By Published on .

Advertising agencies not only create advertising; they create other agencies.

It took three agencies to forge the beginnings of what is now Jordan, McGrath, Case & Partners/Euro RSCG, born 30 years ago this spring under the banner of Case and Krone (no ampersand, thank you). During that time its principal founders have seen fit to change its name with some frequency (see box), as several of the most celebrated advertising figures of the era have walked into, then out of, its history. And in the instance of Gene Case, back again -- and still very involved with the agency's creative. The one figure weaving through all 30 years, however, has been Pat McGrath.

The story behind the agency's present billing scorecard of $600 million and its recent merger with Euro RSCG and Havas is essentially the story of two broken promises -- the first, to stay small; the second, to avoid all foreign entanglements. More about both later.

It all began in the aftermath of the Creative Revolution, that fabled insurrection of the 1960s now so revered it is accorded capital letters. It threw up a number of young rebel heroes along Madison Avenue, and on April 17, 1969, two of them became the agency's original partners.

Case and Krone join forces

From Jack Tinker & Partners (Interpublic's noble experiment in the isolation and pampering of creativity), came writer Gene Case, whose award-winning work for Alka-Seltzer, Gillette and the New York gubernatorial campaigns for Nelson Rockefeller had raised him swiftly from associate to full partner among the Tinker Thinkers. When Mr. Case left in 1969, he immediately had the distinction of being, at 31, among the youngest chiefs of a major New York agency. If there had been a contest "for the agency president with the longest hair," Advertising Age added at that time, "he would be in the running."

His senior partner was art director Helmut Krone, 44, from Doyle Dane Bernbach. Winner of nine New York Art Directors Awards and already a Madison Avenue legend, Mr. Krone was a charter revolutionary of the '60s and designer of the seminal Volkswagen "Think Small" campaign, widely credited with changing the look of print advertising.

The two men had met at DDB before Mr. Case moved to Tinker, but the relationship continued. Early in 1969 the two were seen lunching frequently, an occurrence that quickly set off talk of a new agency. When the announcement of the new agency came a month later, few were surprised.

averse to growth

Messrs. Case and Krone wanted an agency devoted to creative work and believed they had to stay small to do it. Thus, promise No. 1: "We don't want . . . a big organization," Mr. Krone insisted. "We don't want to look around some day and find two floors of media." To prove it, all early media work was farmed out to Independent Media Service Inc.

"What we care about are ads," Mr. Case added. Growth, he seemed to imply, was the professional equivalent of adultery. It was a curiously ironic view of advertising, given that most of his clients were inclined to see growth as a reward, not a penalty. But this was the agency's honeymoon, and people say many peculiar things on their honeymoon.

If Messrs. Case and Krone provided the name and glory to the new venture, however, the power that would sustain and, yes, grow it over the next three decades came from a distinctly counter-revolutionary source, the account department of Benton & Bowles. Pat McGrath had started there in 1957, at age 34, as a $100-a-week trainee at Vick's Chemical, had risen to become a senior VP and the youngest B&B board member. By 1969 he had a wife, five children and $40 million in Procter & Gamble business to look after. Moreover, there were clear signals that he was on track for the top job at B&B.

pat mcGrath comes aboard

Until, that is, his phone rang on the third Monday of April. It was Mr. Case, whose new agency had been in business less than a week and found itself needing an account supervisor. Mr. Case arranged a meeting between Mr. McGrath and Mr. Krone for Wednesday at the Plaza Hotel, where CK had set up offices in a seventh-floor suite. Mr. McGrath had already decided to throw in with them, leaving only the details to be worked out. They talked about equity, he remembers, and 15% was a number he was familiar with. "It was as simple as that," he says.

Mr. McGrath put up $5,000 and loaned Mr. Case an additional $5,000, bringing the start-up capital total to $15,000. The partners agreed to take $2,500 a month each, though no one took anything for the first five months. If Mr. McGrath had any doubts about the agency's future, he had none about his own. He took to the risk as if it were a final lark before the onset of middle age and real responsibilities.

