It’s a somber day in the industry as another distinguished leader passes. In last week’s Agency Brief, it was reported that Adam Smith, GroupM’s futures director, died at the age of 58 after a battle with cancer. Today, WPP’s BCW announced that Burson-Marsteller co-founder Harold Burson has passed at the age of 98.
A revered pioneer in the public relations industry, Burson grew the one-man consultancy he founded in 1946 (then known as Harold Burson Public Relations) into the world’s largest PR firm in 1983. Through a series of mergers (including with Cohn & Wolfe in 2018), the firm has evolved into BCW (currently the third largest PR firm by revenue). But it’s not just the PR industry that has felt the effects of Burson and his firm. As Ad Age reported in October, BCW is one of several PR shops to enter ad agencies’ territory by introducing creative, social, digital and paid media capabilities to its suite of services.
While he stepped down as CEO of Burson-Marsteller in 1988, Burson kept a watchful eye over his company including by coming into work “nearly every day well into his 90s,” according to his obituary. In naming him the “century’s most influential PR figure” in 1999, PRWeek credited Burson with developing training programs that “set the benchmark that other agencies only recently caught up with.” The feature stated, “His mentoring of talent has spawned a whole wave of ex-Burson PR agency startups.”
“He was a strong proponent of the corporation’s role in society as a social entity, insisting that the mission of a corporation was to deliver a good product at a fair price, treat its employees fairly in terms of compensation and retirement, deal fairly with suppliers, support essential community activities in areas where it operated, and reward its stockholders with a fair return on their investment,” Burson's obituary reads.
Born on Feb. 15, 1921, in Memphis, Tennessee, Burson actually started his career in journalism. Once a 14-cents-per-column-inch stringer for a Memphis newspaper, he covered the Nuremberg Trial in 1945 at the age of 24, according to the obituary, and he was the only reporter to obtain an interview with Chief American Prosecutor Associate Justice Robert Jackson. Burson was also a U.S. Army veteran, and following his discharge in 1946, he opened his PR firm in New York that would go on to achieve global success.
Another exec exits Publicis
The wave of Publicis departures continues. As Adweek first reported on Thursday, BBH New York Chief Creative Officer Gerard Caputo is leaving to become a creative director for Wieden & Kennedy New York. While the independent agency is one of the industry’s hottest shops right now, creating acclaimed campaigns for clients like Nike and winning major accounts in New York like McDonald’s, the move might seem odd to some outsiders, since going from chief creative officer to creative director would appear to be a significant step down. However, W&K does maintain a flat structure having only creatives, creative directors and one executive creative director (Karl Lieberman) in its New York office. A creative director within that model would likely have more responsibility than a creative director at another shop that employs various chief creatives, account creative directors, group creative directors and so on.
For Caputo, anyway, it’s not about the title. “I look at my career as less about a title and more about what feels right for me,” he tells Ad Age. “I’ve always admired Wieden. When this opportunity came up, it seemed to be the right thing to do. A lot of people get caught up with titles. Leadership happens at all levels.”
He adds, “I feel so lucky to have been a part of BBH. I had so many career achievements there.”
“We are incredibly grateful for the contributions Gerard made during his time at BBH,” says Brett Edgar, managing director of BBH NY. “A creative problem solver who cared deeply about his team members and the agency as a whole, he truly embodied the Black Sheep spirit. We wish him every success in his next endeavor.”
W&K NY also announced that, joining Caputo, Marques Gartrell from Deutsch New York will also be coming aboard as creative director.
Janet Granite to edge Flo out of the spotlight?
A brand can go a long way by having a great, recognizable spokesperson consumers adore. Flo from Progressive, KFC’s Colonel Sanders and Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World have all drummed up fandom and support for the brands they represent. Now Granite Transformations & Trend Transformations, a relatively unknown international home remodeling franchise, is hoping a quirky personality can take its brand into the mainstream. Say hello to Janet from Granite, a no-nonsense spokesperson who swoops in to save consumers from potentially disastrous home remodeling projects. Played by actor Llana Isaacson, the character is now appearing in a new campaign from full-service agency The EGC Group. The campaign will run across TV, radio, print, social, direct mail and email through the month of January, but it seems Janet Granite may be here to stay. Whether she becomes a cultural phenomenon like Flo, Colonel Sanders or The Most Interesting Man in the World remains to be seen.
“Quirky characters and funny ads are memorable,” says Vanessa Conde, VP of marketing for RockSolid Granit, the franchisor of Granite Transformations and Trend Transformations. “People don’t want to be displaced from their home for months due to home remodeling, especially in the kitchen. Janet tells them exactly why we are the best options for their renovation needs.”