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Who Needs New York?

  • February 12, 2001, 12:00 AM EST
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In the beginning, there was New York advertising. Then came Harry Jacobs. The former chairman/creative director of The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., inducted last week into The One Club Hall of Fame, spent his career demolishing the "regional equals second-rate" stereotype.

His quest began in the late 1960s at Cargill Wilson & Acree in Charlotte, N.C., with exquisite, focused print work for Hanes and Scripto. "I realized that to compete with New York, you needed a strong creative component," says Jacobs. "No one down here had it. Nor did they think they needed it." To counter that belief, Jacobs organized the "Outside New York Show," and publicized it with a giant Day-Glow poster headlined with the battle cry: "The Hell With New York!"

Colleagues recall the soft-spoken art director as a teacher, not a screamer; a no-compromise creative with a fine head for business. With Jacobs, Martin's billings grew from about $4 million in 1977 to $380 million in 1997. He produced award-winning work for unlikely clients, such as General Motors' EMD locomotive division, to showcase brands like Maserati and Mercedes. "If you have talent, how can you not hold yourself to the highest standards?" asks Jacobs. "How can you not fight every day of your life to achieve and excel?"

One measure of his success is the caliber of talent he's mentored, including Bill Westbrook, Mike Hughes, Jelly Helm and Nina DiSesa. "His strength is simplicity," says his son, Chris Jacobs, vice chairman/CD at Cole Henderson Drake, Atlanta. "Something is either good or not good. When you try to lead an agency or build a culture, you realize how smart and important that is." After a lifetime in advertising, adjusting to the coastal rhythms of New Bern, N.C., hasn't been easy. "My dad doesn't hunt, fish or play golf," notes Chris. "He does ads."