Starting with a name only

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In the early 1990s, as I was reassigned from the news desk to head up the Special Reports department, the departing editor dropped one surprise statement on me after several days of going over all aspects of the then 10-person area of our editorial operations. "Oh, yeah," he said, "the publisher wants us to come up with something he calls the Marketing 100. And it has to be 100 people."

It had to be about people, as compared with what Advertising Age already was famous for such as the 100 Leading National Advertisers, an annual statistically based report that ranked and profiled the top companies based on ad spending. We had numerous other such data-based rankings, and then there was the popular, and annual, Best Television Commercials, a feature long associated with Ad Age. What could we do with people, and 100 of them?

Obviously it couldn't be a listing of the people who ran-or ran the marketing of-the 100 Leading National Advertisers; that was too easy and also fraught with problems. Despite personnel movement in the corporate world, they were probably too stable, nonetheless-it would be practically the same listing year after year. More important, it was too similar to what we had already.

So the idea behind the Marketing 100 soon began to form, from within and then from much brainstorming with Mike Ryan, second in command (and now Special Reports editor himself). Instead of trying to come up with people-and 100 of them-worthy of belonging in something called the Marketing 100, start by coming up with current brand success stories, new brands or old, and then turn our reporters loose on finding the person most responsible for that success. Thus was the Marketing 100 born (and which, after 1,100 honorees, remains one of Ad Age's favorite franchises as the Marketing 50).

And what fun it was for reporters and editors alike! Early planning sessions produced a good number of brands to feature, either for a spectacular introduction to the marketplace or resurgent sales success or the turnaround ad campaign. Still, 100 of them? But then Mike and I drew up charts of the many product categories Ad Age covered, including media and others, or areas we could legitimately cover and didn't but should, and we were on our way. Then the digging would start to discover the one name behind the success. No, not that one-the real mover, at the brand manager level, not the department head who wanted to take the credit. And how popular it became!

It was never easy, however. Each year, starting in February and ending with a summer Special Report, the work-the thought process, the tireless reporting-never ceased. But every Ad Age staffer ever associated with it-and they all were-will tell you that, especially during the high-flying 1990s, the Marketing 100 was the most fun and most rewarding project Ad Age produced.

Larry Edwards retired as managing editor in January 2000, after 27 years with Ad Age. He now splits his time between the western suburbs of Chicago and the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado.

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