Second Life: When Ad Execs Seek Reinvention

Alex Bogusky, Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s former fast-food pitchman turned consumer crusader, is just the latest example of a successful ad exec’s reinvention.

Think Jay Chiat at Internet news company Screaming Media or Maurice Saatchi, the Tory kingmaker whose political clout earned him life peer recognition. His brother, Charles, wields that same kind of power in the art world where he’s played with the market value of artists like a commodities broker.

All the current chatter about Bogusky made us wonder about other high-level ad execs who have left advertising and how they’ve fared. Here are some of their stories.


Eric Hirshberg, the former Deutsch/LA co-chief, joined Activision in September to run publishing at the world’s largest video game company. Why give up a 22-year advertising career to get ahead of the whims of die-hard video gamers? Turns out Hirshberg is one himself. That helps understand his choice, but the bigger challenge could lie in the CEO transition; most ad execs move to clients as CMOs. Perhaps in his exit from advertising, Hirshberg was inspired by former boss Donny Deutsch, who left advertising to become a talk show host.


Charlotte Beers is used to breaking into clubby corporate cultures. She was the first female svp at JWT in 1973 and later ran Tatham-Laird & Kudner as well as Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. The political intrigues of Washington, D.C., however, were a tougher nut to crack. The Bush administration named Beers an under secretary tasked with improving America’s image abroad after 9/11, particularly among Muslims. Shortly after her PR effort debuted, the State Department discontinued it. After 17 months on the job, just before the invasion of Iraq, Beers resigned, reportedly for health reasons. Currently, she’s a director on the board of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.


In 1994, at the age of 61, Phil Joanou, the CEO of Dailey & Associates, could have retired to the Southern California golf lifestyle of his peers. Instead, while long considered to be the quintessential suit at one of L.A.’s oldest shops, he moved to Manhattan to study painting. He earned an MFA at the New York Academy of Art and holed up in a TriBeCa studio, creating a body of work he hoped to show. He’s done that and more with his figurative realism and allegorical themes, showing in galleries across the U.S. and in Europe at the Florence Biennale.


By his own admission former Wunderman top exec Mitch Kurz was made “fabulously wealthy” after the company’s parent, Young & Rubicam, went public in 1998, yielding him a cool $35 million. More was on the way: It was an open secret WPP intended to buy Y&R, which would have given Kurz another $12 million. But disillusioned by the change in Y&R’s culture after the IPO, Kurz sold his shares and joined the Team for America program where he became a middle-school math teacher in the Bronx and helped to start charter schools in Harlem. He now sits on the board of trustees of the Harlem Children’s Zone and is still involved in education.


Omnicom chairman Bruce Crawford proved himself a deft manager at BBDO in the ’70s, handling the agency’s financials even as he built its international operations from a handful of offices. That worldly view extended to his musical tastes, with Crawford sitting on the Metropolitan Opera’s board. In 1985, with an $8 million deficit at the Met, Crawford became general manager. Quitting the agency world, he got the Met back in the black and returned to advertising starting in 1989 as Omnicom’s CEO, a role he handed over to John Wren in 1997. He remains an honorary director and chairman emeritus of Lincoln Center.