In his 1992 book, WLT: A Radio Romance, Garrison Keillor bemoans the typical undistinguished end of most erstwhile “celebrities” in radio. In his hilarious tale of an early radio station he claims that nobody ever becomes famous in radio, pointing out that they actually never become anything and that one day, at the end, they are simply “not there anymore.”
That’s a paraphrase, I still have the book, but keep falling asleep when I try to find the exact quote. I had it framed on my office wall for many years because it reminded me of the ephemeral nature of the ad agency business that I had inadvertently fallen into. Why I thought I needed reminding wasn’t quite clear, since I have now managed to witness large chunks of the industry’s (and the Northwest’s) changes and challenges for something like 55 years now, including the rise and fall of some its heroes and villains. And sometimes they were interchangeable.
I never intended to spend so much time in advertising. In fact, I never intended to spend any. I left the University of Washington at age 20, clutching a diploma with imposing calligraphy telling the waiting world I had been awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Germanic Languages and Literature, Magna Cum Laude. Ach du lieber! What in hell is one to do with that?
Apart from mowing lawns, and summer jobs with Fisher’s Flour, Rainier Brewery, Crow Roofing and a General Motors parts warehouse, my only work-for-money experience was a part-time college job that became full time when I graduated with the specter of The Draft lurking over my shoulder. The folks at Sterling Engraving, a Seattle graphic production firm, thought that I offered them splendid potential, based on how quickly I learned to sweep their floors and take walk-in and phone orders between the day and night shifts.
Today, like a lot of other things, Sterling Engraving is an industry ghost, passed away unheralded as graphic arts technology left it behind. In the mid 1950s the little shop downtown on Fifth Avenue was a great place to see a fair-sized slice what was going on in Seattle advertising. Owned by Dick Lea and Frank Calvert, co-owners of Craftsmen Press, Sterling was one of four photoengraving shops in town. Their competitors were Western Engraving; News Publishing Company, the publishers of the Shopping News; and Artcraft Engraving, owned by Superior Publishing, book publishers. All were kept thriving by a demand for letterpress printing plates needed by retailers like the Bon, Best’s Apparel (now Nordstrom), and now vanished stores like Rhodes, MacDougall’s, and Frederick & Nelson, all major newspaper advertisers. Smaller newspapers such as the West Seattle Herald, the Ballard Tribune, and The Queen Anne News also were regular Sterling customers for plates used to print their editorial photography and illustrations for ads ordered by local businesses. Printers too, of all sizes, were customers for all kinds of halftone and line engravings used to print an endless spectrum of brochures, cards, folders, and mailing pieces required by their clients.
In the mid-50s there were also some 70 advertising agencies in Seattle churning out a huge variety of mostly printed materials along with radio spots and a few television commercials, almost all still black and white. And while lithography was slowly gaining a foothold that would eventually overshadow printing produced from letterpress plates, in that era the best available printing quality still demanded the resolution and clarity generally only possible with printing plates carefully engraved and hand finished on copper, zinc and magnesium sheet stock. It’s the process the US Mint still uses for our beautifully produced money — and don’t we love that, even though it’s become more garish and cartoony?
