Robinson, Phyllis K. (1921- )

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Phyllis K. Robinson was born in New York on Oct. 22, 1921. She majored in sociology at Barnard College and graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1942. When she left school, she took a job as a statistician for the Federal Public Housing Authority in New York. In 1944, she married Richard G. Robinson, a Harvard University student who was drafted soon after their marriage; over the next two years, she followed him from post to post, working six different jobs.

Two of those jobs provided advertising experience. The first was as a junior copywriter for Methodist Publishing Co. in Nashville, where she wrote ads for publications targeted to ministers. The second job was as a reporter covering fashion in Miami for Women's Wear Daily.

In 1945, Ms. Robinson and her husband moved to New York, where she took a job as executive editor of the Tobe Fashion Report for the Tobe Coburn School for Fashion Careers. In 1946, her husband returned to Harvard to finish his studies, and she got her first agency job as a copywriter for Bresnick & Solomont in Boston.

In 1947, the couple moved back to New York, and Ms. Robinson took a job at Grey Advertising working on women's sales promotions. The agency's copy chief, Bill Bernbach, recognized her writing talent and had her transferred to the copy department.

In 1949, Mr. Bernbach and Ned Doyle left Grey and, along with Maxwell Dane, who owned his own small agency, opened Doyle Dane Bernbach. Mr. Bernbach invited Ms. Robinson to join them, and she became not only the first copywriter at the agency but also the first female agency copy chief in U.S. advertising history. Among Ms. Robinson's first accounts at DDB were Orbach's department store, which moved to the new shop from Grey, and Henry S. Levy & Sons, a Jewish bakery in Brooklyn.

For Levy's, Ms. Robinson wrote a radio commercial with a little boy asking for "Wevy's cimminum waisin bwed." The spot, one of the first radio efforts to use humor effectively, caught the attention of New Yorkers and greatly raised Levy's profile there. Soon Levy's was a market leader in New York with another of its products, Jewish rye bread.

Other major accounts that Robinson worked on included Polaroid Corp., tackling people's perceptions that the instant camera was merely a gimmick, and the Chemstrand Corp. hosiery account, for which she wrote, "A lady's not dressed unless her legs are, too."

Ms. Robinson, who was promoted to VP in 1956, quit as copy chief when her daughter was born in 1962. She switched to working three days a week and continued working part time at the agency until she retired to open a consultancy in 1982.

In 1968, Ms. Robinson became the eighth person inducted into the Advertising Writers Association of New York's Copywriters Hall of Fame.

In addition to copywriting, Ms. Robinson helped mentor many up-and-coming advertising talents at the agency, including Mary Wells. She was also involved in public-service efforts, was a member of the creative review board of the Media-Advertising Partnership for a Drug-Free America and a founding member of Ads Against AIDS.


Born in New York, Oct. 22, 1921; graduated with bachelor of arts degree, Barnard College, 1942; hired as copywriter, Bresnick & Solomont, Boston, 1946; joined Grey Advertising, New York, 1947; joined launch team of Doyle Dane Bernbach as copy chief, becoming first female copy chief in U.S. advertising, 1949; promoted to VP, 1956; inducted into Copywriters Hall of Fame, 1968; retired from DDB, 1982.

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