Drama and Comedy, Agony and Laughter. The History of Atlanta Advertising
The 1960's to the Early Nineties.
"If advertising were as powerful as some people say, there would be five times as much of it." So declared Liller Neal Battle & Lindsey in a self promotion ad in 1963. Fast forward forty years and Joey Reiman, chairman of Bright House, says, "advertising is history." A lot surely must have happened to advertising and Atlanta's advertising community during those years.
Agencies came and went. Others aspired to greatness and, like moths trying to reach the star, eventually died in the street light. Friendships were made, lost and remade, and so were fortunes. Clients like Six Flags Over Georgia, C&S National Bank, Georgia Power, and First Atlanta danced between agencies like a debutante at the ball. The work generally was good, often mediocre, and sometimes great. And, on more than a few occasions, world class.
In 1963, there were 60 ad agencies in Atlanta, including many that still exist ... in one form or another. Among them are J. Walter Thompson; Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn; and D'Arcy; and local shops: Tucker Wayne and Company; Liller, Neal, Battle and Lindsey, Inc.; and Burke Dowling Adams. Since then, J. Walter Thompson has remained a major player, and Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn have merged with Burke Dowling Adams to form BBD/BBDO, now just BBDO. Liller Neal no longer exists and Tucker Wayne is now called WestWayne.
In the early sixties, the city's agencies billed about $60 million, excluding the national firms' branches, and more than 600 people were employed in the business. The client list was impressive: Carling Brewery Company, Frito-Lay Inc., Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph, Colgate-Palmolive, General Dynamics, Gerber, Lufthansa German Airlines, Mercedes-Benz, and Studebaker. But even then, two ongoing themes were starting to play out. The first was whether the town could compete on a national and international scene. The other is the perpetual self evaluation of whether Atlanta's creative is truly great. McRae & Bealer Advertising asked in a 1963 issue of Atlanta Magazine that musical question: "Has your advertising got that ring ...a ding... ding...?" The "ring... a ding... ding" was coming and the start was going to father the advertising revolution in Atlanta that continues today.
The Tom And Dick Show:
The Start Of It All
Cot Campbell and Jack Burton were two account guys at Liller Neal with an entrepreneurial itch. In 1964 Bill Neal not only blessed their leaving but gave them a client that was too small for his agency. Sea Pines on Hilton Head was then a remote, largely undeveloped island. "Turned out to be a most important account, which led us to all kinds of business and we were growing like weeds," Burton remembers. They opened the agency with an ad that read: "What's going on behind the green door?"
Burton-Campbell was intent on doing the most creative work. "We were serious about the work and we would make a good pitch," he recalls. "We would tell the prospective client that we were not cheap and if they were looking for a bargain deal, they needed to look for someone else and we'd help them. It was a bold stroke and I'm persuaded that it had a lot to do with us getting accounts. "
The two traveled to Birmingham to judge an awards show. The work was "pretty bad stuff." but one person had two or three entries that caught their eye. "They were just knockout ads so Cot and I went back home and hired that guy. His name was Tom Little. He accepted the job and drove up with his wife and two kids looking like country coming to the big city. But his arrival was earthshaking."
At the same time, a young art director and designer was having trouble supporting his wife and two kids. Dick Henderson started as a mechanical artist with Rich's and knew that was not for him. A $300 freelance assignment was enough incentive for him to quit and form HendersonSweeney Design with Bill Sweeney. "We didn't have a portfolio comprehensive enough to get hired by McCann or D'Arcy, so we opened the studio in order to get a job," Henderson said. "Sure enough John Bader at McCann called and said he had one opening. We flipped a coin and Sweeney went. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time."
Henderson, with a family to support, left the business and taught at Georgia State. After a year, he was told he would have to pursue a graduate degree if he wanted to stay. "I remember saying 'I'm 23, I can't start all over again!' How stupid. But it put me back looking for an ad job. " The second to last day at the college, Henderson called Paul Hodges at McCann to see if there were any openings. There was one. Sweeney had just resigned to go to Atlanta Magazine. Henderson took the job but was not happy at McCann. He resigned without a job.
