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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Adventures In Advertising: How Business Was Once Pitched - And Won



Once upon a time, long before new business consultants conducted paid searches for companies, new business was quite different.   If an agency wanted to pitch an account, they had to figure out how to get to the person in charge of the account; usually the president or chairman of the company.  President, chairman or other CEO's were totally involved in their company's advertising.

I love this story.

As many of you know, my dad and his brother had an agency, Lawrence C. Gumbinner Advertising (It later became known as Gumbinner-North).  By the 1960’s it was the twentieth largest agency in the world.  This is the story of how they won the business that helped get them there.  They were fairly small, but aggressive. Shortly after they started, they contacted the legendary George Washington Hill, who was president of American Tobacco.  They were the manufacturers of, among many cigarette brands, Lucky Strike, which actually had about a 20% share of the tobacco market. It was one of the world’s largest advertisers.  Mr. Hill was notoriously difficult and highly successful.  Nevertheless, he agreed to meet my dad, my uncle and Milton Goodman, who was the creative director.

They had an idea for one of the company’s smaller brands. They made whatever kind of presentation they made in those days. It was only to Mr. Hill.  There were no other client people there as was common in those days.  Mr. Hill was impressed.  Unfortunately, he told them that their agency was too small for the account. It was not an unexpected response.  Apparently, they had pitched one of the company’s smaller brands, but Mr. Hill said no, their agency was just too small.  Milton Goodman looked at him and, as my dad told the story, said, “Mr. Hill, the difference between a small agency and a large agency is your account.”

He thought for a moment and then, on the spot, Mr. Hill rewarded the agency with a brand of cigar, Roi-Tan. (“What this country needs is a good 5¢ cigar”). 
 
The campaign ran for over 40 years (eventually becoming 10¢). Over time, the agency was given other brands and eventually was given Tareyton cigarettes which was a multi-million dollar account. During the time that they had the business and Mr. Hill was president of the company, they always had full access to him and he approved all the advertising, there were no issues between them despite his reputation for being difficult.

I doubt a story like that could happen today.

10 comments:

  1. I'm hearing this in my head. Am I right Paul? "Man to man smoke a Roi-Tan. Man to man smoke a Roi-Tan cigar. Man to man smoke a Roi-Tan for a taste that is better by far."

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    1. Wow! You are hearing right. I had almost forgotten that commercial. Thanks for remembering!

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  2. Dear Paul … Of course things like this could never happen today, because now we have CMOs, Chief Procurement Officers, RFPs, agency search consultants, and C-level client turnover every 2-3 years. But I enjoyed reading your anecdote here and thought your readers might like to know more about the original Lawrence C. Gumbinner advertising agency. So here’s a NYT link to the passing of Lawrence C. (1971), whom I assume was your grandfather or grand uncle, since he was born in 1898 (at least according to this NYT article). Meanwhile, which of his three sons, Lawrence B., Glenn, or Roger was your Dad? Just curious and Happy New Year, Bill
    http://www.nytimes.com/1971/12/23/archives/l-c-gumbinner-73-ad-agency-founder.html?_r=0

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    1. Thanks, Bill, but you assumed wrong. Lawrence Gumbinner was my uncle. My dad was Paul. Lawrence B, Glenn and Roger were cousins.

      You are right that new business cannot be done this way any more. Everything is committee, which is one of the reasons why advertising is so bland today.

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    2. Thanks for the clarification on family ties. So your Dad was Paul G. Gumbinner, founding partner and younger brother of Lawrence C., yes? In any case, what a great and proud agency legacy for you.

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  3. You can still see these type of account wins and sit-downs in the mid-market, the $50-$150M companies...

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  4. Great story. Years ago, 1978, I was just starting my agency. I am an avid classic car buff living along the coast south of SF in Montara, CA. I saw an ad for a 1930's Auburn so I called the fellow and went to see the car. The car was not what I was looking for but I made friends with the seller, who happened to be the a buyer for Levi Strauss & Co. He was looking for a minority vendor and I happened to be one. At any rate, I bid and was awarded a contract to print 1 million custom letterheads and envelopes for their 7 divisions for $70000 a tidy sum in 1970's money. That gave us a start and credibility as mentioned in your post. Heady days back in San Francisco. Thanks for your post. Vince Duran

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Vince. Nice story. Goes to show - nothing like personal contact.

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  5. Yep impossible today. Even before getting to the 'committee' issue, the toughest challenge is contacting the decision maker to get started. Email? Right to spam. Phone? That's a laugh. Traditional mail? What's a 'letter?" Ah, agency business development! My father TOLD me to be an orthodontist! (He was an agency account guy his whole career.)

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I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

 
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