Harry Jacobs, Chairman Emeritus of The Martin Agency, Dies at 87

Adman Was Inducted Into Four Separate Halls of Fame

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Harry Jacobs (left) and the late Mike Hughes in 1978
Harry Jacobs (left) and the late Mike Hughes in 1978 Credit: The Martin Agency

Harry Jacobs, chairman emeritus of The Martin Agency and the man who proved that great advertising did not have to come from New York, passed away at his home in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday. He was 87 years old.

John Adams, Chairman of The Martin Agency who worked with Mr. Jacobs for 35 years, called him "one of the most elegant gentlemen [I've] ever known."

"But he was also one of the most fierce," Mr. Adams said. "His standards for the work were unrelenting. I'm convinced that the success of our company is due, in no small measure, to the high creative bar Harry set and one that we're continually working towards. We are heartbroken about this news. But Harry and his legacy will live on here for years to come."

The New Bern, N.C.-born Mr. Jacobs is widely regarded as the dean of southern advertising and began his career at Cargill Wilson & Acree, where he was named Advertising Man of the Year by the AAF in 1972. He joined The Martin Agency in 1977, serving as both president and chief creative officer, redefining standards for conceptual development, art direction and design. A primary mission of Mr. Jacobs was to establish the south as a creative hotbed and to that end once commissioned a recruiting poster that read "To hell with New York," according to materials accompanying his induction into the AAF Hall of Fame in 2004.

He worked with clients including Cola-Cola, Haines, Mercedez-Benz, Geico, UPS and Walmart, but he was also known as a developer or creative talent and among the giants turned out under his watch were Nina DiSesa, Bill Westbrook and the late Mike Hughes.

"While it's all most great creative leaders can do to turn out an occasional good ad, Harry was turning out great creative directors," Mr. Hughes said during Mr. Jacob's induction into the One Club Hall of Fame in 2001.

"He was a mentor who didn't say a lot, and when he didn't say a lot, he said a lot," Mr. Westbrook told Ad Age in 1994. "He taught me standards. He taught me that sometimes elegance is refusal. He was a great simplifier of complicated problems, and a great one for impact, especially visual impact."

Said Mr. Hughes of Mr. Jacobs at the One Club induction: "Big as he is, Harry never stooped to make an ad. Instead, he lifts the ads to a higher level."

Notably, Mr. Jacobs was inducted into four advertising halls of fame: the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame, the One Club Hall of Fame, the North Carolina Advertising Hall of Fame and the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He was also a founding board member of the Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter.

He also played an integral role in The Wall Street Journalʼs Creative Leadership Series, through which he gave lectures in as many as five countries, 35 states, 66 cities and over 12 schools and universities. All the while, he served on numerous industry panels offering his insights on creativity and execution.

Harry Jacobs' son, Chris, followed his father's footsteps into adland when he began working under Mr. Westbrook. "I didn't have to rely on my first creative director to give me high standards," Chris Jacobs told Ad Age in 1996. "I'd had them for 20 years." The elder Mr. Jacobs told Ad Age it was a proud moment when his son walked onto the stage to receive his first One Show pencil.

Mr. Jacobs was also a communications specialist and draftsman for the Pentagon in the 1950s while serving in the U.S. Army, and his military influence lingered on. Said Mr. Hughes in 1996 to Ad Age: "When Harry goes, he'll be like an old soldier — he'll just fade away."

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