Edward H. Meyer, Who Built an Advertising Empire, Dies at 96

Edward H. Meyer, CEO of Empire Construction, used his iron-willed management style and laser-focused attention to detail to build a mid-sized New York advertising agency known as the Gray Group. transformed into a global force. his apartment in Manhattan. he was 96 years old.

His death was confirmed by Gray’s publicist.

Mr. Meyer joined what was then Gray Advertising in 1956 as a director of account services.

He was named president in 1968 and took over the reins as chairman and chief executive officer in 1970. Over the next 35 years, he built Gray into a behemoth, one of his last major independent agencies.On sale to UK advertising and telecoms giant WPP at $1.5 billion in 2005.

As a manager, Mr. Meyer was not passive. Demanding performance on every level, he had an uncompromising drive that inspired comparisons to big business guys like Rupert Murdoch and Sumner Redstone.

“Ed is awe-inspiring to staff of all ranks,” said a 2003 profile for Adweek. “He also inspires fear.” The article quotes Gray’s former middle manager, who said employees were often silent the moment Mr. Meyer stepped into the elevator, and who visibly shivered outside the office before a meeting. said there was

Mr. Meyer was gracious, often sharp and witty in interviews, but did not dodge such characterizations. “I tend to think I’m not merciful,” he told Adweek. If you can meet these criteria, you’ve made it with Gray.”

Meyer believed that taking executives to a four-star restaurant wasn’t enough to serve customers.

“I’ve built my career and my agency on that belief that the client comes first and the job of an agency head is to know the client’s needs. Not what they like for dinner, but the agency advertising needs better than anyone else’s.”

Mr. Meyer put his words to good use. For example, in 1988, Red of Orlando, Florida, was cleaning shrimp and waiting his table in turn at a lobster restaurant, getting a feel for the inner workings of the chain. “For your seafood lover”

As a waiter, he had the drawback of spilling coffee on one patron. “She told me I didn’t need an apology,” he later recalled.

Over the years, clients have paid attention. “Ed is Gray and Gray is Ed,” an executive at Procter & Gamble, a key customer for decades, told Adweek.

Such a hands-on dedication makes even more sense to Mr. Mayer, considering he had an unusual amount of skin in the game.

“I was one of the few who owned most of the agencies he ran,” he told Elliott after Gray sold. “Every penny I had was here. So I was in more danger than anyone else.”

“I was sweating,” he added. “I denied people because I couldn’t afford to be a nice guy.”

Edward Henry Meyer was born in New York City on January 8, 1927, the second of three children to children’s clothing manufacturer Irving Meyer and Mildred (Driesen) Meyer.

After graduating from Horace Mann School in the Bronx, he attended Cornell University. He took his leave in 1945 and served two years in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, where he returned to Cornell University and received a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949. He then attended an executive training program at the Bloomingdale’s division of Allied Department Stores (now Macy’s).

Meyer began his half-century career in advertising when he joined the small agency Biow Company in 1951. So he began a long and fruitful relationship with Cincinnati-based packaged goods giant Procter & Gamble by working on its lava soap account.

His work at Procter & Gamble continued five years later when he jumped to Gray. It didn’t take long for him to see results.

In 1959, the agency acquired an account for Procter & Gamble’s Ivory Flakes Laundry Soap. The brand has been in a long slump as competitors tout new and improved ingredients.

As Account Supervisor, Meyer led a survey of the brand’s most loyal consumers. In response, Gray focused on the brand’s perceived purity, claiming that Ivory Flakes were soft and gentle enough to wash baby’s clothes and cloth diapers.

The resulting TV spot calls itself “the only baby language translatorDeciphers the fussy ramblings of a toddler girl as a result of wearing a competitor’s soapy, scratchy diaper. In just a few months, the brand reversed an 11-year sales decline.

An early proponent of globalization in the industry, Meyer believed that global reach was key to agency growth. He has also ventured into related areas such as public relations, media buying and direct his marketing.

“When I took over, it was a domestic US advertising agency. explore the world‘” Mayer said of Gray in an interview with Business Today magazine in 2001. “In the ’60s and he was in the ’70s, Gray became a truly global agency. It was the right time to do it because we can’t do it anymore.”

Mr. Mayer is survived by his wife, Sandy. his son, Tony; his daughter, Meg; and five grandchildren.

He retired in 2006, the year after the agency’s sale. In 2014, he and his wife donated his $75 million. weill cornell medicine To expand and consolidate its cancer treatment and research programs in Manhattan, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center.

For many in the industry who had come to see Meyer and Gray as one and the same, his departure after decades seemed almost unimaginable. Meyer seems to agree. Mr. Meyer said in an interview with his magazine, Chief his executive later in his career, seemingly endless tenure as the leader of the Grays.

“When are you retiring?” he said. “To paraphrase Warren Buffett, five years after I died.”

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