But, as fate would have it, Burton called and said he had hired Little who was "great at doing radio..." Ð just what every art director wants to hear. But he also said he wanted to build a hot creative shop. "I remember thinking that 'What's going on behind the green door?' campaign was corny." So in 1964 Henderson joined Tom Little to form what is arguably the first real creative team in Atlanta advertising. The two, opposites in style and manner, got along and remained friends until Little's death. "I knew how to work with him and do great work but Tom was a very eccentric guy." Among those hired in those days were Jim Pringle, Dan Scarlotto, Ralph McGill, Bill Diehl, and Anne Rivers Siddons. Hugh Wilson was a salesman who found his way to Burton-Campbell. Burton and Little took him under their wings. "We recognized that he was bright and creative. Tom taught him to write and spell and he was great," said Henderson. "We had no amateurs," Burton recalls. "They were all the best but they were all crazy. Hugh may have been the craziest."
Little and Campbell had frequent creative skirmishes. Henderson remembers the day Campbell took a piece of Little's copy and edited it with a red pencil." Tom took the paper just incensed. He said to Cot, 'This is the second to the last time you do this to my work. ' I never had the guts to say that. "
A few years later in 1968, Cargill Wilson & Acree (CW&A), a Richmond, VA powerhouse, opened an Atlanta office, taking the First National Bank of Atlanta account away from McCann-Erickson. Ed Acree was the agency's first manager, followed by Dick Vinyard. Harry Jacobs, later of the famed Martin Agency, came as president. Jacobs tried hiring Les Parker away from Tucker Wayne as creative director but failed. After six months of intense wooing, Jim Cole left McCann-Erickson and joined CW&A. When the agency opened, they took out a full page ad in the Atlanta Constitution with a headline that said, "Who Needs It?" Jacobs recalls that it "stirred Atlanta's sleeping marketing community quickly. Bob Shaffer, president of Tucker Wayne, refused to shake Ed Acree's hand at an Ad Club meeting."
Henderson took over the creative helm at Burton-Campbell but wanted to be his own boss. He admired work being done at CW&A by Cole. He called Cole to pitch the idea of forming an agency. Cole had just quit. They met, talked about what kind of agency each wanted, shook hands and that night got a call from Harvey Watt of Aviation Insurance offering to be their first client. "It was a real omen and our wives were even more happy than we that we had a client." Burton handed them their next clients: Maslan Carpets and First Federal Savings & Loan. John Drake soon joined and Cole Henderson Drake began its illustrious run. The year was 1969. Hugh Wilson, meanwhile, took over the creative helm at Burton-Campbell.
That 70's Show: McDonald & Little And A Creative Explosion
No one seems to remember what exactly was the final straw for Tom Little at Burton-Campbell. A mutual friend, Garland Porter, introduced Little to Mike McDonald, who had recently left McCann-Erickson. On July 3, 1969 McDonald & Little opened at the Life of Georgia building on North Avenue. They aspired to greatness from the start. Little wanted to build an agency that was "state of the art," he said in a 1985 interview. "The talent pool in Atlanta was thin, so we had an attitude, a willingness to invest in talent. We spent the money to bring talent to Atlanta."
Ralph McGill, Jr. , one of the best copywriters the city has ever seen, joined as did art director Don Gill and Don Trousdell. Ted Burn, an outstanding classical designer, was there, as was Keith Green Ð who started out as an intern polishing McDonald's shoes, rose through the account ranks, opened his own agency, and eventually moved to New York with Scali, McCabe, Sloves. The late Oliver Kiss and the late Joe Lonsdorf were account executives and Virgil Shutze was wooed away from Henderson Advertising in 1972. Dave Fitzgerald left Tucker Wayne to join up in 1973; Alf Nucifora in 1976.
"Tom cherry picked the best talent from everywhere, the best account people, research, media, creative, that money could buy. Working there was a great experience. Pure electricity. Ideas were bouncing off the walls and so were the people," said Fitzgerald.
Shutze says that if you did not work at McDonald & Little it was because "you weren't good enough. We had very, very high standards and held ourselves to incredibly high standards. We had no time to look out windows. We were an elite people. We didn't want the other agencies to fail. In fact, we wished them moderate success and that's what they had."
