Burson-Marsteller Founder Richard Christian Dies at 84

Advertising Hall of Fame Member Devised 'Keep America Beautiful' PSA, Dannon's Russian Yogurt Spot

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Richard Christian, a founder of the Marsteller ad agency and Burson-Marsteller Public Relations, passed away over the weekend following a long illness. He was 84.

Richard Christian
Richard Christian
The Advertising Hall of Famer-turned-professor was the architect of the famed "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement featuring the crying Native American, which became the longest-running TV spot of all time, and the iconic campaign for Dannon featuring spritely Russian seniors eating the yogurt.

"He had a very unique ability for getting along with people," said Harold Burson, founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller. "His people skills were extremely good, both within and outside the organization. He knew a lot of people, and they had a lot of confidence in him. He was a man of great integrity."

Such skills helped Mr. Christian in other aspects of his life. He was very involved in his community, the ad world and Northwestern University. Given his connections and position, he could call Arnold Palmer for help with a golf benefit. "I've never seen a man work a room better," said son Richard Christian Jr. "He would march up to people and talk to them and not [be] bashful, and people would enjoy that. It was refreshing that way, he was engaging."

The elder Mr. Christian founded Marsteller in Chicago with the legendary Bill Marsteller in 1951. Mr. Burson joined the team in 1953 to handle the PR side, and the combined Burson-Marsteller subsequently became one of the world's largest PR firms. By the early 1960s, Marsteller was the largest agency for industrial, agricultural and business-to-business advertising in the U.S. Founded on market-research principles that were groundbreaking at the time, the trio championed an integrated approach to client work, herding sales promotion, direct mail, publicity and market research under one roof.

Family affair
"He was part of the generation that went to World War II, came back and just got down to business," Mr. Christian Jr. said of his father, who was awarded a Purple Heart for service in the 100th Infantry Division and joked that he was "promoted" to private first class.

Mr. Burson said that Mr. Christian's love of family may be one of the reasons why the PR firm today still has such strong ties with alumni and holds annual reunions around the world of "former Burson persons." Mr. Burson also praised Mr. Christian's professionalism. "One of the attributes of our company was that we were very much more business-like than a lot of our competition," he said. "And I think he was the one who brought that into our business."

Mr. Christian eventually became Marsteller's chairman, and one of his favorite campaigns, to promote the benefits of yogurt, was shot in the USSR during the Cold War and featured a vigorous Russian octogenarian eating Dannon -- along with his mother.

Marsteller merged with Young & Rubicam in 1979, and Messrs. Christian and Burson joined the company as board members. Mr. Christian left the corporate world in 1984, and he had the unusual distinction of serving as both teacher and administrator at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and Kellogg School of Management, where he had earned his MBA in 1949. As associate dean and tenured professor at Medill, he played an integral role in building the school's integrated marketing communications program.

In 1986, as Kellogg's associate dean, he helped raise more than $41 million, and he is considered to be a central figure in Kellogg's ascension to international prominence. Mr. Christian returned to Medill in 1991 to chair the school's strategic planning committee.

Medill journalism professor Jack Doppelt praised Mr. Christian's commitment to giving back. "Dick returned to Northwestern not only to teach but to guide the university at every level, from adviser to presidents and deans, to the purplest of boosters of Northwestern athletics," he wrote in an e-mail. "He was involved in everything, which was a good thing because he was an enthralling raconteur."

In 1983, Mr. Christian founded Sedgwick Productions, a media-production company, with his son and his son-in-law Rich Carra. He was named to the Advertising Hall of Fame in 1992.

Mr. Christian and wife Audrey celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary last month. He also leaves behind a sister, Barbara Adams; two children, Ann Carra and Richard Jr.; and six grandchildren.

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