Phyllis Robinson, First DDB Copy Chief, Dies at 89

Creator of Memorable Work for Polaroid, Clairol Was Role Model for Women in Biz

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Phyllis K. Robinson (1921-2010) leaves behind a tremendous legacy as a writer, creative director and role model for women in advertising. Although she often said in interviews that she never encountered any difficulty in the business as a woman, her tremendous talent and self-confidence guaranteed her success during an era when most women were identified as homemakers.

Ms. Robinson was featured in the film 'Art & Copy.'
Ms. Robinson was featured in the film 'Art & Copy.'
Ms. Robinson was working in the promotion department at Grey when Bill Bernbach recruited her to join him as copy chief at the newly formed Doyle Dane Bernbach in 1949. They opened on June 1, 1949, with a small staff including Ned Doyle, a VP at Grey; Maxwell Dane, who Bernbach had worked with at Look magazine; and art director Bob Gage. Robinson and Gage were often referred to as the First Team, and they did groundbreaking work for Ohrbach's, Olins, Chemstrand and Polaroid.

When she was inducted into the Copywriters Hall of Fame in 1968, later renamed the Creative Hall of Fame, Ms. Robinson urged the members of the Advertising Writers Association in her acceptance speech to listen to the "angry young men and women" of advertising. She stated that "things are moving so fast these days that yesterday's radical is today's conservative. ... Listen to the new voices ... in spite of rudeness, arrogance ... and naivete." Ms. Robinson was introduced that evening by Bill Bernbach, who credited her with helping to "turn advertising from a business into a profession."

Ms. Robinson often said her work was inspired by real life. The famous TV commercial for Polaroid, "The Zoo," now in the Museum of Modern Art film library, reflected the experience of her husband taking their daughter to Central Park on Saturdays. She is credited with identifying the "Me Generation" with the line "It Lets Me Be Me" for Clairol.

Ms. Robinson left her position as copy chief at DDB in 1962 to raise her daughter. She continued to work as a copywriter at the agency until her retirement in 1982.

Most recently, Ms. Robinson was featured in the documentary film "Art & Copy" directed by Doug Pray. She had also served as chairperson for the Creative Hall of Fame and made the introductions for Lee Clow and Jim Durfee when they were inducted in 1997.

Ms. Robinson was married to the late Dr. Richard G. Robinson and is survived by her daughter, Nancy Thompson, and nieces Margery Cantor, Ann Jacobson, Linda Robinson and nephew Jeffrey Robinson.

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Mary Warlick is CEO of the One Club ad an author working on a book titled "The Real Men and Women of Madison Avenue."

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