By Published on .

Vic Bloede couldn't believe what he was seeing. The chairman of Benton & Bowles was next to Bart Cummings, his good friend and head of Compton Advertising, at a mid-1970s American Advertising Federation regional conference.

Howard Bell, the president of AAF, and I were making fools of ourselves up on stage. We had our pant legs rolled up and we were doing a bad impression of a Hawaiian hula for a contest to promote the next year's meeting.

"Is that the president of the AAF up there?" Vic asked Bart. "Yes, that's Howie Bell," Bart replied. "And is that the editor-in-chief of Ad Age right next to him?" Vic wanted to know. "Why, yes it is," Bart said, not at all embarrassed by the antics of his two pals. Vic just shook his head, more in sorrow at the precarious state of the industry than disbelief or surprise.

"Vic was a very distinguished, conservative gentleman who wasn't accustomed to the more informal regional gatherings of the federation," Howard recalled.

What brought this recollection to mind, after all these years, was news that Mr. Bloede had died at the age of 79. His passing came a month after the death of another ad giant, Arthur Fatt, the co-founder of Grey Advertising, who died at 94.

Both agencies handled Procter & Gamble, and Bob Wehling, senior VP-global marketing at P&G, knew Vic Bloede very well and had high regard for him. Bob told me Vic was a "creative stalwart. He really took the time to understand our brands. He was a real force and we were glad he was on our side." Bob said Vic made important contributions on Scope and Crest, giving valuable creative guidance and strategic direction.

I mentioned to Bob that I hear a lot of clients say they don't get strategic thinking from their agencies anymore. "You don't hear that from me. We work on these things together," Bob said, "but what we can't do is take that strategy and make it come alive with compelling ideas that resonate with consumers. The genius of Benton & Bowles is that it allowed a creative guy like Vic Bloede to run the agency."

Arthur Fatt was a pretty fair creative guy himself. Although he served as the chief salesman while his partner, Lawrence Valenstein, served as the chief administrator, Mr. Fatt came up with the famous "Leave the driving to us" for Greyhound bus lines. He also brought in Ford Motor Co. and Chock Full 'o Nuts, as well as P&G.

Mr. Fatt joined Grey as an office boy, when he was 17, but he quickly became exec VP and a driving force in the agency, we said on the occasion of Grey's 75th anniversary in 1992. It was Mr. Fatt, with his affable personality, who beat the bushes for clients. He once joked that when they set up shop there were only two desks for three people, and when everyone was in the office one person had to stand. So he got up and knocked on the doors of potential clients. Grey eked out a living through the Depression as a retail-oriented, Seventh Avenue shop, and it grew slowly. "These people"-Messrs. Val-enstein and Fatt-"were not MBA-types. The agency grew through will, not abundance of money or contacts, but indomitable will," said Grey Chairman Ed Meyer.

Mr. Bloede, for his part, worked in an environment with clients that most agencies can only dream about today. At the time of his ascension to chairman, in 1968, Mr. Bloede told our family newspaper that his clients "seem to be terribly concerned with their own role and responsibility for getting good advertising out of their agencies."

What's missing is a checks-and-balances approach that prevailed in those halcyon days. "If the agency doesn't keep pressing a client to try something new, and if the client doesn't keep his hand on the brake, the result is often excessive and bad advertising," Mr. Bloede told us.

Today's advertising often doesn't get out of the station or is a runaway train, and that's the major fallout from the frayed and crumbling client-agency

Most Popular