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Thoughts about Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia

Liberty-placeYesterday I attended an informal “reunion” of a handful of the former employees of Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia. Thanks to Kelly Simmons for taking the initiative to put this into action. It was wonderful to see familiar faces, some of whom I’ve seen often over the years but many others with whom I’ve lost touch. It’s been more than 18 years since I left the agency, and more than 10 years since the firm’s dissolution. Yet seeing a group of smart accomplished, now older, professionals was terrific.

I was the firm’s President for seven years and I joined the agency 25 years ago in 1989. It was a challenging time with many business issues and struggles (some self inflicted), yet we were successful and grew to become the largest agency in Philadelphia and the largest agency in the Earle Palmer Brown network. We operated from two floors at 1 Liberty Place shown here, which was a first class environment for our agency.

As background Earle Palmer Brown’s history in Philadelphia was bumpy at first with the acquisition of Kalish & Rice in 1983, long before my time with the agency. There was tumult and key exec changes and lost business. Later in 1987 the firm acquired Spiro & Associates and Walter Spiro would become the firm’s Chairman until his passing in 1997. The firm was renamed Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro for several years and would later revert to the Earle Palmer Brown nomenclature. Walter’s gracious demeanor and strong interpersonal skills were an asset to the agency and helped it through its transition. Combined with the overall issues of the Earle Palmer Brown network, Walter’s passing in 1997 was one of the factors that led to the agency’s decline.

On a personal level, I had no background at Earle Palmer Brown, Kalish & Rice, Spiro & Associates or with the Philadelphia marketplace before I joined the agency in 1989. I had been a senior management rep at BBDO/New York running big multinational accounts and geographically and philosophically I was far more a New Yorker than a “Philly guy”. Truth is 25 years later I am still somewhat an interloper in Philadelphia, and identify more with New York—certainly in my sports allegiance as any Strumings reader would know.

When I joined the agency, my lack of connection to the prior agencies and to the Philadelphia market as a whole was an advantage. I respected history, yet the vision was to help lift the firm and create a coalesced agency of top professionals doing smart work for its clients and attracting and rewarding top talent. On that dimension we succeeded well. It was a really good shop.

I learned a lot about the business and a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses during my seven years as the firm’s President. When I joined the 100+ person agency in 1989, I would have brazenly said that my strengths far outweighed my weaknesses since I was a cocky 36-year old NY ad man. Eyes were on me to see what the kid from NY would do. However now the wisdom of hindsight and age, I think my strengths & weaknesses were equally balanced, and in retrospect I’d give myself a modest grade in agency leadership. On the plus side, we did good work across all areas of the agency, gained some cornerstone accounts and attracted talented people. On the flip side, our turnover of accounts and staff were too high and being part of a network of Earle Palmer Brown agencies in close-by geographies (NY, Maryland, Richmond and others) had its own unique challenges. Had we been a bit more stable, we’d have grown far more than we did. But I was proud of the very talented people of the agency and we did excellent work for a roster of the largest local accounts and blue chip accounts across the country.

On a personal level, I had also hoped to have acquired the Philadelphia office of Earle Palmer Brown back in the mid 90s, but was unsuccessful doing so, and as a result I left the firm in early 1996. Who knows what the firm’s history would have been I been successful? There’s no guarantee it would be a bed of roses. No doubt there would have been lost accounts from businesses which have long since been acquired, and one would have hoped the firm might have grown and evolved into the digital world. One thing’s for sure—you can’t look back, and it’s foolish to say woulda/coulda/shoulda. We all move forward with new challenges and opportunities. Change is the status quo in today’s world. I was proud of what our agency accomplished and don’t regret the time I spent leading the agency, and interloper though I may be, my move to the Philadelphia area on balance has been a very good one for me and our family (other than the 100 mile drive to Yankee Stadium).

None of us can turn back the clock, yet it was a great seeing people again who I respected and enjoyed working with many years ago. Hope to see many others soon as well.




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6 Comments

  1. ed williamson says:

    Lonny,
    Nice piece on EPB Being an interloper of sorts I wasn’t at the EPB get-together. I was at EPB in Maryland when they bought Kalish & Rice in 83. In fact, Mark Goldstein wanted me to go to there but I had an offer from LGK/FCB, which I took. Still I did do a little freelance at EPB/Philly. Hey, that should have counted. Right?

    Your article opened a flood gate of good memories for me. You’re right we can’t turn back the time. But we sure can remember them. It really was a great ride.

    sincerely,
    ed williamson

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks for the feedback Ed. The good thing about memories is that you gloss over the bad stuff and remember the good stuff. Lots of good memories.

  2. Rita Scarborough says:

    Hi Mr Strum,

    I doubt if you would even remember me but none the less I stumbled upon this when looking up Earle Palmer Brown and Spiro to see what had happen to the place I use to work. In 1989 I was hired as a secretary to Mr. Jacobson VP of New Business and several account executives (Frank Tow, Dana, April). I have some very fond memories of EPBS. I left in 1991 to go over seas with my husband and returned after 9/11. I was sad to learn that EPBS had closed in Philadelphia but everytime I pass Liberty Place I cant help but smile.

  3. Chris Binner says:

    Lonny:

    Really well done, and well-written. You captured the entire Philadelphia advertising scene of the 1980’s in your blog. I remember that time with fondness. I worked for Lewis & Gilman in the early 80’s, and “sat through” the merger with Atkin & Kynett, only to be it swallowed by FCB, New York, a day later.

    Accounts came, accounts left. Same with people. Much like EPB–we had terrific talent, but it was like they were working with shackles on. Was it the accounts? The culture? The geography? Don’t know.

    I do know we really respected all of our competitors–Weightman, Kalish & Rice, Korn, EPB…all of them. You wanted to beat them in a new business presentation, yet loved having a drink with them too. Just terrific people.

    Good times, again well done, Lonny:

    Chris

    • Lonny Strum says:

      It was a different era, Chris. Times change but it’s nice to reflect on the past. In looking in the rear view mirror it’s always nice to remember the good, and gloss over the ugly.

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