Mike Mogelgaard • Written January 2013
Pub. Note: This bio was authored by Mike’s good friend, erstwhile competitor and fellow IMMORTAL, John Brown.
For a Detroit high school dropout, Mike Mogelgaard managed to rack up a surprising list of accomplishments in his 25-year advertising career in Seattle.
It all began when he dropped out of high school to join the Navy. His last post before being discharged was in Seattle. He liked the area and decided to make it his new home. He enrolled in Seattle University on the GI bill and earned a degree in communications.
After digging around the local ad scene, he talked his way into a job as a mail boy at McCann-Erickson in 1975. Less than a year later, the agency made him a junior account exec and his new career was off and running.
By age 30, he was managing the Sea- first Bank and Rainier Beer accounts, two of the agency’s largest clients. He did well at McCann, but the thirst for having his own business convinced him to leave McCann and start his own agency—Mogelgaard & Associates (M&A).
He promoted the agency aggressively, especially through a series of direct-mail pieces featuring Mike himself, dressed in a white suit, white vest and tie, tagged as “The Lone Wolf.” The pieces were wildly creative and humorous; some thought they were outrageous and even slightly scandalous. However, they spiked awareness and made Mike and the agency famous.
Many credit Mogelgaard with pioneering the ‘virtual agency’ concept, with a core staff and the utilization of free- lancers as needed from account to account. M&A went on to win many major lo- cal accounts, including Seafirst Bank, Longacres Race Track, Starbucks, QFC and Metro Transit.. The agency also won several walls full of creative awards, attracting attention from major agencies looking for an acquisition. Among the suitors was The Evans Group, a large regional agency based in Salt Lake City. They bought M&A in 1990 and Mike was made corporate creative director for Evans Group’s five offices throughout the West.
In 2000, Mike happily retired to pursue a variety of other interests, including growing rare orchids and collecting antiques. He also travels frequently to his homes in Miami, New York City, Van- cover, B.C. and Whidbey Island from his hillside villa in Leschi.
What happened to the golden age of Seattle Advertising?
From Norma Desmond to Woody Allen, people look back and inevitably recall things long past and lament that it was so much better way back when.
I can tell you unequivicably there was a Golden Age in Seattle, what made it special, and what led to its demise.
From the late seventies and mid eighties Seattle was dominated by two large agencies: Kraft Smith Lowe and Cole and Weber, and to a lesser extent McCann Erickson.
Cole and Weber dominated the market. They had every major account worth having from Boeing and Weyerhauser to Kenworth.
There were also several mid tier agencies: Stimson, Ricks/Ehrig and Ayer- Baker. These guys were like a mediocre restaurant today: around but not remarkable.
However, there was a new paradigm emerging. A realization that great creative ultimately comes down to one or two guys sitting in an office with a typewriter and tablet. Sure, a big agency with leather chaired waiting rooms and teams of account guys made you feel secure, but it didn’t guarantee the quality of the work, or that it would move market share.
Sensing this, small start ups like John Brown and Partners, Mogelgaard and Associates, George Lowe, and Elgin Kirkland Syferd got a toe hold in the market. They all seemed to have one thing in common, they seldom clashed with each other as they realized (and at times acknowledged ) for everyone to grow we had to go after accounts parked at the big agencies, not chase each other. Pry one loose and it was a win for all.
Within just a few years the scene was changing. John Brown hit it out of the park - he scored Nike, the Sonics, and Pizza Haven. Mogelgaard was doing well too, Longacres, Seafirst Bank and Cellular One. Elgin and his group got McDonalds and Princess Cruises.
These were heady times, winning awards, minting money and changing the traditional model of how the business worked.
It didn’t last.
It all turned to shit with just one agency and one account. And the consequences are still felt throughout the industry today.
The agency was Stimson and the account was the Washington State Lottery. Big and highly visable account. Who didn’t want that in their tent?
Every joint in Seattle was poised to pitch. Teams were assigned and RFP’s answered.
One of the interesting and critical components of the industry at that time was that all agencies were paid the same. That’s correct. 15% media and mark up on outside purchases plus an hourly for creative time.
It was called the “Industry Standard”.
So big or small, smart or dumb, creative or ho hum we were being judged on the important things: quality creative, and understanding the client’s business.
Not the cost.
Everyone from the largest agency to a one man band could compete on an even playing field. A perspective client could see a plethora of ideas, all virtually priced the same.
Stimson, the incumbent and not known for its overall creative product, realized that the odds of retaining the Lottery were quickly dwindling, as most of these hot creative shops had arrived on the scene while they were the custodian.
In response they tried to save the account by doing what had always been unthinkable.
They dropped the commission rate.
With a single RFP response good creative could be undermined by price. Great work could suddenly be quantified and discredited. An agency could be told they were liked but the guy down the street would do the work for less ( and perhaps they picked up a few ideas from the presentations they had seen in the process) and could you make an “adjustment?”
Someone could take an agency’s previous work and offer an “extension of the campaign” for far less.
Ad managers now had a way to insure their employment. They show their bosses they were getting the work for less. And each year demonstrate their viability by further squeezing the no longer fixed price.
You see it today. Accounts are spread across an ever increasing spectrum. Who cares about a “full service agency’” when you can spread the work out and grind each provider?
Do I lament this turn of events? Sure, but I see the same thing everywhere. Hire two shifts of part time workers for a full time job and don’t pay the insurance. Charge for a checked bag, your meal and even your seat assignment when you fly. Cancel a rip off plan and still pay a fee. Hidden surcharges exist on virtually everything.
It extends far beyond our industry. Once, all that mattered was the quality of the work your shop turned out. And at the same time I admired the competition because each guy raised the standard with every presentation and at each Art Directors Show, (now long gone).
Myself and my competitor/collegues were in a Golden Age, and as I suspect with every Golden Age, at the time we didn’t realize it.
But I was there and realize it now.
God damn it.