Ron Anderson, 1936-2018.
Most of you won’t know the name, but you should. Ron Anderson was one of the humble, unsung greats in the ad business, and he played a vital role in not only the success of Bozell, but in fostering a second creative revolution in advertising.
Ron was an art director who rose to be president of Bozell & Jacobs’ Minneapolis office. That’s where he earned the nickname “The Godfather of Minneapolis Advertising.” Under his tutelage, young creative types learned to take risks, push boundaries, and make great advertising. Tom McElligott and Nancy Rice were hired by Ron with little experience; with his blessing, they went on to start Fallon, McElligott & Rice, still one of the best creative shops anywhere. (Kids, look it up.) Luke Sullivan (Author of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This” and hundreds of brilliant ad campaigns). David Wojdyla (CD of Bozell/Chicago, and now his own agency.) More names than you can imagine. Ron’s work, his push for excellence, made Minneapolis the place to go for young creative talent who wanted to see if they could make it. A friend who worked in the city during the 80’s said, “Ad people will do anything to work here. They’ll live in their cars just for the chance.” Martin Williams. Carmichael Lynch. Colle-McVoy. The aforementioned Fallon. It’s not a stretch to say that few of these now iconic agencies would have achieved the level they are at without Ron Anderson’s influence. If Bill Bernbach was the father of the first creative revolution, Ron was the second.
Ron was smart, kind, strategic, and an extremely good judge of talent (and a sharp businessman.) Through all of Bozell’s acquisitions and buy-backs, Ron managed to amass a good chunk of stock in the organization – enough that when IPG acquired True North, reading through the merger disclosures, we learned that Ron was the 5th-largest shareholder in the company(!) He told us he finally had “Fuck you” money. Yet all of his success and all of the accolades never went to his head. He continued to be nice. At the regular creative director meetings in New York, he complimented the work from the Omaha office (making my head swell) encouraged us to do what he had done in Minneapolis – that all it took to make a city an ad mecca was patience, perseverance, and the right mix of talent.
By the way, Ron had the chance to move to New York and lead the creative for all of Bozell – although he was strongly pressured to do so, he wouldn’t give up his home and the chance to keep his hands in the work. In fact, during a big campaign we were working on here in Omaha, the Minneapolis and Chicago offices were helping with creative concepts. On a Monday, I was reviewing work that had come in, and called Minneapolis to critique the layouts they’d sent. “Yeah,” I said, “I don’t think these are working at all.” There was a pause on the other end of the line, and the art director said, “Well, Ron Anderson did those.” Well, that changes everything.
At this point, Ron was worth millions. He was ad-world famous. But he took time on his weekend to make some ads for the Omaha office.
How many people can say they lived a life that truly changed the world? Ron Anderson did. And I’m grateful to Bozell for giving me the opportunity to get to know him and be influenced by him.
Want to know more about Ron and his impact on advertising as we know it? Check out David Wojdyla’s excellent tribute blog, “Standing on the shoulders of a Giant.” https://ampersandvertising.com/