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A member of the School’s Board of Overseers, Philip Geier, Jr. ’58 became chairman and CEO of advertising giant the Interpublic Group in 1980. During his 20-year tenure, it became the No. 1 holding company with a compound growth rate of 22 percent per year. Geier also served as chairman of the Ad Council and created economic stimulus proposals for three presidential administrations. In 2001, he formed the Geier Group to provide consulting and advisory services in marketing, communications and venture capital.
In Survive to Thrive: Sustaining Yourself, Your Brand and Your Business from Recession to Recovery (BookSurge Publishing, 2009), Geier details Interpublic’s historic rise and offers lessons learned from working with such clients as Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestle. All proceeds from the book will go to Save the Children and Autism Speaks.
Your book is no small undertaking — it chronicles the world of advertising from the 1960s to today, introducing the people whose ideas, brands and advertising campaigns have shaped global consumer culture. What inspired you to write it?
It seemed to me that there were no business books out there on advertising. The ones that do exist focus mainly on the creative side. My career also happens to have coincided with sweeping changes in the industry brought about by globalization. I wanted to explain how the global marketing communications business has evolved from a business perspective — and through the lens of my own successes and mistakes. The book is part business bible, part advertising history and part personal memoir.
I also envisioned it as a learning tool for younger people. Anyone interested in building a business can learn from Interpublic’s story. In the book I don’t shy away from my own mistakes, especially in the 1990s when, for the first time, the company experienced problems. There are lessons learned that are applicable across industries.
You’ve worked in advertising since you joined McCann-Erickson in 1958. What do you think has been the most striking change in the industry?
Something that’s obvious to me is the decreased personal involvement of agency management with clients. It’s much harder today to connect directly with clients because communication has gone electronic. In my day it was easier to get in the door and come in with ideas that were not necessarily advertising ideas by knowing what was the customer’s number one problem. I think this is a problem because it means that clients are not getting the best relationship that they could get.
To counteract this, I think it’s important to get involved in extracurricular efforts such as high-level associations and government study groups. All clients are involved with issues in Washington, D.C. Be innovative.
In the book you don’t shy away from your own challenging times. Is there a failure or mistake in particular that you think people today can learn from?
Know not only the success record of an individual, but also his or her character. You’ll see in the book that there are examples of successful individuals who worked for me and with me but who disappointed me a few years down the line.
What’s your advice for those interested in entering the industry in this economic climate?
Get involved with the new media side of the business — that’s where the growth is. There’s so much opportunity there. Creative people who want to work with major advertising agencies — they can also learn enough about new media to get involved. That’s where the future is in this business.
Your book offers a peek at the high-flying world of advertising in the 1960s and 70s. Do you watch Mad Men? How does it compare to your own experiences?
I watch Mad Men. In fact, [spoiler alert!] I even predicted that certain characters would go out and start their own agency about three episodes before they did.
In the 60s, I went back and forth between England and the States, and it was even wilder there than it was here. I took over a London agency where people would regularly come in at 10 a.m., take two-hour lunches and take advantage of the office bar five days a week. Dinner was hopefully with clients until one in the morning. I changed a few things, to say the least, and in two years we went from eighteenth to third in share of market rankings. The key reason however was the work ethic which called for teamwork in the conference room.
Mad Men does seem historically accurate, and there were a lot of acquisitions taking place over that time. But I would say that the favorite drink was vodka — not whiskey for obvious reasons.