"I had no money except a little profit sharing from B&B," he says. "But I had no fear either, because I knew I was pretty good at this business. If it all fell apart, I knew I could get a job somewhere else or go back to B&B. It wasn't as hard a decision as some people like to think. Besides Case and Krone were interesting guys."

Interesting, perhaps. But when the drab business of securing clients got underway, the magic of their names could not protect the new agency from several slim early years. Angostura Bitters' $200,000 account became the agency's first official win, but it lasted less than a year as a client.

After one month in the Plaza, CK moved across the street to 4 West 58th St. Its modest $2 million of business included Carey Limousine, Cybernetics Inc. and the Nestle Decaf coffee business.

In January of 1970, the two founders cast off their respective titles of chairman and president, preferring to make ads, not run an agency. The move essentially put the agency's future into the hands of its new president, Mr. McGrath.

But even with the responsibilities of administration now delegated, the two star performers continued to work in profoundly different ways. Mr. Krone would arrive mid-morning, Mr. McGrath recalls, have coffee, read the papers and have lunch. Mr. Case would put in a well-organized day that began promptly at 9 a.m. By the time Mr. Krone's furnaces were fully stoked, Mr. Case would be getting ready to go home.

"My job in the first three years was to try to get them together," says Mr. McGrath. "They were one-man-band, solo performers, but the best work happened when they came together."

Among the early campaigns where Mr. McGrath succeeded in bringing them together was "100 promises of Christmas" for Arpege, a long-copy extension of the company's "Promise her anything, but give her Arpege" theme. But perhaps the most successful Case-Krone collaboration was for Mennen Skin Bracer, which moved its $1.8 million account from J. Walter Thompson to Case and Krone in January 1971. The result was a memorable series of commercials in which a man received a sudden slap on the face and responded, "Thanks, I needed that."

helmut krone departs

But the success with Mennen failed to improve the working relationship between the two untitled creative directors. Within about a year of getting the Mennen business, the dream team of 1969 had come to the end of the line. On Feb. 16, 1972, Mr. Krone announced that he would be leaving the agency, admitting that he and Mr. Case had had "a rough time together." Even Mr. Krone was surprised, however, at how eagerly his offer was accepted by his two partners. What looked "terrific" on paper, Mr. McGrath said at the time, simply "caused too many problems." By May, Case and Krone had become Case & McGrath and moved to 445 Park Ave. Mr. Krone returned to DDB (later DDB Needham), where he worked until his retirement in 1988. He died in 1997.

The agency's growth through the 1970s was gradual and steady. C&M began its climb at the $11 million level, and built from there with a series of unspectacular but worthy accounts. Tropicana appeared and departed quickly in the fall of 1972. But Mennen, Gravy Master, Nestle, Kentile floors and Kwik Make pancake mix produced enough good work so that in November 1974 Mr. McGrath footed the bill for a 30-minute local TV showcase of its work supported by a direct mail push.

rca comes calling

The gambit produced an inquiry from RCA, which owned a frozen food division called Banquet. RCA made no commitments, but it put the agency on a short list for future consideration. Fourteen months later C&M won the Banquet account in competition with Della Femina, Travisano & Partners and Tinker, Campbell-Ewald.

In 1974 the agency secured its first foothold in the over-the-counter pharmaceutical business with Norcliff-Thayer Inc., a division of Revlon. The company asked the agency to launch a new brand called Opteen, to compete with Visene and Murine. Gene Case shuddered at the name. He told the client flat out that Opteen would end up as "Flopteen" Test markets proved him correct. But Norcliff-Thayer appreciated the candidness and soon assigned the agency Oxy, and later Tums, Nicoderm, Gaviscon and Tagament.

By the end of the decade Case & McGrath had grown to 100 employees, $42 million

Most Popular
In this article: