The McCann Time Capsule: Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marín and McCann’s Tom Aitken
Throughout New York City there are tributes to Puerto Rico’s first democratically elected governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, in the form of school and street names. With New York’s Puerto Rican Day Parade coming up this weekend, it seems appropriate to highlight McCann’s historical relationship both to Muñoz Marín, who served as governor from 1948 to 1965, and the Caribbean island.
Puerto Rico was one of McCann’s early network expansions. The San Juan office was opened in 1942, the first new country in the Latin America network after the 1935 openings in Argentina and Brazil. As with other offices in McCann’s global expansion, Puerto Rico’s growth then came from both international and local brands. In 1942, a distributor on the island assigned the agency its Corona Beer and Coca-Cola accounts. Two years later, it won the account of Caribe Motors Corp., the local distributor of General Motors autos and trucks. It would then add other international brands and, by 1950, with 12 employees, McCann Puerto Rico shared in the global client list: Esso/ Standard Oil, Coca-Cola, Home Products, Swift & Co., Lehn & Fink, International Harvester, Corn Products, Tampax, and Pharma-Craft.
Significantly, McCann also began to work with governmental organizations in the market. It started a test campaign in 1945 for the Puerto Rico Development Co. to acquaint American businessmen with the advantages of Puerto Rico as a location for new plants or branch offices. The next year it won the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.’s PR program, believed to the be the first time a New York ad agency had been assigned this type of business in Latin America. The Brewing Industry of Puerto Rico assigned the agency “an intensive campaign promoting the superiority of bottles over cans as containers for beer” in 1948. Then, going into 1949, the New York agency won the major Puerto Rico Development Corp. assignment to promote Puerto Rican Rums.
But McCann also formed a different type of Puerto Rican connection as well, one that related specifically to Muñoz Marín, the poet who became a politician and is called “the father of modern-day Puerto Rico.” Thomas Aitken, Jr., a longtime McCann executive, was the author of the statesman’s first biography, called “Poet in the Fortress: The Story of Luis Muñoz Marín.” [The attached photo includes Aitken (r.), showing Muñoz Marín the 1964 biography.]
Aitken himself was an unusual business executive. He joined McCann Puerto Rico as its manager in 1946 and then would become an international executive with the agency who headed up McCann Argentina in the 1950s with additional responsibility for Chile and Uruguay. But he also wrote several books, including an unpublished history of McCann. His description of Muñoz Marín’s combination of opposite qualities is also one that is widely quoted: “Poetry and politics, toughness and tenderheartedness, idealism and practicality, the colossal energy of the doer and the contemplative nature of the thinker.”