Today, if you were to call the roll of those five or six dozen mid-50s agencies, most wouldn’t answer. Just “not there anymore” are a small battalion of companies and individual advertising operatives you may or may not remember, depending on your vintage. These are most of them that were active in the Seattle area:
- Robert Allen
- Altnow Advertising
- Dean Andrews
- The Anthony Agency
- Frederick E. Baker
- Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne
- Beaumont and Hohman
- Belmont Advertising
- Blitz Advertising
- The Burke Company
- Botsford, Constantine & Gardner
- Bozell & Jacobs
- Calkins & Holden
- Peter Clarke
- Cole & Weber
- David W. Evans
- Durham Warren
- Honig Cooper
- Carmine DeGregg
- J.C. Grover
- Floyd Flint
- Romig Fuller & Associates
- Gail Advertising
- Alfred Goldblatt Advertising
- Wayne Hadley
- Thomas Hart
- B.N. Hutchinson
- Steve Johnson & Associates
- Jay Jones
- Keene & Keene
- LeBrasseur Advertising
- Philip B. Lundstrom
- Martin & Tuttle
- The McCarty Company
- HJ McGrath & Associates
- Miller, Mackay, Hoeck & Hartung
- Joseph Maguire
- FG Mullins
- Robert Nichols Advertising Associates
- Ohiser Advertising Agency Pacific National Advertising
- Nick Paglieri
- Pearson, Morgan and Pascoe
- Penman Neil
- David Pollock
- Cappy Ricks
- Ruthrauff and Ryan
- How J. Ryan
- Sharp Advertising
- J. William Sheets
- Coral Stanhope
- West Marquis
- Taskett Advertising,
- Cary Vernon
- West Pacific
- William Wurster
My personal favorite on that list was Batten, Barton, Burstine and Osborn. I knew little or nothing about them at the time, but realized later that Bruce Barton, a descendant of the founder of Yale university was the author of a hugely successful small book, “The Man Nobody Knows. A Discovery of the Real Jesus.” It depicted Jesus Christ as a successful salesman, publicist and role model for the modern businessman. I doubt that the reverse would have been true among salesmen, publicists, and business folks I came to know. I mostly fancied the name Batton, Barton, Durstine & Osborne because some wit once described it as “the sound of somebody falling down stairs.”
I know there are some ad folks I missed on my list, and I think probably a few more in my compilation were not actually advertising agencies, but rather specialty advertising vendors, show promoters, PR people or publishers of one kind or another. But I remember most of these and knew many from that era.
Out of that faded roster from yesterday, many simply fell to business attrition. Some went on to greener pastures or new affiliations that changed their name, their composition, their focus and in some cases their area of operations. In 1964 for example, Botsford, Constantine & Gardner, a successful powerhouse with a Seattle headquarters and offices in Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles chose to consolidate all of its offices and major accounts such as Olympia Brewing Company, Suntory Japanese whiskey, Pendleton Woolen Mills, and Jantzen Sportwear into a single office in San Francisco, ending a long, historic run in the Northwest. The fallout of a move like that reminds me of a Fourth of July skyrocket—a big bang and colorful splash that sends out a shower of luminous sparks to land and start fires elsewhere. Many of BC&G’s best people elected to follow the agency to San Francisco. Some stayed put. I moved to McCann-Erickson, which just a year before had acquired Seattle’s bright and creatively acclaimed Miller, Mackay, Hoeck, and Hartung.
That shooting star, which was Botsford, Constantine and Gardner went its own way to become Botsford, Constantine & McCarty, Botsford Ketchum, Ketchum Advertising, then Chiat Day Ketchum, Chiat Day, and finally TBWA/Chiat Day.
I’d been at BC&G for a little over a year. I was to spend the next 19 years with McCann-Erickson. It wasn’t my plan. I have to confess that despite the ministrations of a covey of consultants who touted the wisdom of planning long term life strategies and shorter term tactics (Where do you see yourself five years from now?) I was more interested in seeing where opportunity took me. Fate has been good to me. I still have no idea what I would have done with a degree in Germanic Languages and Literature. I made the vault into the advertising agency business from Sterling Engraving thanks to a casual referral made on a golf course when Dick Harris, a partner of Cappy Ricks at Cappy Ricks & Associates asked Trevor Evans of then Pacific National Advertising Agency if he knew anybody Ricks might hire as a production manager. I’d become well acquainted with the Pac Nat art directors and Monte Solkover who later went on to head Solkover Davidge & Jenkins, another excellent smaller agency that left its mark on Seattle.
