Eisaman, L.A. Agency Pioneer, Dies at 81

LOS ANGELES Joe R. Eisaman, an important figure in the history and development of Los Angeles ad agencies, died of cancer Sunday at the age of 81.

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II and graduating Dartmouth College, Eisaman moved to Los Angeles with a boyhood friend, Jess Johns, in 1948. The two men started an ad agency, Eisaman-Johns, with small retail clients, but soon won Pennzoil Motor Oil, added Bob Laws to the partnership, and expanded to regional offices nationwide as Eisaman, Johns & Laws. According to Eisaman’s recollection, it was then only the third Los Angeles-born agency to grow from west to east.

The agency helped Pennzoil rise to the top of its category. Other accounts would include Kahlua, Neutrogena, Walt Disney, Giorgio Beverly Hills, Pendleton, Cooper Tires, Crystal Cruises, and Cadillac and Chevrolet dealer groups. Soon the shop was the largest independent in the Western U.S. The partners sold the agency several years ago.

“I knew Joe for more than 40 years. He was a friend and a challenging competitor,” said Robert M. Davis, founder of the agency now known as Davis Elen. “We found ourselves competing many times for the same accounts, and I always found him to be a tough adversary. Joe ran his agency with exceptional skill and gained a degree of success that will make him long remembered as one of the top professionals in advertising circles.”

“Like [Jay] Chiat and [Peter] Dailey, Joe was a pioneer of early Los Angeles advertising,” said Bill Hagelstein, executive vice president and COO at independent RPA, recently introduced by Eisaman at an American Association of Advertising Agencies event. “He was extremely well read, passionate about the industry and very well liked.”

Brad Ball, former principal at Davis, Ball & Colombatto, Los Angeles, and now CEO of Ball Entertainment Group, said that Eisaman was a fixture during an era when admen typically died in their 50s. “Good for Joe to make it to 81,” Ball said. “He was an incredible wealth of information and detail. Serving in the Navy, he’d honed his passion for Japanese naval vessels. I always wondered if that was a strategy for winning Toyota from us.”

In recent years, Eisaman worked with the Los Angeles Advertising Agencies Association, California State University, Northridge Development Fund and the YMCA Lifestyle Committee, among other organizations.

In 1999, he received the Magazine Representatives Association of Southern California’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. “He was a sweet gentleman of the old school,” said Michael Reagan, a leader of MRA and director of automotive advertising at the Los Angeles Times. “He had a big heart, a bigger smile and a passion for the business. His enthusiasm and interest in our organization was infectious.”

Eisaman is survived by his wife Karren and their children, Kari Doody and Liv Long, as well as the children of his first marriage to the late Darthea Woodling, George Eisaman, Cindy Kuretski and Elizabeth Leland, and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service will be conducted on Friday, Nov. 4, at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif.