The hoary clay pipes nailed to the ceiling of midtown Manhattan restaurant Keen's Chophouse would not have looked out of place in the hands of advertising veterans gathered last month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of direct marketing agency Rapp Collins Worldwide.
In attendance were the agency's great and good, past and present: co-founders Stan Rapp and Tom Collins as well as Emily Soell, Pat Imbriale, Jerry Ricigliano, Russ Lapso and Walter Marshall. Also present were current chairman/CEO Gary VonKennel and Ed McNally, agency president of diversified services.
Their presence embodied Rapp Collins milestones, mergers, executive turmoil, campaigns and financial close shaves. Key moments included the time the campaign to elect George McGovern the Democratic presidential nominee owed $40,000 to Rapp Collins.
“If he didn't get the nomination, we'd be in real trouble,” Rapp said.
McGovern got the nomination, but lost the 1972 election to Richard Nixon in a landslide. Rapp & Collins, as the Foote, Cone & Belding division was then known, survived to mail another day.
Other memories were pulled from the trunk, too. Lapso worked with DM pioneers like Jim Kobs, Bob Stone and Aaron Adler. He also had another distinction.
“I do think I'm the only person who's been hired twice and fired twice by Rapp Collins,” Lapso said. “I do think that all that growth in the 1990s was because of me.”
Imbriale has kept her job at Rapp Collins for 28 years. When she joined the agency at its 475 Park Ave. office in New York, she “felt like Doris Day.”
“I'll retire at 30 years,” Imbriale said. “By then I'll be 65.”
Soell was arguably the first woman president of a direct marketing agency when she took the title. She joined the agency during its young and scrappy days. The dynamics then are applicable even today.
“The only reason I was creative supervisor was because at that time Rapp Collins gave titles instead of money,” she said.
Soell once was called into Rapp's office and asked to give a presentation to Time-Life, an account the agency shared with Wunderman. But she had never presented to a client. She had only two days to prepare for the hourlong presentation. Soell was dazed walking out the door when Rapp remembered something.
“Oh, Emily, don't look like you're reading it,” Rapp said.
Rapp Collins has the distinction of being one of the few DM agencies, along with the venerable Wunderman, to cross four decades. Along the way, the agency broke ground on several fronts.
Rapp and Collins jointly authored “The Great Marketing Turnaround” and “MaxiMarketing,” books that became best-selling industry bibles and did wonders for the agency. “MaxiMarketing” predicted the shift from mass marketing to CRM back in 1986.
Rapp Collins also claims it was the first DM agency to create a strategic planning group. The mid- to late-1990s campaign to introduce the Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle perhaps was its most outstanding achievement.
The agency's revenue today is estimated at $350 million with new clients like Progressive Insurance and Best Buy Co. Headcount is 2,000 executives in 50 offices across 38 countries. It is a member of New York-based Omnicom Group Inc., the world's largest marketing services conglomerate.
Rapp Collins' founders have evolved as well. Until recently, Rapp was chairman of McCann Worldgroup's MRM Partners and is now a consultant and speaker. Collins is a consultant and copywriter.
Age has not dimmed the former workaholics' interest in marketing nor blunted their perspective on life and work.
“Genuine discovery is not about seeking new lands, it's about seeing with new eyes,” Collins said, paraphrasing a quote from French novelist Marcel Proust.
Rapp similarly deliberated on the choices made by those present, recalling a question an Advertising Age reporter once asked of Edmund Hillary, the first man to conquer Mount Everest.
“Why did you spend your life climbing mountains?” the reporter asked. “You could have been in advertising.”
“Because advertising is hard,” Hillary replied.
Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters