Don Zuckert, best known as the former chairman and CEO of Ted Bates Worldwide, died Oct. 14 following a heart attack. The 79-year-old was a Florida resident with homes in New York City and New Castle, New Hampshire.
Zuckert began his ad career at Ted Bates & Co. in 1960 where he ran many of the agency’s blue-chip accounts like Anheuser-Busch, Hertz, Mars, Marx Toys, Panasonic and Pfizer. But it was in 1986, after the acquisitive Saatchis bought Bates in a flamboyant, headline-grabbing deal to make Saatchi & Saatchi the largest agency in the world, that Zuckert assumed a starring role in a plot with all the intrigues of a Mad Men episode. Zuckert and another colleague, international head Larry Light, were demoted by Bates’ autocratic head Bob Jacoby. The Saatchis stepped in and removed Jacoby, replacing him with Zuckert, then head of New York operations. Zuckert, known for his easy-going manner and sharp wit, not only had to reassure clients after a post-merger run on accounts, but also had to explain the merits of what was then the industry's largest transaction which triggered significant backlash.
Zuckert told The New York Times in 1986: “There is the advantage of access to information and technology resources. A bigger agency is better able to accept bigger risks and investments in the business. The future of the agency business is global advertising,” he said. “Right now, you can count the number of global advertisers on one hand. But within five years you’ll need both hands and both feet and by the turn of the century you’ll need both arms and both legs and the torso.”
Zuckert left Ted Bates after the next Saatchi merger machination in 1988, when the agency was combined with Backer & Spielvogel.
He and former Bates exec Light went on to create a niche marketing company called Arcature and acquired C&W, a frozen vegetable firm, in 1991. In 1995, he was named vice chairman of DraftDirect, which was later acquired by Interpublic and became the basis for Draftfcb.
Zuckert was born in New York City and went to Bowdoin College in Maine. After graduation, he entered law school at New York University, served six months as a captain in the U.S. Army and completed his law degree in 1959. He always retained a strong association with Bowdoin, where over the years, he was a member of the governing boards, an overseer of the college, trustee, chair of the board of trustees and a trustee emeritus. He also established the Donald M. Zuckert Visiting Professorship and the Zuckert Career Services Technology Fund.
Aside from his commitment to higher education, Zuckert was an enthusiastic collector of sports memorabilia, fine wine, 20th century paintings and American folk art, including a prized possession of American weather vanes.
He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Susan; two sons, Andrew and Timothy, and their spouses; five grandchildren; and his brother Owen.