McDonald & Little grew to about $3 million in billings and then started getting noticed. But then they really took off and billings grew to the mid-$20 million range. Most of their best work came during this time: Six Flags Over Georgia, Peachtree Federal and First Atlanta, which they took from CW&A. Little created Tillie (ATM) and Shutze wrote the spots." Tom birthed her but I raised her," Shutze says. "She went beyond bank advertising. She became an international phenomenon."
McDonald & Little was in its heyday but some of the seeds of its eventual destruction were starting to sprout. The group worked hard and never let up. In a previous interview Green said that employees were only" rewarded for your brightness and hard work. It drained us. I never saw a day go by without people suffering. The rewards just couldn't be equal to the price we paid." Personnel came and left. Salaries kept getting higher. Tom Little offered art director Clyde Hogg a job for $50, 000. Hogg accepted but got Little to agree to co-sign a loan on a Ferrari. Hogg went out drinking and bragged. McDonald heard it and just like that Hogg was out of a job, not to mention the Ferrari.
In 1972, McDonald hired a director of account management, Ron Scharbo, from CW&A. Scharbo showed up to find out that McDonald had not told anyone about him. "I was put in the conference room and all the account guys like Oliver Kiss, Dave Soulin and Bob Culpepper came in to welcome me and ask what my job was. I didn't want to tell them I was their boss. And when Mike returned, he didn't see the need for it. It was a big mistake."
The craziness of McDonald & Little sparked and fueled a similar attitude and quest for great creative around the city. In the 1970's anyone with talent with some money and maybe a client could open an agency. Among those started were Pringle Dixon Pringle, Bowles/Hanlon Advertising, Sullivan Haas Coyle, Wilson Horne McClelland & Gray, Weir & Pfeiffer, Austin Kelley Advertising, DoranGreyStein, Cascino & Purcell, The Morrison Agency and Larry Smith & Associates. Keith Green and Peter Burkhardt left McDonald & Little to start an agency in 1979 and four years later, Fitzgerald left that agency to form Fitzgerald & Co. Nucifora started Nucifora & Co. in 1982. A real ad scene was being created.
Several agencies located at Colony Square and everyone partied at the Brothers II. Sarah Cotton, who came to Atlanta and joined Paddock Smith & Aydlotte in 1972 and later became creative services director at Burton-Campbell, says it was a "joyous time. Everyone knew each other and helped out each other. We were fiercely competitive but friends." B.A. Albert, who started at Pringle Dixon Pringle, recalls the insanity. "I remember being at the restaurant at Colony Square watching my ex-husband talking to the ex-wife of my then boyfriend. Even then I knew it was crazy. We were passionate and we did drink at lunch. It was real fun and real loose. If you didn't get a raise, you'd just go a floor up or down on the elevator and get another job."
McGill increased his notoriety by having a job at Cole Henderson Drake and accepting another one at Burton-Campbell. For several weeks he worked at both jobs, juggling meetings, creative assignments and agency executives. Joel Babbit, who joined McCann-Erickson in 1978, recalls, "We all wore suits and smoked at our desks. We had two or three or four drinks at lunch every day. The art director would decide on a type face and order the type, and then we would wait a day or so before the typesetter would courier over the type." Mike Gaffney, who made his name at CW&A, says the work was dull." And, then we started changing it. Tucker Wayne still was boring but the new agencies breathed a lot of life into the city." McDonald & Little started attracting national clients like Ralston Purina, Anheuser-Busch, Sabena Airlines and McDonald's. The Southern Airways spot "No One is Second Class" is still on lists of all time great spots.
But with the bigger national agencies came clients who wanted to play it safer. Little recalled that what those national clients "liked about us soon became what they didn't like. They tried to homogenize us, put us in the mainstream and make us like other agencies. It prevented us from doing what the group did best: create memorable, crazy, unsurpassed advertising. " Shutze remembers pitching the State of Mississippi's tourism account. Little stood before the group and "...told them that Mississippi has a horrible reputation and no amount of advertising was going to fix its bad image. " Little's solution was simple. "He suggested they change the name of Mississippi to something that was positive, like Colorado. No other human being would ever had done that. " Not only that, as the agency grew, it required a management that paid attention to personnel issues and running the agency well. That did not happen and the two partners started bickering. Morale sagged and new business became less a cause of celebration than despair over more work. "It was like watching your parents fight," recalls Shutze. "The agency's secret ingredient was McDonald and Little. Its fatal flaw was McDonald and Little."
