By Published on .

It was, bill croasdale says, the best of times, "literally the most fun I've had in the business."

It was then the early 1980s, when he was at BBDO Worldwide, New York, and was assigned to work for client General Electric Co. The marketer was producing TV specials under the GE banner. The assignment often found him in Hollywood, where he became a fixture at the Hotel Bel-Air.

"As a regular, they would give me the enormous Arthur Godfrey suite," named for one of the most popular personalities of radio and early TV, Mr. Croasdale recalls.

"I was out there once on business and not only was the ad director of GE there, but so was another client, the ad director of DuPont Co. They were in single rooms, and, of course, I'm staying in the suite, with huge living room, two bedrooms, the whole nine yards.


"So Karl Koss, GE's corporate ad manager, calls me to confirm dinner plans. Just then my second line rings, and it's Ray Alfano, DuPont's ad director, and I have to tell Karl I have to put him on hold, my other line is ringing. Of course they only had a single line into their rooms. And Ray was inquiring about the same thing. So I went back and forth, arranging a dinner for the three of us.

"At dinner I got good-natured abuse about them being the clients picking up the tab for me staying in a suite -- with two phone lines yet" when that was considered a luxury.

And Mr. Croasdale loved the work back then as well.

"One of the best programs we did was 'Bill' with Mickey Rooney [who won an Emmy for his performance as the title character, a retarded man trying to make his way in the world]. We agonized over the script, because we didn't know how people would react. But GE said, 'This we have to do. This is important.' They wanted their TV movie specials to be just that, special."

The show aired Dec. 22, 1981, on CBS, and the next morning, Mr. Croasdale says, GE was inundated with calls thanking the company for airing the program.

Another GE production Mr. Croasdale is especially proud of was called "Skyward," in the true story of a girl confined to a wheelchair who learns to become a pilot through the help of a crusty instructor [played by Bette Davis]."

We did six shows over the three years I was with them. They all won their time periods and did over 30 shares. It was the best time of my life."

"Because of 'GE Theater,' Bill and I discovered Hollywood," says Arnie Semsky, who was then Mr. Croasdale's boss at BBDO and is now an independent media consultant. "The 'GE Theater' was where you could have a targeted message to a targeted audience in a beautiful and potent environment. It was the best a media buyer could ever do."

It's been more than 40 years since Mr. Croasdale, a native of New York, started working at NBC, selling two of the network's hallmark programs at the time, the daytime newsmagazine "Home" and "The Tonight Show."

He's always been a shining light and for this, Advertising Age names him only our second Media Maven Lifetime Achievement Honoree.


Today Mr. Croasdale, 63, resides in the office of the president at Western Initiative Media Worldwide in West Hollywood, Calif.

"I take a lot of ribbing for it," he says, "but that's my title. Not president. Office of the president. I do a little of everything. Trouble-shooting and such."

In fact, Mr. Croasdale doesn't resemble an office at all. Around Western he's called TP, a nickname Western founder and Chairman Dennis Holt saddled him with years ago.

"It stands for tall person," says Mr. Holt, a reference to the lanky Mr. Croasdale's 6 foot 3 frame.

So who is this media giant?

He's someone who can be trusted: "Bill's the kind of guy that if I was in a foxhole, and I could only have one guy watching my back, it would be him," says Mr. Semsky.

He's thrifty: "When Bill buys a suit," says Tim Spengler, Western's senior VP-general manager for national TV, "he puts a tag in it with the date he bought it. If it wears out before seven years, he takes it back.

He's got a great sense of humor: "We love Bill," Mr. Spengler continues. "He keeps telling us that he's not worried about any Y2K problems because he was around for Y1K and there weren't any problems then."

He's loyal: "He still calls me on my birthday," says Mr. Semsky.

And he gives back: "I love the fact he's a great teacher of young people," notes Mr. Semsky. "He's always been a mentor, and when he was at BBDO we were that much better for it."

Mr. Spengler, 35, knows what it's like to have Mr. Croasdale as mentor. Last year, Mr. Spengler took over Mr. Croasdale's long-time duties as Western's chief buyer of national TV time.

"He's easy to talk to, and a good problem solver," says Mr. Spengler. "He's got a great disposition and temperament."

Mr. Croasdale moved to the agency side after eight years at NBC.

"I was calling on [VP-TV Programming] John Allen at McCann-Erickson," Mr. Croasdale says. "He was instrumental in bringing 'National Geographic' to TV, initially sponsored by Encyclopedia Britannica. He was responsible for bringing the classic 'Charlie Brown's Christmas' to TV for Coca-Cola. I had an interest in programming even back then, so I went to work for John at McCann, hoping to learn something about programming."

Mr. Croasdale developed his program-development expertise during his 12 years at McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Then he moved on to BBDO where he had the time of his life working with GE in Hollywood.

He spent so much time in Los Angeles that he began to consider someday living in Southern California.

Western's Mr. Holt picks up the story from there.

"Chuck Bachrach, who was my top media national TV buyer, had left [to go to Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica], so I went running back to New York and interviewed a whole bunch of people. I liked Bill best, and talked him into coming out West. The deal's done. Then he calls me back a week later and says he couldn't get out of his contract, which was not true in my opinion, but that's what he said. I was devastated. So I hired Bruce Hoenig, who's still here. But Bruce was never really a network guy.

"I stayed on Bill's case. I never gave up. About a year later I talked him into it, and Bruce moved over to print planning."


Mr. Holt says one of the things that instantly appealed to him about Mr. Croasdale is that they are both workaholics.

"To this day Bill gets in at 5:30 in the morning, and he's in before most of the guys in New York are in. One of the reasons we've been so successful in network and cable, is Bill and his work ethic," he says.

Mr. Holt says if there was a hall of fame for network TV buyers, Mr. Croasdale would have to be the first inductee.

"He's the total package. He nourishes people, he's a workaholic, he's a personality, a character and he's a very smart, fair negotiator. He understands that it's a relationship business," Mr. Holt says.

Sipping on an iced tea poolside during lunch recently at the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas around the block from Western's West Hollywood headquarters, Mr. Croasdale talked enthusiastically about his two sons. One, Bill Jr., appropriately enough, also works for Western, in New York. A media life has served Mr. Croasdale well, but he offered one regret. "If I had it to do over

Most Popular
In this article: