The advertising hall of fame is a hall without a home.
Since 1992, the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago has featured an interactive exhibit of Hall of Fame members, along with a general exhibit, "The One Minute Miracle," of broadcast advertising history (the latter, I modestly state, supplied by our company).
But early in December, the Chicago museum gave the advertising exhibits the bum's rush. Museum President and Founder Bruce DuMont sent a letter to American Advertising Federation President Wally Snyder and to Howard Bell, Wally's predecessor, advising them the museum "is no longer interested in housing or providing any maintenance for the Advertising Hall of Fame exhibit."
Mr. DuMont explained the museum board decided to focus on programming, and that advertising "no longer should be part of our mission." And, by the way, let us know by Dec. 14 what you want us to do with the stuff, he said in so many words.
Dick Christian, a founding director of the museum, was not pleased. He told Wally the letter "surprised me totally, as I'm sure it did you. Art Nielsen [the first chairman of the museum] and I resigned from the museum board well over five years ago. I have not been in the museum since then. Nor have I talked with Bruce. I am very disappointed and upset about the decision."
I called Dick, a longtime agency executive and a Hall of Fame member, who recently retired as associate dean of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. He told me Bruce expected museum directors put in more time and effort than they could afford to give, and that Bruce "never forgave agencies for not giving more money."
Mr. DuMont confirmed the ad industry never supported the museum. "The funding was not there," he said, nor was the advertising part of the museum very popular with the public. Broadcasters, particularly radio people, were the chief benefactors. But advertising "doesn't fit with who we are anymore."
Wally Snyder views the episode as an opportunity to put the Hall of Fame somewhere that will give it more visibility. Fortuitously, one of this year's inductees is Bill Paley, legendary founder of CBS (others are Reg Brack of Time Inc., Young & Rubicam's Peter Georgescu and Warner-Lambert Co.'s Pat Martin). Mr. Paley put up most of the money for New York City's Museum of Television & Radio, and Y&R's Ed Ney, a director of the New York museum, spoke with its executive director about permanently taking on the Hall of Fame exhibit. Mr. Snyder reported the museum seems at least receptive. One great plus of the New York opportunity is that the ad industry would be able to hold receptions in connection with Hall of Fame inductions.
Former AAF President Howard Bell believes deeply that the Hall of Fame is not AAF's property. AAF has administered the Hall of Fame since it took it over from the New York Ad Club in 1949. Howard's vision is to broaden industry involvement. He suggests, for instance, that the heads of the American Association of Advertising Agen- cies and Association of National Advertisers (and perhaps other ad groups) sit on the council that elects Hall of Fame members. Another idea is to give recognition-or, better yet, equal billing-to other ad groups. After all, inductees come from advertisers, agencies and media; why shouldn't they be seen as equal sponsors of the induction luncheon?
Broader support also could minimize charges of cronyism that sometimes edge into these kinds of recognition events. Sometimes inductees may owe their election more to being good friends with the AAF inner circle than having a distinguished and exceptional lifetime career in advertising. Why was Marion Harper, who did nothing less than shape the modern day ad organization, denied induction for so many years when clearly less accomplished ad people breezed in?
I feel very proprietary about the Hall of Fame. Our company is very proud that three of our most important people-my mother and father and Sid Bernstein-have been inducted. I frankly resent the way the Hall of Fame display was unceremoniously kicked out of the Chicago museum (can you tell?), and I am very much in favor of doing anything that will enhance its prestige and broaden its recognition.