"Mike McDonald very quickly outgrew Tom Little," Nucifora says. McGill says that Little was perceived by McDonald as an embarrassment to some national clients." Tom was viewed as a weirdo creative person who wouldn't look good in a presentation," he says. "It became two agencies, the New York packaged goods type agency and Tom's off the wall creative agency. It became polarized."
Most of these agencies did well and usually had one or two showcase clients. But no one, with a few exceptions, really grew big. Ken Bowes and Ron Hanlon were at Liller Neal and watching the creative explosion happen elsewhere in the city. Bowes remembers that a creative director was hired fresh from the army. "He was like the public information officer, an Army writer. He came and fell flat on his face. We went and said that we had to get rid of him. The answer came quickly: 'He sure seemed impressive in a uniform.' Obviously, it was time to go."
So, Bowes/Hanlon used a variety of freelance talent. "McDonald & Little was really the only one going after really national accounts," Bowes said. "Atlanta clients were a pretty skittish group. They rose to an imaginary ceiling." Clients such as Robinson-Humphrey and Tindol Pest Control were exceptions. Norm Grey, now with the Creative Circus, joined, as did Babbit.
Cole Henderson Drake was making a name for itself as a "staunch" creative shop, Henderson said, "McDonald & Little got really great national accounts. We tried. We were doing real breakthrough stuff like for the Omni Hotels but no one knew it." The agency also was having difficulties with C&S National Bank. "The C&S client told us he had three years to retire and he was fed up with our kind of ideas. He actually did an ad with a trout swimming upstream to open a savings account," Henderson said. "We refused to do it so he did it himself." The agency lost the business and instead of firing a large part of the staff, management offered to keep everyone employed if they took a pay cut. The principals lopped off more than 30 percent of their own pay. That act of commitment to the staff is still talked about today.
But, as the saying goes: one person's trash is someone else's treasure. Ogilvy & Mather had decided against opening an Atlanta office without a client. C&S's advertising director John Rigel knew Neill Cameron, a native Atlantan working out of O&M's Houston office. Rigel called Cameron up at Christmas and said if Ogilvy would open an Atlanta office, he would be the first client. "People had a love-hate relationship with Rigel," Cameron remembers. "I could deal with him." On April 1, 1980, O&M Atlanta opened with C&S, then worth between $3 to $4 million. "We are the only national agency to start from scratch in Atlanta and we are very proud of that," he says. Soon to join Cameron were Mike Turner, Jerry Brown, John Ames and Ian Latham. "The planets were aligned," Cameron says. "C&S was paying the bills and we got a small account that no one understood, Scientific-Atlanta. And then we earned the benefit of being in the O&M family. In 1981 the southern region of Sears and American Express were dumped in our lap. We were profitable by the second year. Eventually we grew to $150 million."
Over at Burton-Campbell, Campbell wanted to go into the horse business. Per their contract, Burton was obliged to buy Campbell's shares. Burton said, "Iwas not happy, but I was also getting to the point of believing that it was a young man's game. I was tired of it and made enough money. The old crowd was falling about so I sold it to my employees." A deal was made for Hugh Wilson and Dippe Callahan to buy the shop. Scharbo, now a marketing consultant, was brought in as the third partner. Everything was fine until Wilson went on vacation to California and got a job writing for The Tony
Randall Show and MTM Productions. He sold out and Jeffrey Charleton-Perrin was briefly brought in as creative director. Then Nancy Vaughn took over. In the mid 1980's Gabe Massimi replaced her.
Burton-Campbell employed 12 and billed about $2 million. Five years later, they were at $10 million and deemed a "hot" agency. The agency lived and appreciated the good life. A private chef cooked lunches and would send employees home with prepared food. There was a condo at Vail, a client, and self improvement classes on a variety of issues such as stopping smoking. Flying to client meets in Europe on the Concorde did not raise eyebrows. Scharbo called the agency a "private society." People who were part of it were extremely proud because they were working in the most desirable place in town." Clients included BellSouth, West Point Pepperell, First Union Bank, Scripto, Allegheny International and Ryder Truck Rental.
