In the fifties, sixties and on through the early nineties, there were a whole bunch of small agencies dominated by a single owner. Mostly these agencies have now disappeared. And most of them were held together by a person who controlled one or two pieces of business and made a very nice living. They really didn’t care about selling – many of them worked themselves to death. Literally.
I can think of one such agency, Chester Gore Company. Chet had a $25 million agency in the 1950’s – in those days he had probably 200 or so employees and it was actually considered mid-sized. In the early 1990’s he hired me to find a president for his age. I don’t remember what his accounts were, but at this time, Chester was probably in his mid-to-late seventies. At that time, he still billed about $15 million and had about twenty or so employees; he had shrunk to a decidedly small agency and it was rapidly going south. He needed an exit strategy and hired me to find a person who would come in as president and subsequently buy the agency (this was probably eight years after the story I am about to tell took place).
I found several people who were willing to talk to Chester Gore, buto one I sent was good enough for him. He came close to hiring someone, but ultimately, for reasons of Chester Gore’s own making, it fell apart. Fortunately, I was paid a fee, because he never could bring himself to hire anyone. When I told this story to the late, great Harry Paster of the 4A’s over lunch, Harry laughed and told me he was not surprised. He then told me this wonderful story about Chester Gore that took place years before my search.
Harry Paster was a Senior Vice President of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and was an expert in ad agency finances and financial issues. Every senior executive in advertising knew him; there has never been any one like Harry; he was a character and a great advertising financial person. Harry was also famous for putting agencies together. This is a story of one of his few failures.
At that time, the largest agency in the state of New York, outside the city, was a really fine agency called Eric Mower Associates (it may have been called Silverman-Mower, but morphed into Eric Mower at the time this story took place). They were headquartered in Syracuse and were interested in expanding their small New York City office. Harry introduced Eric Mower to Chester Gore and they had a whirlwind affair. Within six weeks, they formed a new agency in New York City called Chester Gore/Eric Mower & Associates.
Apparently it was some kind of love at first sight. Chester Gore was in his sixties and this gave him an exit strategy while Eric Mower now had a much expanded office in the city. (The link is to the original NY Times article.)
As Harry told me the story, on the very first morning of the new entity, in early 1985, Eric and Chester had coffee together at 9:00am. Eric came in with a piece of paper and on it was a list of all his accounts and the names of their principals. He told Chester that he would schedule meetings. He asked Chester for the names of his accounts and a schedule of when they could meet. Chester looked at Eric and, without blinking, apparently said, “I have no intention of introducing you to my clients. You run your accounts and I will run mine.”
The merger ended that minute.
As Harry told me, it took them six weeks to join together and six months of legal hassling to break apart. But the merger itself only lasted until about 9:30am on the first morning.
I think it is really funny and worth repeating.