Harry Jacobs


From my advertising career’s perspective, the start of the summer of 2016 was a tough one for me.

Within three days on each other, I lost two individuals that truly played a significant role in my advertising career.

Two great and influential advertising men that I had the terrific fortune of crossing paths with - one a while back. And the other, more recent.

One, I knew well. And the other, stood legions above me and only once referred to me by name in an infamous handwritten note - "Who the hell is Fred Moore?" (more on that later)

On Sunday, May 29, Harry Jacobs - "the Dean of Southern Advertising" - passed at the age of 87.

And a mere three days later, on Wednesday, June 1, Roger Enrico, the leader of Pepsi during the height of the Cola Wars, left us at the age of 71.

Each obviously deserve their own tribute.

With this post, I will start with the engaging gentleman from North Carolina – Harry Jacobs. In a subsequent writing down the road, I will come back to Roger Enrico.

Harry Jacobs.

What a guy.

I am one of many who would say that Harry was like a father figure to me in this world of advertising. Elegant. Understated. Honest. Harry held all the values of a true Southern gentleman. He made folks like me – being from the South and in advertising - very proud. He gave us a terrific model to try and emulate.

He also held the craft of creative to a higher level. And, he would never compromise his standards. His high creative standards are a major reason that The Martin Agency is, well... The Martin Agency.

And, his high creative standards made him a legend in American advertising industry. He was inducted in 2004 to the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Fame with his good friend - and also advertising legend from Britain, David Abbott.

The Wall Street Journal honored Harry as one of top creative thinkers by running a full page spread (two full pages for an individual tribute) with the bold headline “Wild About Harry”. And, in one of the absolute coolest jobs in the world, Harry was picked by the Wall Street Journal along with “advertising superstar” Lee Clow (the architect of the Apple brand) and others, to travel the world to talk with foreign business leaders about creativity. How cool is that? I loved hearing those stories.

Yet, when I bring up Harry’s name in conversation – which I tend to do often – I am amazed by how some people are not aware of Harry and his tremendous career. These conversations happen here in Richmond…with advertising people, even. Every time this happens, I am dumbstruck and in my head there is this silent shouting question - “Really? You don’t know who Harry Jacobs is?”

Well, I think Harry would be OK with that. In this ego-centric, Don Draper world of advertising, Harry was a rarity. Little ego, but lots of character. A real values based guy who rose to the very top.

In dealing with me, he was like a caring teacher. The one you will never ever forget.

Important lessons for sure. For one thing, Harry made it clear that the fact that I was an "account guy" in this business and not necessarily a 'creative' was no excuse for not always pushing to make "the work" better.

A constant refrain of Harry’s - "It's about the work, and you always must strive to constantly make ‘the work’ better.”

“The work” is all about the creative thinking. “Make it smart.” “Do the research. “ “Involve your clients in the process.” “Never cut corners. “ “Push ideas that make your palms sweaty – those are the ones that end up the real winners for you, and your clients”

With such directives, Harry played a huge role in the development of Big River. He took sheer joy in providing this guidance, and he loved that he had an eager, starry-eyed pupil in me. I looked forward to our monthly lunches at the Peking Chinese restaurant in Shockoe Slip like a kid heading to their first big league baseball game. Except, this was even better, as I would be in the stands talking about ‘the game’ with Mickey Mantle himself.

Our monthly lunches together were awesome. But, Harry’s tutelage was not constrained to just those hours over sweet n sour pork. Harry would regularly send unexpected ‘treats’ in the form of short, beautifully handwritten notes (that actually arrived by U.S. Mail) on small yellow cards….

“Mushy positioning makes for mushy ideas”

“Great work is a team product”

“Every company has a personality – do the work to make it shine through”

“Be enthusiastic – your enthusiasm may mean the difference between mediocre work, and greatness”

….and then, there was always with each note, without fail, Harry’s courteous, caring words….

“Thanks for having lunch with me“…”Really enjoyed our time together”…”You are really on the right path, hope I can help”

Harry always made you feel that YOU were the rising star. No wonder people tend to forget sometimes how legendary he was.

Harry’s passion for this business was infectious. And his caring for people in this business was just awesome.

Harry Jacobs was such a lucky, awesome gift to so many. Thank YOU, Harry.

© 2017 Big River. All Rights Reserved.

 

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