The 80's: Moths To The
Fire Will Get Burned
With all the agencies and talent spread around, it was hard not to have success at first. BBA/BBDO churned out Delta spots, J. Walter Thompson continued its great work for the U. S. Marines, and the entrepreneurial agencies hit new highs. Awards flowed in, as did new accounts.
At any time, any agency could have its day in the sun. Phil Cuttino swept the Addys one year for his radio spots "That'd be Nalley." In 1983, Pringle Dixon Pringle, on the strength of a public service spot, "Drunk driving is just murder on the highways," was able to sweep awards and attract enough clients to maintain an annualized growth rate of 20 percent for several years. The pro bono ad cost $70, 000 to produce but the state eventually saw its way to bring more than $400, 000 in business to the agency.
D'Arcy MacManus Mascius was starting to make noise when Joey Reiman came in from New York and joined Bob Kane and B. A. Albert in 1984. "I knew that there had been some great work done in Atlanta in the 70's but when I came Tucker Wayne was the top shop and everything was focus groups and bleak work. " Reiman shook up D'Arcy and within a year they had won 14 out of 14 pitches and gathered a lot of Addy statues for clients like the Alliance Theater and Decatur Federal. Reiman was set to leave for the Chicago D'Arcy office when he got a call from Babbit, then at Bowes/Hanlon. "Joel said, 'I'm Jewish and your other half.'" The two met at Bones, flipped a coin for top billing, and Babbit & Reiman was born.
The Atlanta scene had not seen such brashness, such disregard for the rules and such creativity since, well, McDonald & Little, which by this time had been sold to Ted Bates and was breathing its last breath. The shop won 29 out of 32 pitches and collected blue chip clients like USA Today, Gold Kiss, Lanier Business Products, and Days Inn. "The city has yet to see anything near the scope of clients that Babbit & Reiman had," said Reiman, now head of Bright House. "Babbit & Reiman could only have existed in the 80's. " "We shook things up," admits Babbit, now heading Grey Advertising.
They also helped spur, some would say invent, the "Addy ad," a spot created simply to win awards. The only way to do great work, Babbit said, would be with "small clients, pro bono clients or imaginary clients. Joey had the awards down to a science." Today, Babbit calls such actions "selfish, stupid and not in the best interests of the clients. Today, I judge creativity by how much sales it brings in." Gaffney, who by this time had left CW&A and the ad business, returned to join B&R. "The agency was fueled by foreign substances and phony values," he said.
Across town, Shutze left McDonald & Little and joined up with Don Hutcheson, Jerry Brown and Ron Fisher to form HutchesonShutze, which sparked a creative battle between the two agencies. HutchesonShutze gained clients like Georgia-Pacific and BellSouth Mobility. "Hutcheson was just fearless in going after new business and no one could beat us on marketing strategy," Shutze said. "Before we had the creative going, we were almost finished because we were so strategic in our thinking." The agency caught the advertising gold ring when they took home a Gold Lion at the Cannes Film Festival for an ad for South Carolina Federal. "No one has done it since or before, " Shutze said. But an indication that the collegial ad scene of the 70s changed bitterly in the 80s was the fact that when Gordon Sawyer of Sawyer Riley Compton tried to organize a celebratory dinner, he found little interest in the ad community.
That fact alone seemed to say that things had changed, and for the worse, for the ad community.
Burton-Campbell, which had been flying high for years, suddenly had a string of bad luck and account losses. Billings were in the $68 million range and there were service offices in Miami and Charlotte. A new vice president of marketing at First Union made their lives so difficult they resigned the account. Clients like Vail Ski Resort, Brookwood Recovery Centers, Scripto, and True Temper were all sold and the new owners preferred their own agencies. West Point Pepperell's Cabin Crafts brand stopped consumer advertising. Allegheny Airlines had a change of management and went away. Ryder Trucks and its $22 million in business decided it needed a prestigious national agency and went elsewhere.
In one year's time, Burton-Campbell lost half of its business and laid off 27. Eventually the agency was sold to Earle Palmer Brown of Bethesda, MD. Scharbo did not even finish out the three years on his management contract. "The culture shifted and the style wasn't Burton-Campbell's," he says. "They changed things they said they wouldn't and I just left." Today Scharbo heads Scharbo & Co. , which is best known for Longhorn Steak ads featuring Sarah Cotton as the Big Hair Lady.
