HAIL TO THE CHIEFS

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Robert P. Keim, who was president of the Advertising Council from 1966 to 1987, has a book on his two decades at the helm of the Council, titled "A Time in Advertising's Camelot, The Memoirs of a Do-Gooder." The book includes some of Mr. Keim's-and the Council's-dealings with three presidents: Lyndon Johnson; Richard Nixon; and Gerald Ford. Following are excerpts:

Lyndon Johnson

The phone rang. "Keim, this is Kintner," the voice on the other end said. Kintner? Of course, Robert Kintner, the former president of ABC and a member of the Ad Council board. He was now an assistant to President Johnson, a right-hand man. He knew his importance, and he was hot.

After a string of profanity, he said, "The boss is really upset." That was the title most White House staffers used when referring to the president.

"What about?" I asked.

"Those goddamned Eisenhower commercials, that's what about!" he roared.

Then it dawned on me. The Eisenhower Library people had produced their own TV spots with Bob Hope as the talking head [promoting the new library. The Ad Council] had nothing to do with it, and we had no leverage with the network or stations to ask them to stop running the Hope spots. I explained this to Kintner.

"Well, the boss is really ticked off! He wants you to bring your whole [deleted] board of directors," Kintner said.

"Bob, we have 85 directors. That's too many. Let me line up 10 or so of them who are on the executive committee," I responded.

"OK," he grunted. "And another thing. The Bonds creative work is too soft. He wants to see something like the War Bonds stuff you did in World War II. Get the American people behind the poor bastards fighting in Vietnam." He named a date and hung up.

So the lines were drawn, and we had to go. Everyone in our group was a VIP in his own right-network or agency president, media mogul, whatever. But they were all very human, and when you are ushered into the White House by no less a person than Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler, it gets to you.

Without warning, in strode Lyndon Baines Johnson. We all stood up, of course, and as was the custom, applauded him. Everything about him was big-shoulders, arms, hands, even his face, and his smile was big. After waving at us graciously, he sat down.

Then he launched into a speech, more an oration actually, a monologue. Neither I nor anyone else got a chance to speak. We heard about the war in Vietnam and how much our country had at stake ... This was a Baptist preacher in his pulpit and a darned good one. But he didn't dissimulate; he wanted a WAR Bonds campaign, and that was that.

He ended abruptly, citing a cabinet meeting or something else he had to attend, saying with a big grin that Fowler (he put an arm around the secretary's shoulders) would work out the details with us. He spun on his heels and-waving-he walked out. ...

Secretary Fowler said he realized the problem we were facing and hoped we'd try our best. Leo Burnett offered to work on a new strategy and share it with the other volunteer agencies for their input.

Back in New York and Chicago, work began furiously.

Someone at Burnett, digging into Savings Bonds sales data, learned that men and women in our armed forces bought more bonds proportionately than any other category of employees. They had it! Show dramatic scenes of military people in the air, on the ground, at sea. The headline: "They buy bonds where they work. DO YOU?"

This was not the campaign LBJ envisioned. Whether they showed it to the president before it was released, we never heard.

RICHARD NIXON

Shortly after President Nixon took office, I received a phone call from a man I had known years earlier when he chaired the President's Council on Youth Fitness. He was C.B. "Bud" Wilkinson, recently retired head coach of the University of Oklahoma's famed Sooners football team.

Bud told me he was special consultant to the president and in that role was [the Ad Council's] liaison at the White House. Bud said one of the things that really concerned the president was drug abuse. He said he was sure Mr. Nixon would like to see anything we might come up with. We had Compton Advertising, headed by Bart Cummings, doing some exploratory creative work addressed primarily to young people with the theme, "Why do you think they call it dope?"

The Compton creative team was headed by two young tigers, Shelly Schachter and Kurt Willinger, both under 30. ... At the White House, the young creatives, completely subdued and awed by their surroundings, got right to work, setting up the layouts and storyboards on tripods. They also had completed an answer print of the first television PSA on 16mm film. Bud Wilkinson had ordered a projector, but none was on hand, so he made a couple of frantic calls. After five minutes or so, a grizzled Army sergeant came in carrying a projector that looked like it was left over from World War I. We had expected a "Star Wars" setting for a White House presentation, but the old projector worked.

At the appointed time, President Nixon strolled in, alone. Bud started to introduce us, but with charm and a warm smile, the president worked the room, repeating everyone's name as they gave it.

With the president seated next to us, Bud brought on Bart Cummings, who gave a first-rate orientation. We were particularly impressed by the intent way Nixon listened, head slightly cocked and asking a couple of questions, as they proceeded.

When our showing was completed, there wasn't a moment's hesitation. Nixon said firmly, "I like it. I like it very much, and I thank you for such fine work." Then he added, with surprising candor, "But I don't have to tell you how the young regard me, so if it serves the good of the campaign and adds to its success, tell them I don't like it." Our mouths dropped open. Talk about the ultimate pragmatist! In this case for a good cause!

Gerald Ford

When President Ford took office, one of the first things he tackled was the problem of inflation, which was now well into the double digits. The White House staff organized an economic summit to which labor leaders and their chief economists were invited, along with their counterparts in management, government, foundations, etc.-the works.

As we were leaving the meeting room at a hotel near the White House, I had an opportunity to tell the president that the Ad Council had a campaign in preparation on the American economic system in which the problem of inflation would be an important part. I offered to help communicate to the public whatever recommendations came out of the economic summit just concluded. Walking along, he grabbed my arm enthusiastically, saying that Paul McCracken, of the Council of Economic Advisers, was then in the White House basement writing a speech the president would deliver.

"Go see him right now and tell him what you just told me. He'll work it into the speech, saying that the Advertising Council will be running a campaign as part of our follow-up to the economic summit."

In the White House, I met Mr. McCracken, who looked up at me unhappily. I cleared my throat, embarrassed, and tried to tell him quickly what had transpired between the president and me. Fortunately, he didn't bat an eyelash, made some penciled notes, thanked me and went back to his typing.

A short time after the economic summit, the president brought together a smaller group, again a diversified one, but this time only about 20 men and women, with members ranging from Ralph Nader to Sylvia Porter, to consider ways to involve the public in a crusade to combat inflation. President Ford explained that he was looking for help in forming a mass effort on the part of the public in a crusade to combat inflation. That turned out to be the magic phrase-whip inflation-and everyone responded positively.

Sylvia Porter, an experienced journalist and popular columnist, was nominated to be chairperson of the committee. She said to the president that there couldn't be any politics involved or she would resign. I'll never forget the word the president used in his response:

"Sylvia, I promise you there will not be a scintilla of politics in this campaign." That was good enough for me and most of the others.

Benton & Bowles had been doing our previous campaign on inflation, so they enthusiastically picked up this new challenge, and the resulting campaign became "WIN-Whip Inflation Now."

[The campaign] was universally applauded in those first days. But unfortunately, the presidential campaign was also in full swing. Naively, the president or one of his speech writers put a simple reference to the WIN campaign in an unrelated political speech. "WIN-Whip Inflation Now" was branded as part of the Ford campaign for president. Nothing we could say or do could possibly help. Sylvia Porter resigned, as did Ralph Nader and most of the committee. It was Waterloo for Whip Inflation Now.

"A Time in Advertising's Camelot," Copyright 2001 by Robert Keim, is available for $12.95 plus shipping costs from Long View Press, P.O. Box 6, Madison, Conn., 06443 or longviewpress@snet.net. Author's proceeds will be donated to the Advertising Council.