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Bob Stone, direct marketing legend, dies

Direct marketing pioneer Bob Stone passed away Feb. 26 after a long career as a practitioner, author, educator and mentor. He was 88.

Mr. Stone was known for his bestselling book “Successful Direct Marketing Methods” that went into several reprints and influenced many of today’s direct marketing industry executives. He and Aaron Adler co-founded Stone & Adler, a direct marketing agency that elevated direct marketing’s role in the Midwest and with many advertisers.

“Bob and his partner, Aaron, changed the way large corporations – brand marketers – saw direct marketing,” said Ron Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Clevenger Inc., Chicago.

Stone & Adler’s clients included Amoco Oil Co., AT&T, Allstate, Hewlett-Packard and Sears, Roebuck & Co. The agency worked with AT&T to publicize the 800 number – an achievement that revolutionized telemarketing and direct response television and radio.

“Bob was a true gentleman in all the ways one can describe – he was kind and generous,” said Lester Wunderman, chairman emeritus and founder of direct marketing agency Wunderman, New York. “He was willing to share his knowledge and taught in the Midwest what we now call direct marketing.

“Chicago was always a center of direct marketing in a mercantile way, when you think of Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward,” he said. “But Bob made it into a personal practice.”

Mr. Stone was chairman of Stone & Adler from 1966 to 1983. The agency expanded into the New York market in 1971 through a working relationship with Rapp & Collins. Both agencies retained their independent ownership, though the entity was called Rapp Collins, Stone & Adler. The ties were dissolved in 1975 when Doyle Dane Bernbach bought Rapp & Collins. In 1978, Young & Rubicam, then the owner of Wunderman, bought Stone & Adler. Mr. Stone stayed on as chairman of Stone & Adler and also joined Young & Rubicam’s board of directors.

After retiring from his agency in 1983, Mr. Stone began a career of teaching. He taught classes at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and in Northwestern University’s graduate program. His successor at Northwestern, Kobs & Brady founder Jim Kobs, was an 11-year veteran at Stone & Adler.

“As a person, he was a great family man,” Mr. Kobs said. “He was very devoted to his family and, although he traveled a lot, he always let them know he was a phone call away.”

Mr. Stone took up writing in 1967 with a direct marketing column in Advertising Age, a weekly newspaper on marketing. He wrote more than 200 articles for the publication.

Seven years after beginning his column, Mr. Stone published “Successful Direct Marketing Methods.” The book was translated into Japanese, French, Italian, German, Romanian, Russian, Swedish, Portuguese and Spanish. More than 250,000 copies are said to have sold worldwide. The eighth edition, co-authored with Mr. Jacobs, is due out in August.

“Bob was a tremendous educator, but also a tremendous marketer by the same token,” Mr. Jacobs said. “If there was no Bob Stone, there would not have been any ‘Successful Direct Marketing Methods.’

“Bob really compiled the best practices of direct marketing and, as a result, a whole generation of direct marketers learned from Bob, including myself,” he said.

Mr. Stone won several industry awards throughout his career, including the Direct Marketing Association’s Echo awards. He was also inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame – the industry’s top honor.

He held leadership roles at the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing, the Associated Third Class Mail Users and the DMA.

Mr. Stone suffered a stroke in mid-May last year that paralyzed his right side. He is survived by four sons, a daughter and his second wife, Barbara, who he recently divorced.

The Stone family requests people make contributions in Mr. Stone’s name to the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing Educational Association.

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