CW&A also had problems. "They never could pull it off," said Gaffney. "Cargill couldn't or wouldn't pay what it took to get the best creative. Clients like Days Inn and Chik-fil-A started leaving and everything because the ads were over researched. The technocrats took over." CW&A merged with Tracie-Locke out of Dallas and disappeared.
Bowes/Hanlon saw Food Giant cancel $3 million worth of fourth quarter TV business, $450, 000 in straight commissions to the agency, to top off an already lousy year. Although clients like Robinson-Humphrey, Cotton States and Blue Cross Blue Shield stuck with the agency, it declared bankruptcy in 1985, merged with Gillis Townsend of Birmingham, AL, and closed.
Tucker Wayne, which prided itself on client stability, faced a new reality. BellSouth had a management change and they lost an account review. Trust Company Bank (the Big Blue T) merged and the business left. They merged with Luckie & Co. of Birmingham, AL, and later with West & Co. out of Tampa, FL.
PDP principal Jan Pringle eventually was featured in an inc. magazine story entitled "How do you know when it's time to leave?" The time came.
Babbit & Reiman sold to Gold Greenlees Trott of London. "I sold it for the money," Babbit said. "I saw too many agencies not sell at the right time and I wasn't going to chance it. We sold high, got good money and got out."
Most thought that HutchesonShutze lost its steam when it failed to win the Wrangler Jeans account, something Shutze denies. "We won Wachovia after that," he says. "Don wanted to go on to other things and the other three principals didn't want to put up our personal money to buy Don out. " With billings at $50 million, the agency sold to BBDO, resulting in another culture clash reminiscent of McDonald & Little's purchase by Ted Bates in 1981. Bates's purchase caused M&L to lose almost half of its billings due to client conflicts with Bates clients. "A lousy job of due diligence on Bates's part," observes Fitzgerald. M&L closed in 1985.
Ogilvy & Mather experienced client defections and was absorbed by WPP Group sister agency J. Walter Thompson. Other national agencies came and went as well including D'Arcy, Scali, Young & Rubicam and McCann-Erickson.
Cole Henderson Drake is the only agency with the creative history that is still intact. Even Henderson admits they were frustrated that they never achieved superstar status.
Of the entrepreneurial ones, few today are in business. The only real star was Fitzgerald & Co. , which has the town's respect. "Fitzgerald gives you your money's worth," says Nucifora. Fitzgerald sold to Interpublic Group. "We were in the twilight zone," Fitzgerald said. "Too big to work with small clients and be profitable and two small to offer the resources to larger clients. We would have remained a small regional agency. It was a no brainer."
Alice In The Looking Glass
For decades, those in the business pondered why no one really created and sustained a great agency in town." Never had the right people together at the right time," Scharbo said. Adding, "I don't buy that Atlanta clients didn't want great creative because they went outside the market to other agencies and got it." Frank Compton of Sawyer Riley Compton said agencies never drew in the large national client that brought in similar clients.
Nucifora believes the city never produced a consistent, highly creative product and never had a collegial society like the one in Minneapolis that fostered great work. "No one ever knew what this market stood for," he said. "Atlanta was never a sophisticated business center. People came to Atlanta to be part of the South and make money in real estate. No one really needed what we did here."
Henderson openly admits he was frustrated. "Chiat Day started the same time we did. I still don't know why it hit that agency and not us. I think a lot has to do with confidence. We underestimated our potential. I always wondered why the truly creative people like Ralph (McGill) or Tom (Little) didn't go to New York and be famous creative directors. And then you see all these kids at the Portfolio Center full of the confidence we didn't have."
Burton looks at the same idea with a different bent. "There were a few with really great creative talent," he says. "And there were a lot who overestimated their talent." Overall, says Nucifora, Atlanta's ad scene is a "promise that never materialized."
In part three of this series on the History of Atlanta Advertising, Oz examines whether the advertising industry in Atlanta is ... history.
**In part three of this series on the History of Atlanta Advertising, Oz examines whether the advertising industry in Atlanta is ... history.
© 2003 Mary Welch, All Rights Reserved