Coincidentally, the little Cappy Ricks Agency up above Buddy Squirrel’s Nut Shop on University Way in the U. District had been purchased by Harris and Ricks from Warren Kraft, father of Don Kraft, who along with his brother Warren had joined Dad at Honig Cooper downtown in the Tower Building—more about Don later. A national agency, Honig Cooper also later retreated to San Francisco as Honig Cooper Harrington.. When Ricks was acquired by Botsford in 1963 the smaller agency had also scooped up the Oil Heat Institute of Washington and The Washington State Dairy Commission, Pommerelle and Nawico wines and Crown Russe Vodka accounts, and moved downtown to the Medical Arts Building. Cappy, clearly a promising new business guy looked like a great manager prospect to BC&G president, Joe Maguire who acquired the smaller firm—and me—for BC&G. But in a year Ricks was gone and so was Botsford. Dick Harris and Cappy Ricks had split before that merger. Both later started their own firms under their own names. Harris, a former Air Force pilot, race car driver and father of a young family, was to die of a heart attack a few years later on another golf course. Cappy Ricks & Associates would later become Ricks Ehrig. Those businesses and their principals are sadly just “not there anymore.” Jack Ehrig, like his contemporaries Ricks, Harris and the Kraft brothers, was a product of the University of Washington. By the time I had found my way to McCann Erickson, Don Kraft, Hugh Smith and Jack Ehrig had joined together to form Kraft Smith & Ehrig.
Early on at McCann Erickson I took an informal survey to see how many of my colleagues had actually been schooled in advertising. I think I was probably subconsciously wondering what I was doing there with a degree in German. To my surprise, a great majority of my associates had academic backgrounds in History, English, Chemical Engineering, Fine Art and other non-advertising or marketing related fields. Jerry Hoeck, one of the partners was almost the sole exception. A 1944 UW graduate he is the UW School of Communication’s 2008 choice as one of its six new members of the School’s Hall of Fame. Author and journalist Shelby Scates called him “the best and most creative adman of his generation in the Northwest.” Gerry has retired at least three times that I know about, but he is still not among those who are “not there anymore” and he taught me a hell of a lot.
Today, agencies are filled with advertising and marketing graduates. Many of them even understand advertising and marketing without having had to learn it the hard way. Despite that, over the years, brilliant performers have come to agencies from every walk of life and it is clear that academia is not always the best or most effective pathway for them to follow. Agencies themselves, with a few exceptions, don’t do a very good of training people for creative performance or even a clear understanding of their roles. That’s where internal mentoring comes in and smart young men and women, regardless of the academic package they bring to work, cling to those high performers, emulate them and, if they can bend far enough to admit that they have something to learn, apprentice themselves in some way to those people who actually have something to teach them. Like every other endeavor today, the hard thing is to distinguish the stars from the mere celebrities and there is a big difference.
The Seattle advertising community of the mid-50s and for sometime after was a downtown population dwelling in the Smith Tower, the Tower Building, the Skinner Building, the Republic Building, the Central Building, the Medical Arts Building, the 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, the Vance Building, the Northern Life Tower, the Dexter Horton Building, the Palomar Building, the Terminal Sales Building and others. For many agencies watering holes such as Victor Rosellini’s 410 became known as “the company cafeteria.” So did the Tower Building’s El Gaucho that offered a bar so dark that it took several minutes to see who was there if you’d just walked in from the street. Ditto the Carousel Room at the Mayflower, a dimly lit den that provided a comfortable afternoon hiding place for a phalanx of client side ad folks who were “out for lunch and a meeting” in the afternoon. Art Louie’s Chinese Restaurant, which had succeeded Norm Bobrow’s Colony Club nightspot where he had discovered singer Pat Suzuki, was almost too conveniently close to McCann Erickson, neé Miller Mackay Hoeck and Hartung. Loved by creative folks for its hombow and excellent martinis, Louie’s also was a favorite of at least one Caucasian but Chinese-speaking account supervisor who routinely instructed the waiter in fluent Mandarin to bring the check to his perennially freeloading client guests—just so he could watch the frantic activity as they coughed, waved and flicked the bill back to his end of the table.
