Down to 2 Clients, Doner Baltimore Closes

Remaining accounts, one-fourth of staff to shift to Southfield headquarters

Doner’s decision last week to close its 48-year-old Baltimore office surprised few in the local ad community, which during the past five years had watched the office become a shadow of the force that once fueled the city’s talent base.

Doner Baltimore has just two clients and 74 employees, three-quarters of whom will be laid off when the outpost shuts down Aug. 31. In the office’s late-1970s and early-1980s heyday, its staff totaled 200.

About a quarter of the Baltimore staff is expected to take jobs at the agency’s Southfield, Mich., headquarters, said shop CEO Alan Kalter. He said the decision to shutter Baltimore was made simply to consolidate more resources in Southfield.

“The only way we can deliver more efficiently and effectively and expeditiously for our clients is to have everybody sitting together,” Kalter said.

The office’s two remaining accounts, Tyco’s ADT Security ($30 million) and Aegon Insurance ($5 million), will shift to Southfield, said David DeMuth, evp, general manager, who runs Baltimore out of Doner’s Cleveland branch. “There was some history in Baltimore, but the agency has grown and changed over the years, and our competitive set has changed,” he said.

Doner began shifting executives away from Baltimore in 1998 after Herb Fried, the agency’s chairman, retired. Until that time, the office shared headquarters status with Southfield. Two years later, Baltimore’s staff was cut in half, and it existed largely as an outpost for direct operations.

“He always had an opinion and was a force in the marketplace,” Steve Cline, director of the Baltimore Advertising Association, said of Fried. “When Fried retired, the power shifted to Detroit.”

Fried, who remains a consultant to the shop, declined comment about its closing.

What was then W.B. Doner opened the Baltimore office in 1955 to service the National Brewing Co.’s Bohemian Beer business. Besides its work for that brand— tagged, “Land of pleasant living”—the agency created Klondike ice cream’s tagline, “What would you do for a Klondike Bar?,” which is still in use, and Colt 45 campaigns that featured the late comedian Redd Foxx.

Chuck Donofrio, president and CEO of Baltimore shop Carton Donofrio Partners, called Doner an “incredible proving ground” and compared its role in developing creative talent to The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va.

“Over the years, companies like us, TBC [Trahan, Burden & Charles], Gray Kirk/VanSant [now gkv] and Eisner [Communications] all benefited by the standard Doner set for creative work and for getting large accounts outside the market,” Donofrio said.

Doner alumni fill the ranks of Baltimore shops. They include TBC chairman Bill Hooper and president and chief creative Allan Charles; MGH president Andy Malis and cd Scott Rasmussen; and CDP acd Bill Senge and media director Carole Reuschle.

Besides the Southfield headquarters, Doner has offices in Cleveland; Newport Beach, Calif.; Toronto; and London, and a number of small field-service offices, mostly for Mazda, across the country.