The McCann Time Capsule: In Memoriam Bob Coen
When Robert J. Coen handed the reins over in our company to his successor in 2009, he was appropriately referred to as “Madison Avenue’s Chief Seer” by The New York Times. Our longtime former director of media research and then of forecasting, Bob was respected throughout his career as the industry’s leading authoritative source on analyzing and forecasting ad spending with his calculations widely used across businesses and the government.
“Bob was a true pioneer, whose ad spending forecast was not only a first for our industry, but endures as an authoritative economic barometer to this day,” said Philippe Krakowsky, Interpublic’s Executive VP and Chairman of IPG MediaBrands, on hearing about Bob’s death last Nov. 18 at 93 years old.
Bob first joined McCann New York’s Research Development Department in 1948 as a statistician while he completed his M.A. in Mathematics at night at Columbia University. Radio was still the dominant broadcast medium, and Bob quickly established his credibility by correctly forecasting that the 50%-60% audience shares enjoyed by the top radio shows at the time would soon be declining to low single digits as TV became the dominant medium. In 1950, he was put in charge of the ad spending report pioneered by McCann, and then was promoted successively and ultimately to Senior VP and Director of Forecasting. For more than 60 years, his name was inextricably linked with detailed and accurate ad revenue analyses and projections.
The ad spending report that Bob oversaw was also itself important not only within McCann, but pivotally so within the advertising industry as a whole. After agency co-founder Alfred W. Erickson died in 1936, his widow the next year donated to Harvard Business School in his memory the then substantial sum of $30,000 in order to conduct an objective study on advertising’s value. It was a period when questions had arisen among businesses about whether ad spending was worth the expense and by government about whether it encouraged anti-competitiveness.
Representing assistance to the project from the recently formed Advertising Research Foundation was Dr. Louis D. H. Weld, McCann’s research director at the time and also one of the overall pioneers in advertising research dating back to his seminal 1916 study on “The Marketing of Farm Products.” Dr. Weld, on behalf of the McCann agency, then began publishing annual ad spending numbers in the report that Bob Coen would take over in 1950. But the Harvard study itself, a four-and-a-half year long project, was conducted by Professor Neil H. Borden and then published in January 1942 in the well-known book, “The Economic Effects of Advertising.”