Ron Elgin • Written December 2011
Lee Jacobi leaned across his desk and asked rather brusquely, “what the hell do you have on your hands?” Reluctantly, Ron Elgin admitted it was ground-in grease from his evening job at a gas station. Lee said, “I delivered ice when I was in college; you win the internship.”
Lee was the President of Cole& Weber. Ron was a junior at the UW. Ron never knew for sure if his first job in advertising was because of his grades, his professor’s recommendation or his dirty hands.
After the summer internship, he stayed on as a part-time copywriter working on a variety of accounts including Westin Hotels, Seattle Transit and The Seattle Times. Upon graduation in 1965, he moved into a full-time copywriter position until Uncle Sam decided he was needed elsewhere. After OCS and three years as an Army officer, Ron returned to Cole& Weber but this time as an account manager.
Ron had the privilege and honor to work for and learn from not only Jacobi but Hal Dixon and Hal Newsom while running a variety of accounts from Alaska Airlines to Rainier Bank. One of his most valuable experiences came as the result of being responsible for the agency’s “below-the-line” companies such as public relations, graphic design and direct marketing. While in that position he learned just how powerful and effective an integrated communications program could be when all participating disciplines are viewed and treated with equal respect, not subordinate to one another.
In 1981, Ron teamed with his close friend Dave Syferd, who was one of the market’s most senior PR executives, to create the market’s first truly integrated communications agency. They were equal in all regards and viewed their respective disciplines in the same way. Their integrated solutions immediately resonated in the marketplace and their client list grew rapidly. Some of their first accounts were the Northwest McDonalds, Holland America Line, Nordstrom, and Jansport.
Shortly after the agency’s founding, they were approached by John Hornall and Jack Anderson who had reported to Ron as the leaders of Cole & Weber’s design studio. Rather than simply adding them to their roster, they created a separate company, Hornall Anderson Design Works. Again, the premise was to not dictate solutions and executions to one another but to arrive at them as equal partners respecting the integrity of the various disciplines. A couple years later, Bill Fritsch and Ron Christiansen joined under the same premise to create what became CF2GS Direct. Along the way, they also created AdWorks (a retail advertising agency), purchased Drake Advertising/PR (Idaho’s largest agency), and founded the Issues & Advocacy Group with offices in Seattle and Washington DC.
By 1989, ElginSyferd had grown from the market’s smallest agency to the second largest. Ron and Dave decided it was time to give their more than 30 clients and 100+ employees the services and opportunities found only in a global brand. Of all the options explored over the years, they felt DDB Worldwide stood apart in both their work and humanity. The only downside was that the parent company, Omnicom, had a policy that prohibited its agencies from owning “below-the-line” companies which meant divesting themselves of Hornall Anderson, et al. In 1994, the sale was completed and Syferd retired from the company.
DDB Seattle continued to grow and by 2000 reached a quarter billion dollars in billings with nearly 200 people. The office continued to help DDB Worldwide maintain its creative reputation as the most awarded network as judged by Cannes. And in 2005 Seattle won more Effies than any other agency in the country. For 30 years, the agency maintained its reputation for great people doing great work for great clients. A great place to work.
Part of the founding philosophy was to always seek ways to give back to the community. Not only did they encourage employees to use company time to help those less fortunate but the company also became well-known for its Charity Golf Classic. For more than 20 years, their three floors were turned into an indoor golf course complete with several watering holes and feeding stations. It was a great, fun event that ultimately netted more than $500k to a variety of children’s charities.
Ron has proudly chaired and served on dozens of boards. He is most proud, however, of his wonderful 43-year marriage to Bonnie, their daughter Alison, her husband Brett, and grandchildren Logan and Hutton.
Elgin's personal biography, "Huckster, My Life As An Ad Man," is available at www.huckster-book.com.