I was glad to hear that Jerry Siano and the Ayer board decided to turn their 125th birthday into a celebration. It was not always so.
I was ceo in 1969 when the centenary should have been observed. But when we might have been celebrating, we were far to busy to stop for funny hats. While we had moved accounts to New York and were just installed in new offices, a lot of the operation was still in Philadelphia. And that wasn't exactly a great selling point.
A few years earlier, Ayer suffered a series of account losses. By working hard and putting money into services rather than our own pockets, we retained a solid core of great clients-AT&T, DuPont, DeBeers and the U.S. Army. There was also a heavy burden of debt caused in part by the death of our former chairman, Harry Batten, who had owned a majority interest in the agency and whose estate had to be paid, as well as payouts to other senior officers who retired at this time.
Several important clients, including AT&T, wanted wanted us in New York. Prospective clients were sometimes turned off by our not being there. And the TV age demanded closer touch with the networks, which all were Manhattan based.
But for me, the clincher was the image problem. In the '60s, age wasn't all that popular. Don't trust anybody over 30, remember? Maybe you couldn't trust an agency over 100.
So we decided to let the anniversary slip by. Privately, we toasted each other and old Wayland Ayer's memory, and that was about it.
We knew we were recovering, both in billings and in the quality of our work. Great years were ahead, through nobody knew it for sure in 1969. I had been named president in 1965 as a safe choice. Though I was old enough for the Germans to have taken shots at me (and they connected a couple of times), I was still young enough at 39 to project some of the attributes of youth.
I had managed a major account, Sealtest Foods Division of Kraft, and then became manager of account services for the New York office, working under that fine gentleman Jack Upton, who, if he ever wondered what Batten and Warner Shelly had in mind when they dubbed me president, never said so. I should explain that though Warner was then chairman, he ran the account side while Harry watched the money and more or less ran the House of Ayer in his new role as chairman of the executive committee.
At Warner's suggestion, we involved a well-known management consulting firm. They were a bit slow, but they did come through with some good recommendations. One we rejected was to continue a policy of centralization. I wanted New York, Chicago and any future offices to have their creative forces on hand, not send them in from headquarters on demand, a policy that had lost us accounts.
We started moving accounts to New York until finally the Army and certain administrative functions were all that was left in our fine Art Deco building on Washington Square in Philadelphia.
I closed unprofitable offices offices in Boston and San Francisco. Lou Hagopian, who had become our second man in Detroit, was invited to New York to head account management. Bob Zabel was dispatched to Chicago, where he did a fine job.
The best news was that attitudinal changes were immediate and remarkable. Jealousies and bickering disappeared. People worked together again. It was an exciting time.
We took Ayer into the FourA's and I was rewarded with its chairmanship some years later. Lou Hagopian also was FourA's chairman 10 years later, a tenure that included the formation of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America.
The official move of headquarters took place in the early '70s, long after the de facto move. Lou Hagopian became chairman in 1976, and because Warner was then retired, I became chairman of the executive committee for a few years before retiring in 1980. Lou and I made that a working job, which included setting up our international web of agencies.
In this period we were saddened by the early death of Pat Gallagher, our popular and telented creative head, and encouraged by seeing Jerry Siano grow in stature and esteem and become Pat's replacement. And during Lou Hagopian's highly productive new business years, Jerry was named vice chairman.
So this time, at a century and a quarter, it's appropriate to celebrate. Thanks, Wayland Ayer, for a great start in 1869. Thanks, Wilfred Fry, Ayer's underrated son-in-law, who presided over many good years before and after the death of the founder. Thanks, Harry Batten, for pulling Ayer out of the Great Depression. Thanks, Warner Shelly and Lou Hagopian, for your inestimable contributions.
Thank you, thousands of Ayer people living and dead, who over the years have created so many of advertising's techniques, who set the standards and hewed to a high ethical line, and who created as much fine advertising, for as many great clients, as any agency possibly could have done.