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The once-mighty Bozell brand was effectively retired in 2003, although a former subsidiary still trades under that name from its original base in Omaha. Independent until 1997, Bozell swapped its freedom for a role as the second-line agency in conglomerate True North's portfolio, behind Foote Cone & Belding. For a while, the agency made plans to expand its worldwide network, but this strategy was abruptly curtailed in 1999 when all of Bozell's offices outside the US were taken over by FCB. What remained of Bozell was inherited by Interpublic in 2001, but while billings remained resilient, the agency's operations in America continued to shrink, as one regional office after another was cut loose. Finally, in early 2003, Interpublic announced it would fold the agency's last remaining office in New York into the troubled local outpost of Lowe & Partners.
The company was originally formed out of the merger of two separate US agencies, Bozell & Jacobs and Kenyon & Eckhardt. Leo Bozell and Morris Jacobs were newspapermen who set up their own agency in Omaha, Nebraska in 1923 after a freelance job they took on for the Nebraska Power Company turned into a regular contract. They handled both advertising and public relations for the state energy company, and their skills came to the attention of other regional utility companies. As a result, they were encouraged to open additional offices to manage advertising and PR for other power companies in the likes of Indiana, Illinois and Texas. By the end of the 1930s, Bozell & Jacobs was one of the biggest and best-known advertising agencies in the US Midwest.
Another highly influential client was the local Omaha orphanage established by Father Edward Flanagan, known as Boy's Town. Bozell & Jacobs offered their services pro bono, and managed to turn the home into a nationally celebrated institution. The story of Boy's Town was turned into a movie in 1938, starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney. In the early 1940s, it was Bozell & Jacobs who coined the orphanage's slogan, "He ain't heavy... he's my brother", which later spawned the Hollies' hit song in the later 1960s and early 1970s. Another local client, Mutual of Omaha, was the agency's biggest account throughout the 1950s, becoming the sponsor of a long-running television show, Wild Kingdom.
Although Leo Bozell died in the mid 1940s, the agency continued to thrive over the following years under the control of Morris Jacobs, with support from his nephew Alan Jacobs, and later from his ambitious young son-in-law, Chuck Peebler. In 1967, Morris Jacobs retired, selling the business to a management team headed by Peebler and Alan Jacobs. At the time the agency, still headquartered in Omaha, was a minnow alongside the big New York and Chicago agencies. However, Peebler set about aggressively expanding B&J's presence in major cities. One of his first deals was to acquire the start-up agency established a few years before by Emerson Foote, previously one of the founders of FCB. This arrangement secured Foote's services as a consultant and also gave B&J new offices in New York and Los Angeles.
Other acquisitions included New York's Reach McClinton, Glenn Advertising of Dallas (whose clients included American Airlines), and Knox Reeves of Minneapolis (which worked for General Mills). Between 1965 and 1970, B&J's billings more than doubled to $50m, then doubled again to $100m by 1975. By 1980, B&J had risen to one of the top 20 agencies in the US. During the 1980s, it also built up a healthcare division, later Bozell Wellness, through the acquisition of a string of specialist agencies including Healthmark and Ruvane-Laverte. At one point Peebler was even rumoured to be considering a takeover of troubled J Walter Thompson, despite the fact that B&J was less than a quarter of JWT's size.
In 1985, however, with consolidation sweeping the industry, Bozell & Jacobs was itself acquired by production company Lorimar, best-known as the maker of TV shows including Dallas, The Waltons and Falcon's Crest. Lorimar merged its new purchase with another ad agency, Kenyon & Eckhardt, which it had acquired two years earlier, to form Bozell Jacobs Kenyon & Eckhardt (BJK&E).
Kenyon & Eckhardt had been formed in 1929 by Otis Kenyon and Henry Eckhardt, who quickly built up a prestigious portfolio which included Ford Motor's Lincoln Mercury division. Although it later lost that account it picked up near-bust Chrysler instead in 1979, and hit upon the idea of establishing company president Lee Iacocca as star of the automaker's advertising. The subsequent ads were widely credited as a key factor in Chrysler's return from the brink of bankruptcy.
The merged BJK&E became America's 11th largest agency with billings of almost $1.2bn. Following the BJK&E merger, other agencies also joined the portfolio, including USAdvertising, established as a conflict shop, and Poppe Tyson.
