Quite possibly the most understated moment in the history of modern day advertising

Ron Anderson hires Tom McElligott

Ron Anderson, Chief Creative Officer of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon and Eckhardt, 1990

After my formal education at the University of Wichita, newly married, degree in hand, I had to decide where to ply my trade. The obvious answer was New York City. After all, it was 1961—the creative revolution was in full steam.

I was already doing my postgraduate work, in a sense, by correspondence. Every year when the NY Art Directors Annual came out, I diligently studied the style and substance of my vicarious mentors—Bob Gage, Helmut Krone, etc.

As the song goes, “If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.” Well, my only problem was I didn’t know if I could make it there.

I opted for a transitional move. A little seasoning, perhaps. That option was in favor of the Great Frozen Wasteland: Minnesota.

It is said that in January on the Nicolet Mall it is so cold that the flashers simply describe themselves. In those days it was not only the temperature but the advertising that was cold, too. It was indeed the frozen wasteland of advertising.

I quickly found however, the warmth of the people more than made up for the coolness of the weather. The beauty of the countryside offset the dullness of the ad market. I was to find out a phenomenon many to follow me have found. I couldn’t be pryed out of there.

I found out that you can do great work outside of New York. While I still admired and coveted the work being done by DDB, Carl Ally and the multitude of spinoffs, I was pleased to see our work at a competitive level.

I no longer had a desire to work in NY but I did have to prove to myself that I could.

It was 1975 when we began a plan to compete with New York through the only common denominator: award shows.

It provided a goal for our young people. A criteria for how well we were doing.

One of those young people turned out to be one of the best writers in the business. Tom McElligott.

I’ll never forget the day a young Tom McElligott came in to see me with his portfolio. He had worked at a local department store. The work was modest except for a couple of bright ads he showed me for an Episcopal Youth camp his father ran.

Based on those ads I made him an offer.

Tom said:

“Mr. Anderson, I’ve been offered $2,000 more by another agency in town.”

I said:

“Tom, if you’re interested in short term gains, take the job.

”On the other hand, if you want the opportunity to do strong, conceptual, award-winning work and make a little piece of history, you’ll join Bozell/Minneapolis.”

5 comments

  1. David Moore · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this gentle reminder to all of us in the hinterlands that you can do great work anywhere. You just have to want to do it.

    Like

  2. Hey David Moore, I agree!! As Ron said in that famous Wall Street Journal ad on him, “You have to want to be great. You have to care. You have to be willing to pay the price; to work until it hurts.”

    Like

  3. JSYK, in my advertising archives I found this tidbit:

    “DAYTON’S PULLS THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER THE COMPETITION.”

    ~ McElligott’s headline for a rug sale event at Dayton Hudson’s.

    Like

  4. Great story, David! So what did he decide? (LOL)

    At least you weren’t the one who told him to mop floors. Recognizing talent and skill requires one to have it as well!

    Like

    1. Yes!!

      (And I think that’s precisely the reason why no one will ever match Ron’s track record of hiring good people.)

      Like

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