5 Agency Fathers and the Sons Who Followed Them into the Ad Biz

From Mad Men to digital integration, creativity spans generations

Whether it’s those who can remember the era of the real Mad Men—or their kids, who only relate to that version of advertising as an AMC soap opera and Banana Republic fashion line—the ad industry is often a family affair.

You have second-generation entrepreneurs like Donny Deutsch, who got hired and fired by his father David before going on to make the family name a formidable agency brand. And then there are those who are just as conscientious and ambitious as their dads. For Jim Heekin, now the worldwide Grey Group CEO, his namesake father instilled in him a sense of competition at an early age that drove him to attain the same kind of top management position in his 30s that his dad held at that age. As Father’s Day approaches, Adweek looks across generations of five fathers and the sons who have followed them into the business. Happy Father's Day!

1) Jim Heekin III, worldwide CEO of Grey Group, and son Jim Heekin, IV, senior copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky

The Grey chief got his first lessons about advertising as a kid in a football clinic, where his dad insisted he should tackle players bigger than himself. That early training worked. Like James Heekin Jr., who was named Ogilvy & Mather’s U.S. president at the age of 39, the younger Heekin, by his late 30s, was named president of JWT N.Y. Now the latest Heekin to join the business, Heekin IV, has moved on to become a senior copywriter at Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, Colorado after cutting his teeth at Grey. Heekin III admits it’s tough when you have a father in the business, as you wonder how much of your success has to do with the strides he made. But he said his son’s move away from Grey is already letting him show more of the competitive confidence that’s part of the Heekin gene pool.

2) John McGarry, Jr., founder/CEO at Mcgarrybowen, and son John McGarry, III, chief digital officer at Mcgarrybowen (not pictured)

With parents who both worked at Young & Rubicam, John McGarry III, a.k.a J3, grew up in a home where the ad biz was a family sport. A new-business win like Kentucky Fried Chicken was celebrated like the Super Bowl, with the young McGarry even getting a chance to meet the brand’s famous Colonel. His dad suggested a career on the client side, which he did for a year before crossing over to the agency world. When his high-profile namesake dad retired as president of Y&R Inc. in 1998, J3 welcomed the chance to carve out his own identity. But even as J3 went on to launch a N.Y. office for digital agency T3, his father was already starting his own agency. The two entities began working together and J3 moved over to Mcgarrybowen. The working relationship has proved to be the younger McGarry’s best career move, describing his father as the best mentor he’s ever had and one that supports J3’s push for digital integration at the agency.

3) Jim Bernardin, creative director at Campbell-Ewald (not pictured), and his son, Tom Bernardin, CEO of Leo Burnett Worldwide

Before Tom Bernardin ever thought of working in advertising, he was already in advertising. His dad, the long-time General Motors Chevy creative director who helped launch "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," put Tom and his brothers in the iconic ads when they were kids. The younger Bernardin got his first career break at GM agency McCann Erickson Detroit, and that connection to the auto giant is still very much a part of his life at the helm of Leo Burnett,which works on Buick and GMC brands in the U.S. Among his own children, daughter Alexandra has also become interested in marketing communications, with a job in PR at Edelman, S.F.

4) Larry Postaer, founder of RPA, and his sons Steffan, ecd at Gyro in San Francisco, and Jeremy Postaer (not pictured), former ecd at JWT

The three creative offspring of Larry Postaer come by it honestly: Their dad’s legacy at RPA includes great one-of-a kind spots like “Art Gallery” for long-time client Honda. Their mom is a former agency art buyer and their half-brother, Daniel Postaer, worked in China as a creative at agency DMG. The Postaer family brought new meaning to sibling rivalry when in 1998 both Jeremy and Steffan went up against their dad for the prestigious Kelly Award from the Magazine Publishers of America. (Steffan won for his “Curiously Strong” Altoids work.) These days the elder Postaer is semi-retired; Steffan, formerly CCO of Euro RSCG Chicago, moved to Gyro this year; and Jeremy is a N.Y.-based freelancer. Daniel is working on sports marketing projects. 

5) Paul Paulson, president and founder of Isidore & Paulson (not pictured), and his son John Paulson, CEO of G2 USA

John Paulson remembers growing up in a household of five kids where every night was a focus group—dad brought home commercial rough cuts to share and even shot an Ivory soap spot in the attic of the house. Some of the best advice the younger Paulson got was from his father, who worked at DDB. After spending a lot of time working on  Procter & Gamble, the elder Paulson urged his son to work on the account to immerse himself in the marketer’s strong methodical branding practices. John Paulson got some experience on the brand at Grey that helped underscore another piece of advice from the elder Paulson: “Treat all clients like they’re going to be the CMO.” About that his son says: “That was valuable in teaching me about building the strength of relationships rather than just treating them as transactional.”