Yet this diversification into advertising proved something of a distraction from Lorimar's main business of producing and distributing TV shows and movies. After only two years, Chuck Peebler's management team bought the business back for around $143m. Soon afterwards, the group restructured as well, shortening the name of its main agency to simply Bozell Worldwide, while Bozell Jacobs Kenyon & Eckhardt was adopted as the name for the parent holding company. There were other changes as well: the Dallas office of Bozell, formerly Glenn Advertising, was spun out as a separate entity under the name Temerlin McClain (now TM Advertising); and David Bell, the executive in charge of Bozell's US operations, was promoted to the role of agency chairman, reporting to group CEO Peebler. The group's public relations network was consolidated under the name Bozell Sawyer Miller. It was a strong period for Bozell in which its creative work was also widely celebrated, not least a campaign for the National Pork Producers Council which boosted the popularity of "pork - the other white meat", and for US Milk Processors in which celebrities were depicted with milk moustaches.
Meanwhile smaller group agency Poppe Tyson, originally a traditional advertising shop, had emerged as one of the leaders in the new field of interactive marketing. Early talks were held with rival Modem Media regarding a potential merger, eventually leading to a deal in 1998. Poppe also established the interactive advertising network Doubleclick, later one of the leaders in that particular field. B2B agency Kamstra was acquired in 1997, becoming Bozell Kamstra. By the middle of that year, the privately held BJK&E group had become a substantial marketing services holding group in its own right, with around 107 offices in 23 countries. In the UK, media agency BJK&E was established as an offshoot of what was then Delaney Fletcher Bozell. (BJK&E UK underwent a series of restructurings and joint ventures over the following years, eventually becoming a unit of WPP, and relaunching as the local outpost of the Maxus media network). The group's combined billings totaled around $4.3bn, from clients including American Airlines, Chrysler Corporation, Merrill Lynch and the Milk Processor Promotion Board.
Inevitably rumours had begun to circulate of BJK&E selling out to another group, with Omnicom and FCB's True North mentioned as the most likely partners. In June 1997, BJK&E CEO Peebler said he had declined an offer to sell out to Omnicom specifically because of the latter's proposal to break up the business among its existing networks. Instead, he sealed a $440m all-share deal just over a month later with True North, which promised to maintain the various BJK&E agencies as separate and distinct brands. Despite attempts by rival group Publicis to block that combination in the wake the bitter break-up of its own joint venture with True North, the BJK&E deal was finally completed at the beginning of 1998.
In fact, Chuck Peebler's triumph in selling Bozell for the second time was to be the highpoint of that agency's long history, and the next few years would be marked by a steady decline. Despite the promise made by True North to maintain the BJK&E agencies as separate brands, signs of consolidation were quick to materialise. Ironically, many of those decisions were actually made by Peebler himself and former Bozell alumnus David Bell, who was appointed in Spring 1999 as the new CEO of the enlarged True North. Soon afterwards, rumours began to circulate that he was debating a full merger of the Bozell and FCB networks to form what would have become the biggest ad agency in the US. Although there would have been some client conflicts, the combined business would have had gross income of almost $535m, while more than 40 duplicated international offices could be eliminated.
In the end, True North stopped short of a full merger. Instead, all of Bozell's international operations, as well as its offices in Detroit and California and around half its clients, were absorbed by FCB. Around six offices in North America were left to operate as a standalone unit under the name Bozell Worldwide, but in reality the brand was now barely even nationwide. Yet Bell was keen to emphasize the sense in the restructuring. "This is not a forced merger," he said, "but rather a combination of two extremely willing partners. The combination makes sense from every aspect, with very few client conflicts. The new FCB nearly doubles its list of global clients and Bozell sharpens its focus to make it a leading agency in the US.''
The steady decline of the Bozell brand continued in the wake of True North's subsequent absorption by Interpublic in 2001. Bozell's Chicago office was allocated to Campbell Mithun, Bozell Kamstra in Boston and Bozell Pittsburgh both shifted to Mullen, and Bozell Silicon Valley joined FCB. Two other offices closed, and the original Bozell agency in Omaha was sold to management in late 2001. Reduced by now to just its New York HQ, Bozell was absorbed into The Partnership, a short-lived division established within IPG around Lowe & Partners, alongside other standalone shops including Howard Merrell, Berenter Greenhouse & Webster and Stein Rogan. Another former satellite, Avrett Free & Ginsberg, joined the McCann Worldgroup.
In January 2003, a leaked internal memo from Interpublic suggested that plans were underway to fold the agency, its clients and the majority of its staff, into the New York office of Lowe Worldwide. That decision was confirmed a month later, and the Bozell name was finally abandoned. Tom Bernadin, formerly the president of Bozell, initially became president-COO of Lowe New York, but later jumped ship to Leo Burnett.
All that remains of the once powerful Bozell brand is its old Omaha office, which reclaimed the brand in 2003 and now trades once again as Bozell. It serves mainly regional clients, from its main Omaha HQ. Advertising Age estimated revenues of under $12m.
Last full revision 6th October 2017
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