By Kara Dullea
Do you remember life before the internet? Prior to the turn of the 21st century, newspapers arrived each morning — and sometimes in the afternoon — in the driveway or front lawn by way of a paperboy. Inside, the paper was loaded with advertising. In addition to the traditional display ads that exist today, there was an entire section of classified ads — tiny one- to two-phrase announcements advertising everything from jobs to garage sales, from cars to love. Yes, before online dating the search for love happened in fine print.
Back in the day, there was no such thing as streaming music. Recordings came only via radio, CD, cassette tape or vinyl album. (dare I mention 8-track tapes and reel-to-reel?) I have vivid recollections as a teenager driving my first car — a beat-up, manual-drive VW Bug — while turning the radio dial in a frustrated attempt to bypass commercials until I could find a station playing music. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do while driving a stick shift, mind you.
Televisions weren’t smart. They were sold in the form of consoles: giant wooden behemoths weighing about the same as a conventional washing machine. They sat on the living room floor, and changing channels among the four available networks — NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS — required the now unthinkable act of walking up to the box and manually turning the giant dial to the channel you wanted. No, Virginia, back in the dark, dusty pre-internet age, there was no such thing as a remote control.
But as old-timers often do, I digress. My point isn’t to write about the evolution of media, but rather to set the stage for how Greenville’s surprisingly large and vibrant advertising community took root.
Believe it or not, the little city now known the world over as #yeahTHATGreenville lays claim to a number of iconic advertising campaigns, slogans and brands.
Here’s a little quiz just to prove it. Place a checkmark next to the campaign, brand or logo/icon you believe originated from an agency in Greenville.
- St. Pauli Girl “You Never Forget Your First Girl”
- VW “Think Small”
- Janitor in a Drum
- Clemson University Tiger Paw
- Shakespeare Ugly Stik
- Spray ‘n Wash “Gets Out What America Gets Into”
All except VW’s “Think Small” campaign were created by a local advertising agency, Henderson Advertising. Plenty of other agencies produced long-running, highly memorable work, such as Erwin-Penland’s (now EP + Co) national advertising for Verizon Wireless, L.L. Bean and Denny’s; Leslie Advertising’s “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places” campaign for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism; and Eison Goot’s (now Brains on Fire) “Black Sheep” campaign for American Federal Bank, but Henderson was far and away Greenville’s most illustrious ad agency, establishing this little-known Southern town as an advertising and creative force to be reckoned with.
Jim Henderson established his namesake firm in 1946 with one account: a local company that made chemicals for dry cleaners. That experience would soon pay off when Henderson
acquired the Texize account. Based in Mauldin, Texize made cleaning products for textile mills. Henderson knew Texize owner Jack Greer and insisted that repackaging his products and making them commercially viable for household use would create a tremendous new revenue stream for Texize. Eventually, Greer agreed to test the strategy with one product, Texize Household Cleaner, and entrusted Henderson with its marketing. Henderson billed it as the first all-purpose liquid household cleaner in America, and the combined approach of relentless sales calls to local and regional grocery stores and a national advertising campaign eventually paid off.
The success of Texize All-Purpose Cleaner convinced Greer to create a Consumer Division at Texize and make Henderson Advertising its agency of record. Products included Fantastik, Spray ‘N Wash, Scrubbing Bubbles and Glass Plus, all of which became common household brand names due to Henderson’s advertising. The popularity of these campaigns caught the attention of other national brands that also wanted a piece of the “Henderson magic.” Before long, Henderson Advertising found itself handling the national advertising accounts for major brands, such as Pepto-Bismol, Hanes, St. Pauli Girl and Toto, but Texize (eventually sold to DowBrands) always reigned supreme.
Jim Henderson knew that in order to perform on a level that Texize and other national brands demanded, he had to employ the cream of the crop. He would set his sights on a talented copywriter, art director or media strategist, fly to New York, Chicago or wherever they worked, and wine and dine them until he could convince them to join his agency. To assist in his recruiting, he produced a 30-page illustrated booklet called “WhatInHell Am I Doing In Greenville, South Carolina?” It was a wonderfully entertaining story about the beauty, ease and richness of living in Greenville, while affording smart creatives an opportunity to work at one of the country’s most talented creative shops. The genius of the booklet alone was enough to convince many to at least fly to Greenville for a visit, and the rest was history.
