My hat's off to Joe Cappo: writer, publisher, executive

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I'd like to talk about how Joe Cappo saved my bacon, not once but twice.

Joe, retiring after 25 years with our company, has done it all for us. He's been columnist, publisher, group publisher, senior VP-international, book writer and, as Ad Age's former editor, Fred Danzig, says, "He's the brightest, funniest, most charming, most versatile and talented guy to be around."

But 25 years ago I needed something else from Joe-his great credibility. Joe, during the golden years of advertising in the `70s, had been writing a very popular ad and marketing column for the Chicago Daily News. When that newspaper folded, he switched to the Sun-Times.

On a bus ride at the American Association of Advertising Agencies conference, Joe confided he was thinking of moving his column to another venue, and I started thinking about how he could make a very substantial impact on our ambitious startup, Crain's Chicago Business.

So we prevailed on Joe to write a general business column for us. It made its debut in CCB's June 5, 1978, inaugural issue with a special plea to all outraged businesspeople, uptight consumerists and indignant legislators: Quiet down, said Joe (in what would be pretty good advice for today). "Shut up for a minute! Spare us your political palaver. Lower your voice. Don't say stupid things. Listen."

Our readers listened, and his column quickly became the most popular feature in CCB. As Gloria Scoby, a member of the CCB startup crew, recalls, "Joe became the in-house rabbi for all the people on the business side who were struggling to position our business paper. He got it, he instinctively knew how to do it." So it seemed natural, inside and outside our company, when he became CCB's publisher the next year while continuing his weekly column. Joe and his team made our Chicago publication the most successful city business newspaper in the land. That was the first time he saved my bacon.

The second time was when he was group publisher of seven of our titles, including Ad Age. One bright and crisp day in 1989, the ad director and publisher of Ad Age came into my office and shut the door. They said they had some news I wasn't going to want to hear-that they were both leaving to join a rival publication.

I guess I didn't look as worried as I should have been because I immediately thought of Joe Cappo as the guy to take over. I called Joe's assistant, Mary Hryniszak, and asked her to track Joe down. He was playing in a tennis tournament at a local ad federation outing (and was winning!). Let the record show Joe coolly won the tournament before he packed his bags for New York.

When Joe became publisher, he brought in Ed Erhardt, now president of ESPN/ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales, as his ad director. Ed told me, "Joe was a great mentor, and, most importantly, he taught me how to be a business-side executive in a company that valued journalism and content. Those lessons have served me well throughout my career."

Joe might be retiring but he's not slowing down much. He'll organize advertising conferences in the Middle East and China, lecture on advertising at his alma mater, DePaul University, and write a book. And in his spare time he might even resume his old job as rock `n' roll critic.

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