Tatham-Laird was formed in Chicago in 1946 by Arthur E. Tatham and John Kenneth Laird. Bendix and Munising Paper Co. were the shop's inaugural clients, along with Bear Brand Hosiery and Majestic Radio. By the end of 1946, T-L was billing more than $500,000. At the end of its first full fiscal year, Jan. 31, 1947, it boasted net profits of $815.60.
In 1947, Majestic Radio went into bankruptcy. The company had taken on orders it could not meet, and T-L had bought $100,000 in media for Majestic, then found that its client had a warehouse full of half-finished radios, no parts to finish them and no money to pay its bills. The agency never again took on a client whose accounts were not insurable.
Influx of new clients
But the trickle of payments T-L squeezed from Majestic was more than offset by the deluge that poured in from Bendix and drove 1947 billings to nearly $2.7 million. By 1950, the shop had added General Mills' Kix cereal, Trane Co. and Admiral Corp.'s kitchen appliances to its client roster. By 1951, billings had grown to $5 million.
T-L's TV commercials for Toni Co.'s White Rain line featured girls in white raincoats. Its C.A. Swanson & Sons account became a major TV presence, first with pot pies and then, in 1954, with the first "TV dinner." All that helped push billings to $9.5 million.
In 1955, billings hit $20 million, better than a quarter the size of the already venerable Leo Burnett Co., with which T-L soon shared a formidable client.
In April 1956, T-L won Procter & Gamble Co.'s $1.5 million Fluffo cooking fat account and, while Fluffo never put serious pressure on P&G's Crisco, the market leader, it tied T-L's fortunes to those of the U.S.' No. 1 package-goods advertiser, for which it introduced the spokescharacter Mr. Clean.
Despite P&G, the Clark Oil account and some American Home Products business, T-L billings dropped by nearly 20% in 1957 and '58. In 1960, however, Mr. Clean went national and AHP assigned T-L its Easy-Off and Dristan brands. In one year, billings nearly doubled. But other weaknesses cut deeply into the agency's strength between 1961 and 1963. Fully one-third of its billings disappeared, and the New York office, opened in 1954, lost nearly half its client base by 1964.
T-L was not the only New York shop facing tough times. In 1965, T-L merged with the Kudner Agency to form a $58 million agency, Tatham-Laird & Kudner, with a revitalized New York presence. The new shop's top accounts were P&G ($14 million), General Telephone & Electronics Corp. ($11 million) and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. ($3.8 million). About six months later, General Motors Corp. withdrew its remaining business from the agency.
The decade ended with the Mr. Laird's retirement in February 1969. Both he and Mr. Tatham had retreated to board positions in 1964 to make way for a second generation of management. Charles Standen, who joined T-L in 1947 at 31, became president and then CEO. In 1969, with Mr. Laird retiring, Mr. Standen moved up to chairman to make room for Paul Schlesinger to be CEO.
In March 1971, on the agency's 25th anniversary, Mr. Tatham went into semi-retirement and passed the last shares of original stock back to the company. He cut his final ties with the agency early in 1973 and died in 1985. Mr. Laird died in 1973 at age 70.
On July 31, 1974, TLK became the only legal partnership of its size in the industry, wiping out the usual hierarchy of agency titles and replacing them with a lineup of uniformly empowered "managing partners." Over the next five years, billings grew by 35% to more than $90 million, and the restructuring made it possible for TLK to recruit the best talent.
Recruiting Charlotte Beers
In January 1979, TLK recruited Charlotte Beers from J. Walter Thompson Co., where in 1973 she etched a high profile as the agency's first woman senior VP. She became TLK's first female managing partner and the first of three top TLK managers to come over from JWT in the next nine years. The second was William Ross, whom Ms. Beers brought over in 1981 to boost creative strength. He brought Coors beer to TLK in 1983 and became chairman in 1985. The following February he pronounced his mission completed and retired. The third fugitive from JWT was Ralph Rydholm, who had been at JWT's Chicago office, then with Ted Bates Inc. in New York.
Ms. Beers dominated TLK in the 1980s, becoming CEO in 1982, then chairman in 1986; she set out, in her words, to "cultivate the star system—deliberately." Billings tripled during her first six years to nearly $250 million, and the glow of such growth brought many corporate suitors to her door.
Signs of a merger appeared late in 1987 when TLK fired 16% of its staff. In the spring of 1988, Paris-based RSCG, a unit of Havas, acquired 70% of TLK. Ms. Beers became an owner of RSCG, and other TLK partners received shares. The senior partner of the combo was clearly RSCG, with billings exceeding $1 billion. Together the two private agencies became the world's No. 19 agency network.
Merger was not enough to spare TLK from rough going, however. The 1987 cutbacks and more that followed were prompted by the loss of NutraSweet, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., part of the Coors beer business and a streak of bad luck on new business. The losses were reversed by 1989, and in 1991 Tatham acquired Peter Rogers Associates, which had long been one of P&G's smaller agencies.
Ms. Beers retired in 1992, and Mr. Rydholm became chairman-CEO and chief creative officer. After several no-growth years, the agency captured Hardee's and later another P&G brand, Clearasil.
But in November 1995, the $6.2 billion parent company brought in an intermediate management layer, former N.W. Ayer partner Steve Dworin. His mandate, according to Advertising Age, was to make Euro RSCG "less Euro and more global."
In June 1991, TLK was renamed Tatham/RSCG. A year later, after RCSG and Eurocom merged, the shop was again rechristened: Tatham Euro RSCG. In 1999, the name became Euro RSCG Tatham.
In June 1999, P&G dropped the agency from its roster, costing it such brands as Mr. Clean, Coast deodorant, Head & Shoulders, Old Spice, Vidal Sassoon and Metamucil and leaving the agency without P&G business for the first time since 1956.
In 2001, the shop merged with McConnaughy Stein Schmidt Brown, Chicago, to become Euro RSCG McConnaughy Tatham. The merger brought with it several prominent retail accounts, including Circuit City, Crate & Barrel, Wickes Lumber and Walgreen Co.
In 2002, Havas Advertising renamed Euro RSCG McConnaughy Tatham as Euro RSCG Tatham Partners, headed by CEO Gary Epstein. For 2002, Euro RSCG Tatham Partners had estimated U.S. revenue of $66.9 million, down 2% from the year earlier.
Turmoil ensued in 2003 and 2004 as clients such as Red Lobster and Alberto-Culver bolted and the Chicago office struggled.
On a less dramatic note, Tatham was dropped from the agency's name. James Heekin, the former head of McCann Erickson who joined Euro as president-chief operating officer in September 2003, was named CEO with a charge to remake the network in January 2004. A few months later, he named Chicago ad industry veteran Ron Bess to run the floundering Chicago office and some other North American operations.