham recovered $55 million of the McDonald's business, though Burnett still held $245 million. Mr. Reinhard proceeded to pick off small parts of McDonald's overseas business, demonstrating DDB Needham's value through the quality of its work. Finally, in 1997, the bulk of the remaining business also moved to DDB Needham, a total account gain of approximately $300 million.
The Needham name survived in the agency trademark until 1999, when it was finally dropped.