The ad community has since scattered, along with clients who found their way to Redmond, Tukwila, Federal Way, and Everett, leaving those of us who treasured the storied personalities and ad biz chit chat feeling a little remote and isolated. The agency contingent downtown was also supported by relationships with people who were vital to getting the job done. Printing salesman like Bruce Walker and others who became friends and extensions of what we did. Studio artists like Harry Bonath, Dick Brown, Bill Werrbach or the great talents of Graphic Studios including Ted Rand, Dick Nelms, Irwin Kaplan, Mits Katayama and Bob Cram, who not only became a locally famous cartooning TV weatherman, but created breakthrough advertising for QFC and others. Add to that smart media reps, research specialists, skilled musicians, great acting talent, creative business consultants, brilliant audio engineers, film editors, cinematographers, and a host of freelancers sticking their necks out, and we’ve had what it takes, even way back when.
As I went bumbling along through years of pitches, meetings, arguments, brainstorms, explanations, research, deadlines, all-nighters, creative insights, failures that got glossed over and successes that succeeded beyond dreams, I have watched a phone directory full of agencies of all sizes contend for the brightest prizes. And while the length of the agency list never seems to diminish, it is clear that the old 80/20 rule prevails. Most of the good stuff comes from a small slice of the players. But advertising is not a one sided proposition. It is also clear that it also takes a good client to create the right environment for good advertising. The 80/20 rule applies there, too. Fifty-five years ago it took an Ole Bardahl to enable Gerry Hoeck and his colleagues to create one of the world’s first and most effective animated spots for an oil additive that took the national market by storm. It later took a Nike to let young writer Jim Riswold at Weiden & Kennedy break all the “rules” with unforgettable commercials that simply told aspiring performers they could “Just Do It.”
When the right 20% connects with the other right 20%, things happen. That takes a certain kind of bravery on both sides. Nobody has described that courage better than my friend Bob Edens, former creative director for both Leo Burnett in Chicago and J. Walter Thompson in New York. Bob’s credits include the creation of Marlboro Country and the Marlboro Man for what was originally a womens’ cigarette. He invented the Timex “Takes A Licking and Keeps on Ticking” torture tests hosted in TV spots by John Cameron Swayze. He renamed an ordinary Sears Roebuck battery “the Die Hard,” and created The Friendly Skies of United. He gave me this page written for a book he somehow never got around to publishing:
Death of an idea:
It’s so easy to say no to it.
It’s so understandable to want to fix it and make it more conventional and familiar.
It’s so reassuring to take the alarming part out of it and smooth the rough edges. And sandpaper it to death.
Oscar Wilde put it this way, “An idea that isn’t dangerous is hardly worth calling an idea at all.”
It’s the shocking part, the frightening part, the unknown element that makes an idea an idea in the first place. If you feel comfortable with it from the very first, take another look.
It’s probably not an idea.
—Robert L. Edens
My hat is off to those individuals in advertising agencies and client organizations who have worked together like that, then and now.
I’m only sorry that there are simply too many more other stories than I have time and space to tell. Of the two Hals, Newsom and Dixon who where fabulous leaders of Cole and Weber. Of dapper Harry Pearson and his wife Sally who could almost invariably be found at Ad Club lunches inspiring wide-eyed novices. Of creative director George Lowe who, when I objected to a couple of well-oiled colleagues punching holes in agency walls after lunch, sent me a piece of plasterboard with a fist size hole in and a note advising, “Better to let them punch holes in the wall than in you.” Of the bank client who told me to change an ad headline reading “More investors blow their money on this one mistake than any other” because it was “sexual innuendo.” Of a long ago account supervisor who showed off his martial arts prowess by breaking his client’s arm in the El Gaucho. Of writer Bill Hoke who boarded an LA bound plane after being suddenly handcuffed to a briefcase at the gate by an agency colleague and then told a stewardess who wanted it out of the aisle, “I’m sorry, I’m a diplomatic courier and you are going to have to help me go to the men’s room.” Of Jay Jones, now in his mid-80s who fifty years ago had a small agency in the Medical Arts Building, but launched a mail order product so successful that it led him to create a multimillion dollar manufacturing company from which he just retired—to launch another one.
I could write about all those things and hundreds more, the likes of which you would never see on television’s popular Mad Men series about 50s advertising. I could, but then you would think our Seattle version was somehow not the real thing.
And looking back on it, perhaps it was not. But what else do you do with a degree in German Lit?