Harry Jacobs On The Spot

Harry Jacobs spent his career proving good advertising could be created outside New York. In the ’60s, he helped expand the former Cargill, Wilson & Acree into the largest Southeastern agency at the time. An art director by trade, he joined The Martin Agency in 1977. With the motto “To hell with New York”—a line he used in recruitment posters—he helped build the Richmond, Va., shop into a nationally recognized creative force. Jacobs, 76, retired in 1997 but remains chairman emeritus. He will be inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame on March 15.Q: What does induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame mean to you?

A: What it really means to me is that I have been successful over a long period of time in several very significant agencies with a lot of very significant people. It’s probably that simple. It represents a lot of time.

How do you want to be remembered?

Having sense enough and enough pride to have hired and worked with some of the outstanding talent in the business, and helping develop some of the outstanding people in the business—such as Mike Hughes, Bill Westbrook, Nina DiSesa and Jerry Torchia.

How are you handling retirement?

I am retired, but I still have an office at The Martin Agency. I do a little consulting, which is fun. I live on the water in North Carolina, in my hometown. I read a lot, and I still track the industry. I still go to some of the functions. I miss it a lot.


How did you get into advertising?

I went to the Corcorin College of Art and Design, and I realized I didn’t want to be an illustrator. I really wanted to be a designer. Then, I went into retail for a while, then into the advertising agency business, which I completely fell in love with.

Who had the greatest influence on your career?

There is no question about it: Jim Cargill, who founded the Cargill, Wilson & Acree shop in the ’50s. He was the man who had the vision for the Southeast that we all followed. He wanted an agency that could compete with New York, and he knew he had to have a very strong creative component. The agency rolled out into the Southeast—from Richmond, to Charlotte, then Atlanta, then Birmingham, then Tampa—with all completely staffed offices. It became the largest agency in the Southeast in the ’70s. He was the man. I learned more from him than anybody.

What work are you most proud of?

We did a campaign for nuclear power in the late ’70s, at a time when it was not popular to talk about nuclear power. Mike Hughes and I did full-page newspaper ads [with] a picture of a power plant, then a huge, huge headline at the top that simply said, “Boo.” Then we had another one, a double-truck newspaper ad, that was solid black with a little copy line in the middle that said “click.” The point was that this is what will happen if we don’t have nuclear power. It was controversial, but it was absolutely great stuff. Another one would be when we got the Hanes Knitware account in the late ’60s. We developed a great campaign based on the fact that women, at that day and age, bought 85 percent of men’s underwear. We had one ad that had a woman trying on a pair of men’s underwear. The headline said, “Try on your husband’s underwear and see how it feels.” It was pretty provocative in those days.

What was the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that”?

Most of the work of today lacks clarity. … I don’t think it is the great era of advertising, but there are some bright spots. If I had to single out a campaign that I relate to, that I think has a marvelous story line to it, it’s the new United Airlines campaign by Fallon in Minneapolis. It just rings my bell. I love it.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made?

There are two: One was to join the Cargill agency in 1959; the second was to join this agency in 1977.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the business?

If your goal is to become an art director or a writer or an account executive or an account planner, [but] you can’t develop a passion for it, you probably shouldn’t be in it because either you are going to stand still or you are going to be unhappy. But if you have the passion for it, the sky is the limit.

What is your biggest fear?

My biggest fear is for the industry … the consolidation of agencies and agency networks. I have great concern that we will gradually snuff out competition and become three or four agencies. That goes against human nature [and] against the pride of authorship, which is important for creative people.

What drove your desire to prove that good advertising can be created outside New York?

My one motivating factor, which tipped the scales for me, was when I won my first major award. I had a piece accepted into the Art Directors Club of New York show. George Lois was there at the show. After the exhibition … I walked up to him and introduced myself. He barely spoke. I don’t know whether it was because I was from Virginia or whether it was the Southern accent, but it made me mad as hell. … That little episode served me pretty well because from that day forward, I was more determined than ever to compete with the big boys and to compete with New York. That hung with me to this very day. I should write him and thank him.