In 'Bernbach blue': Remembering the late Ken Olshan
Ken Olshan was chairman of Wells Rich Greene, the fabled Mad Men-era hotshop known for ads for Braniff ("The end of the plain plane"), Benson & Hedges ("The Disadvantages") and Alka-Seltzer ("Plop, plop, fizz fizz") from 1981 until 1995, at which time he was replaced by French holding company BDDP, which then owned WRG.
Olshan joined WRG in 1975 when his shop, Doherty, Mann & Olshan, was acquired by WRG, and during his tenure the agency's clients included Chase Manhattan Bank, Ford Motor Co. Hertz Corp., IBM, New York State ("I Love New York"), Philip Morris and Procter & Gamble. Olshan passed away on April 7 following complications from COVID-19, according to the Hartford Courant. The paper reported that his wife of 65 years, Patricia (Patsy) Olshan, died from complications of COVID-19 three days later.
This remembrance was written by Charlie Moss, who was chief creative officer at WRG from its founding in 1966 until 1998.
The thing I remember most about Ken was his positive energy. He was always optimistic. No matter how gloomy things got—and things can get pretty gloomy in the advertising business—he had a smile on his face.
I met Ken through a mutual friend. At the time, I was creative director of Wells Rich Greene and Ken was running a small agency with his name on the door. We connected on several levels and it wasn’t long before I decided to recommend to Mary Wells Lawrence that we bring Ken’s business into WRG, the most valuable part of the purchase being Ken himself.
He immediately became involved with some of our most difficult accounts and his skills and insights brought him (and them) success.
We had several P&G brands: Sure, Safeguard, Pringles, Oil of Olay. P&G was strategically oriented and Ken was able to translate the WRG creative point of view. He understood where the clients were coming from and helped WRG creative people understand as well.
As the agency became more successful, Ken proved his value, account after account. Our friendship and our business relationship grew. We leaned on each other for help and advice.
Soon after Ken was named chairman of the agency he appeared in my office, looking troubled. The smile was gone.
“What’s wrong, Ken?”
“I really don’t look like a chairman,” he said. “I need to upgrade my wardrobe.”
I couldn’t help but agree with him. The next day I brought him to my tailor. We looked at fabrics, we looked at patterns, we looked at colors. Ken couldn’t make up his mind.
“Ken," I said, 'I see you in Bernbach blue!" When I worked at Doyle Dane Bernbach, I explained, “whenever I saw Mr. Bernbach, he was wearing a suit in the most flattering blue color. He looked creative, powerful, in charge!”
The smile came back to Ken's face. He went with my advice.
The suit looked great.