As Henderson rose to fame, many other agencies formed and came into their own, although on a much more local and regional scale. Lowe & Hall was one of Greenville’s earliest agencies, where a young man named Bill Leslie worked as an account manager. Leslie left to start his own agency, which he famously said he started from the trunk of his car because he couldn’t afford an office. One of Henderson’s early recruits was Mike Goot, who was working for legendary copywriter Gene Case, the genius behind Mennen Skin Bracer’s “Thanks. I needed that” campaign. After short stints at both Henderson and Leslie Advertising, Goot left to start his own agency with two partners, which they called Eison, Goot and Black. That agency eventually became Brains on Fire, creators of VisitGreenvilleSC’s #yeahTHATGreenville campaign.
In the late 1970s, a young Clemson University political science graduate named Joe Erwin had dreams of working in advertising and landed his first job in the mailroom of Leslie Advertising. He quickly moved up the ladder and after two-and-a-half years was recruited by Benton & Bowles in New York City to manage the Quincy’s Steakhouse account. After eight years in New York and ready to start a family, Erwin and his new bride, Gretchen, moved back to Greenville and bought a small shop called Penland Advertising, which they renamed Erwin-Penland Advertising.
That was in the 1980s, and there was tremendous vitality in the local industry. Henderson
Advertising had recently been named “Agency of the Year” by Advertising Age magazine,
marking the first time an agency outside of New York or Chicago had received this preeminent distinction. Leslie Advertising was suddenly putting South Carolina on the map as a tourism destination for its award-winning “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places” campaign. Eison Goot’s “Black Sheep” campaign for American Federal was the envy of the U.S. banking industry for its unconventional approach to marketing financial services. And an emerging automotive manufacturing industry in Greenville led Detroit agency Jackson-Dawson Marketing to open a shop here in 1987.
According to Joe Erwin, there were probably about 35 agencies in Greenville when he and
Gretchen started Erwin-Penland in 1986. “Greenville over-indexed as an ad town,” he said.
Television was king, and radio, print and outdoor were flush with advertisers during the
economic boom of the ’80s. And while agency life was defined by the terminable deadline, there was always an added frustration of delayed communication. TV and radio reels and camera-ready print ads had to be mailed to broadcasters and publishers in other cities and states. Written correspondence happened by facsimile or U.S. mail (email didn’t become common until the ’90s). And if it was necessary to make a phone call from the road, one had to find a gas station or convenience store with a pay phone.
The widespread use of cellphones, email and overnight shipping in the 1990s were godsends to the advertising industry, speeding up communication exponentially and making deadlines easier to reach. The ’90s also ushered in the commercial use of the World Wide Web and, with that, a new cottage industry of website design firms.
There was a sudden urgency for agencies to explore the depth and breadth of the internet; to make websites that were more than online brochures; to give people a reason to engage more fully with brands. Retail checkout scanners became commonplace, and suddenly data became king.
The internet age completely transformed the advertising industry into a splintered subset of its whole. Agencies became more niche, focusing solely on websites or digital marketing or public relations or media, even word of mouth, and clients liked it because they could choose a best-in-class agency for any service they needed.
Twenty-five years after Henderson put Greenville on the advertising map with its “Agency of the Year” award, Erwin-Penland placed another stamp in the city’s passport when it was bought by Hill Holliday of Boston. The agency had become the first in South Carolina to surpass $100 million in annual billings, placing it among an elite industry group.
In 2006, the local industry was rocked to its core when Henderson Advertising announced it
was closing shop. Though it would be months before the truth came out, the agency’s demise was the result of years of embezzlement from a top executive, but the shop had been on a downward trajectory ever since losing the DowBrands account in 1995. Likewise, another local stalwart agency — Leslie Advertising — found itself losing more and more business to specialty firms, and eventually it, too, was taken down by the Great Recession.
What emerged from the aftermath of the Great Recession was the so-called “non-agency,” a cluster of independent consultants who work collectively, often in shared space, to
produce campaigns at much more economical rates than their predecessor agencies.
This is where the local advertising community stands today. Co-working spaces like Endeavor, Comradery and Serendipity Labs cater to independent creatives and small niche marketing shops. Larger, full-service agencies like EP + Co still exist, but they are rare. Most specialize in particular fields, such as social media (Enveritas); business-to-small-business (Cargo); consumer insights and digital marketing (DXM); higher education (Up&Up); public relations (TKPR); and event planning (11Events).
Greenville continues to over-index in the advertising industry, and the changes that have taken place here are not unlike those of the major industry markets like New York, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. The local advertising industry owes a debt of gratitude to Jim Henderson and his agency, for they were the first to prove that Southeast advertising agencies can be as competitive as any in the nation.
Kara Dullea is a public relations consultant in Greenville who spent 16 years at Leslie Advertising from 1992-2008. She’s been around not quite long enough to remember Greenville’s first ad agency – Barron Advertising in 1936 – but long enough to have a sizeable network of friends and acquaintances that make a living in advertising.