Foote Cone & Belding

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Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Nerf arsenal in Red Tettemer's interactive department.

Today, something very exciting happened. Advertising Age gave national exposure to a Philadelphia shop for the first time in a long time and in a very big way. Not since Gyro tilted the Philadelphia advertising world off its axis has an agency in this town captured national exposure in the long shadows of Madison Avenue. Advertising Age’s new Agency Digs video feature visited Red Tettemer’s awesomely creative workspace. I encourage you to do the same. Not because I like to give exposure to competing agencies in the same metropolitan area, but because you’ll get a fascinating tour of a truly unique and creative enterprise.

Red Tettemer has come a long way from an old house in Narberth to the top two floors of the PNB ( former Philadelphia National Bank) building, complete with rooftop access. On those two floors is an agency workspace that is part Dave and Busters, part CBGB’s, part South Street head shop, part pet shop, and part Las Vegas lounge — in other words, every square inch seems to be conceived to spark the imagination, the funny bone, and the creative drive. It’s the coolest agency workspace I’ve ever seen.

From large to small, most of the agencies, I’ve visited over the years would not find themselves featured in Architectural Digest. Ours included. But these days especially, when great work is being produced on iPads in crowded Starbucks, the digital landscape and end results are what clients care about. Most clients never set foot in an agency anymore. The agency’s web site is as close as they travel.

I remember an early interview at Lewis & Gilman (the mega-shop that later became a unit of Foote Cone and Belding and later Brian Tierney’s firm). There was an air of importance to the place as I sat in the waiting area with my portfolio. Early episodes of Mad Men brought back the exclusive Old Boys Network air of the place.

Later, Philadelphia advertising captured national attention again through the TV show “thirtysomething” where the main characters Michael and Elliot had their own agency and later worked for DAA. The firm’s open workspace and the indoor basketball court were patterned after the offices of California based Chiat Day.

Some of the more interesting spaces I’ve visited in recent years have been creative firms that combine video production and all things digital. Howard McCabe’s firm Blue turned a former Fairmount residence into stylish editing and animation suites and workrooms. JPL in Harrisburg took over an editing facility from Tyco and converted it into one of the Best Places to Work in PA. The other week I sat in on a social media strategy session for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at Think Brownstone’s great open space dominated by couches and a white board, in a Conshohocken brownstone.

But as exceptional as each of these offices are, none are as mind-bending and fun-filled as Red Tettemer’s featured space. It’s a theme park for left-brained types. Congratulations to Steve Red and everyone at Red Tettemer for creating a great environment for creative to thrive.

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Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ever hear of Albert Lasker? Me neither and I’ve been in this profession longer than I care to admit. After reading a book review for “The Man Who Sold America” in Friday’s print Wall Street Journal, and a book excerpt from WSJ.com, I am embarrassed by my ignorance but excited to have a new addition for my summer reading list. I also think there is good reason for Lasker’s low profile (more on that in a minute).
First, Lasker and his incredible resume.
• In 1898, joined the Lord & Thomas advertising agency as a teenager, winning many new clients, and becoming a part owner by the age of 24.
• Helped transform the agency business from media space brokerage to creative “reason why” advertising development.
• Built brand concepts that would last into modern times: Quaker Oats Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat (“foods shot from guns”); Palmolive soap’s beauty appeal; the “Sun” brands of fresh foods, Sun-Maid California raisins and Sun-Kist California oranges; the transformation of Kleenex tissues from cosmetics removers to disposable handkerchiefs; and Goodyear all-weather tires.
• Helped make Pepsodent toothpaste a household name, and in the process, the sponsored radio show’s host, Bob Hope.
• Convinced a certain chewing gum magnate and personal friend to change the name of Cubs Park to Wrigley Field. Later, when the Black Sox scandal erupted, it was Lasker’s plan that was adopted for restructuring major league baseball and appointing Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as its czar.
• Managed the 1920 campaign that put Warren Harding in the White House, considered a landmark in political advertising.
• Served under Harding as chairman of the Shipping Board.
• Reshaped philanthropy, using radio to reach more people and influence how America though about cancer and other diseases.
• Suggested the Birth Control Institute change its name to Planned Parenthood.
Looking back, some of Lasker’s work, like MadMen’s snapshot of the sixties, is interesting for its depiction of his time. His agency got Kotex to put its tampons in plain-wrapped packages on store counters, so as not to embarrass the ladies who asked for and purchased them. His “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” campaign turned a lot of women into smokers, specifically Lucky Strike smokers, and ticked off the candy industry (and maybe Bill Wrigley?).
So why isn’t Albert Lasker better known? Advertising, like pop culture, is pretty much “of the moment.” The MadMen period brought more recent fame to many well-deserving creatives from David Ogilvy, to Geoge Lois, to Bill Bernbach, to Jerry DellaFamina. Today, beyond Wieden and Kennedy and Crispin Bogusky Porter (now sans Alex Bogusky), the absence of memorable shingles sadly reflects the commoditization of this business.
Advertising has always been about individuality and ideas and enthusiastic creative selling. In Lasker’s case, he built his agency Lord & Thomas into a powerhouse of his time, but by 1942, he kept that name and sold its assets for a small amount to Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding. Now, we’re getting somewhere. For my entire career, Foote Cone and Belding was an agency of national and eventually international stature. In the 90s, they acquired Philadelphia’s largest agency, Lewis Gilman & Kynett (and the granter of my own first ad job interview), and went through several additional transactions and name changes (some helping Brian Tierney make a name for himself). Nationally, Foote Cone Belding became True North Communications for awhile. Today, as units of Interpublic, the reminders of the Foote Cone Belding brand and the 20th century advertising juggernaut that Albert Lasker helped build have been reduced to acronym-based entities: Draftfcb and Draftfcb Healthcare. Go to Interpublic’s pulldown “Choose a company” menu and be disheartened about the obscurity of this legacy. Or be awed by the size of the global modern enterprise that Lasker’s insightful, ground-breaking creativity helped build.

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