The McCann Time Capsule: In Memoriam Phil Geier
Phil Geier, who rose to top international positions at McCann in his two decades with the agency and then reigned as Chairman and CEO of Interpublic for another two decades, died last week at the age of 84.
Except for one year at another agency, his entire career stretching from 1958-2001 was spent at McCann and Interpublic. When he took over the leadership of Interpublic in 1980, it had revenue of $500 Million and 8,000 employees. When he retired at the end of 2000, the company had grown to $5.6 Billion in revenue with 50,000 employees in 650 offices across 127 countries.Named by Advertising Age in 1999 as one of the “Top 100” most influential people in advertising in the Twentieth Century, he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2003.
After joining McCann in the Midwest as a trainee in 1958, Geier began working in the New York office in 1960 as an account executive. He moved in 1968 to McCann London as head of strategic planning. He then rose in the ranks, in rapid succession becoming UK chairman in 1969 and EVP-European Regional Director from 1971-1975, during which time McCann became the No. 1 network across Europe. He then became Vice Chairman-International at McCann, then Vice Chairman of IPG, then the holding company’s President and COO in 1977, and then its Chairman and CEO on Jan. 1, 1980. In December 2000, he announced that he would be resigning both as IPG’s Chairman and as a member of the Board of Directors, effective January 1, 2001.
Phil Geier’s career spanned several eras in McCann’s history. He first joined the agency in the Cleveland office, which had once been very important within the network although it no longer exists. The H. K. McCann Co., which opened in New York in 1912 and then in San Francisco in 1913, also wanted a Midwestern hub. It first chose Detroit in 1913, but then closed that office in favor of opening in Cleveland in 1915 when The Cleveland Metal Products Co. (Perfection and New Perfection stoves and Aladdin aluminum utensils) became a major client. The Cleveland office then added other clients, including Standard Oil of Ohio, the East Ohio Gas Co., the Grand Detour Plow Co., and the National City Bank. It became a key hub as McCann then expanded across the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s to many more cities, including Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, and then Detroit again, in addition to agencies across Canada.
And his New York career in the 1960s put him at the center of McCann’s industry innovations. He became one of the three NY managing directors of the Center for Advanced Practice, a creative problem-solving unit that was working at the time with Coca-Cola, Swift & Co., and the Bahamas, among other clients. Originally formed in 1966 with units both in Europe (Bavaria) and the U.S. (NY), the Center for Advanced Practice was one of the many specialized agencies, think tanks and boutiques McCann launched in that decade. It was formed to be “a compact, integrated group devoted exclusively to the purely creative function, including marketing and research” and had no account service, production or media components; those services were provided by the overall McCann network.
And interestingly, for someone who would become the leader of Interpublic for two decades, Geier also joined McCann before IPG had even come into existence. McCann itself restructured itself in 1960 into a parent unit with four divisions (U.S. advertising; foreign advertising; marketing communications; and a separate competing agency brand outside of McCann), which then became its holding company to drive expansion. First called McCann-Erickson Inc. in 1960, the parent company was then dubbed Interpublic in 1961.