Stan Richards On The Spot

Stan Richards is an iconic figure in the Dallas advertising community and one of the most esteemed creatives in the industry. His radio work left the light on for Motel 6, while his shop’s spotted-cow billboards for Chick-fil-A inspired consumers to “Eat Mor Chikin.” Richards, a physical fitness buff who turns 75 next month, is celebrating his agency’s 30th anniversary this year. With largest client Hyundai operating under the freshly minted tagline, “Rethink everything,” The Richards Group is getting down to the tires with a campaign for newly won client Bridgestone Firestone.

Q: Why advertising?

A: I knew from the time that I was 10 years old growing up in Philadelphia that I was going to do something in art. I was fortunate enough in high school in Atlantic City to take a course in commercial art. I realized that I could do what I loved and someone would be willing to pay me for it. When I finished high school, I went to Pratt to study advertising design.

Legend has it that you were on your way to Los Angeles from the East Coast when you stopped in Dallas, observed the creative wasteland and decided, “They need me here.” Care to set the record straight?

It is true [but only the first part]. I graduated from Pratt and didn’t want to stay in New York. There was great work being done by a couple of designers in Los Angeles that I admired. My parents had lived in Dallas for a couple of years [and they’d talk] about how nice the people were, and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to be smart; I’m going to stop in Dallas and practice my interview skills.” So I did … and met a bunch of people as a result. I liked everybody. There was a welcoming attitude and openness that I had never seen before. And so I decided to stay.

What kind of job opportunities were there?

Nobody offered me a job, but I got a lot of encouragement. … Several people told me I was ahead of the market. I freelanced for a couple of years and then I got a call from Sam Bloom of The Bloom Agency asking me if I wanted to come to work. I was 22 years old and the salary, as I recall, was $12,000 a year. But $12,000 in 1956 was fabulous. Within the first week after I took the job, I went out and bought a new Porsche. But I hated it at the agency. I stayed a year to the day. The next year I got married. There were plenty of times that Betty [my wife] and I ate potato soup because that was all we could afford.

Now there is even a Stan Richards bobblehead doll. Is that a career pinnacle?

I had nothing to do with that. When we had our annual profit-sharing meeting this year, [principal] Glenn Dady presented me with a bobblehead doll. Everyone got [one]. I would hate for anybody to think that I have such a colossal ego that I would have a bobblehead made of myself and give it to everyone who works here.

Radio is sometimes a neglected medium. But you built the Motel 6 campaign around it.

People who use Motel 6 often make their decision through the windshield. “Where am I going to stay? I’m tired, I want to get off the road.” Why would you not want to be on the radio? David Fowler, one of our writers, and a very good one, [had earlier] found Tom Bodett after hearing him on NPR. I listened to it and I thought, “Terrific. That’s a great voice, nice, homespun. There’s got to be a way for us to use it.” Two years later, when we won the Motel 6 business, we brought Tom Bodett out of the desk drawer and built commercials around him.

What kind of brainstorming session produced the cows for Chick-fil-A?

There wasn’t [one]. An art director was working on an outdoor sign and I walked into his cubicle and saw [the thumbnail]. He had no idea what he had just stumbled onto. It was a cow saying, “Eat more chicken.” And I thought, “There is a really big idea.” He didn’t have the misspelled words, but the words were there.

What struck you about it?

That whole notion of self-preservation. Isn’t it a funny idea that renegade cows would … advise people to eat more chicken? [The client] sat there and giggled, and approved it.

You have vowed never to retire. Why? Are you getting better with age?

I don’t know that I’m getting any better, but I’m not getting any worse. There are a lot of things I do for fun, but the most fun I have is what I do right here. So, I’ll just keep doing it until I croak—or am no longer effective.

Why keep your agency independent?

We’ve watched [hundreds] of agencies get acquired in recent years. I cannot name one that got better. … The only possible reason would be the desire to make myself enormously wealthy at the expense of the people who built this agency.

Name the last ad that made you think, “I wish I had done that.”

It’s an ad from Wieden + Kennedy London and it’s called “Impossible Dream.” It’s a wonderful brand spot for Honda. And they seem to pull one of those off every year.

What’s on your nightstand?

The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman.

What do you do when you’re not working?

I either run or cycle six to seven days a week. And then I lift two or three days a week. I ski during ski season in Utah. I’m an avid skier. When it’s not ski season, it’s fishing season, so I spend a lot of time at our place on South Padre Island fishing.

What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of your life so far?

Having the kind of family that allows you to stay married for 49 years and turn out two great sons. Everything else pales in comparison.