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Omaha Magazine

Don't Have a Cow: Bozell Campaigns Hard, Creates Big Buzz

Jul 29, 2021 04:29PM ● By Daisy Hutzell-Rodman

 Dina Keenan, former director of marketing at Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salons and SVP/global chief marketing officer for Claire’s, thinks fondly of her start in marketing through one storied Omaha company. 

“My time at Bozell was such a great experience and an exciting time in my career,” Keenan wrote in an email to B2B. “That ultimately prepared me to be a stronger leader and helped me successfully continue to grow in my career. So many lessons learned—from understanding the nuances of developing a solid, integrated brand strategy to managing a high-performing, happy team, and finally, to the importance of executing with excellence. I believe all of what I learned definitely helped make me into the CMO I am today.”

Bozell has worked with top photographers and launched the careers of many executives throughout their 100-year history; but in 1921, the company was simply two newspapermen working out of their homes in Omaha. The company started that year when Morris Jacobs and Leo Bozell began an agency. Jacobs was a night reporter for the Omaha Daily News, while Bozell was a former city editor of the Omaha Bee.

Their careers in writing showed in the campaigns they created. Bozell & Jacobs’ first client was Nebraska Power Co. In 1922, the duo created their first powerful campaign by asking housewives “Are you working for your husband’s second wife?” The idea was to sell electricity to people by enticing women with time-saving electrical appliances. Three devices that became popular in the 1920s were washing machines, vacuums, and refrigerators.

The success of campaigns with Nebraska Power Co. led to other contracts with utility companies such as Midland United Co. in Indiana, United Gas Co. of Houston, Electric Bond & Share Co. in New York City, and Public Information Program of the Electric Industry in Washington, D.C. Bozell still works with energy companies, having announced in March 2021 that they secured a three-year contract with OPPD.

By 1968, the company had 10 offices, from New York to Phoenix. The number of high-profile clients grew through the 1970s, including Godfather’s Pizza, American Airlines, Lee Jeans, Greyhound Bus, and the National Ad Council. The company merged with Lorimar’s Kenyon & Eckhardt to become Bozell, Kenyon & Eckhardt in 1986 in a sale of $40 million. At that point, Bozell & Jacobs had 21 offices, including ones in Dallas, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

During the company’s years as part of Lorimar, they gained an account with the National Pork Producers Council, with whom they worked on the advertising slogan, and campaign, “Pork—the Other White Meat.”

The Midwest-bred agency, however, was not happy with some of the executive decisions by Lorimar, which then began losing money, and Bozell bought itself back from Lorimar for $133 million in cash in 1988; they reorganized as Bozell Worldwide in 1992; and were acquired by True North Communications in 1997.

As Bozell Worldwide, the company continued to acquire high-profile accounts. This is also when at least one of the current owners came into the fold. 

According to current CEO Kim Mickelsen, “[One campaign] that probably got a lot of media coverage was the milk mustache campaign that started in the early 1990s.”

This campaign came off the heels of one of the most iconic campaigns for the dairy industry in history, created by San Francisco company Goodby Silverstein & Partners for California’s dairy processors in 1993. That agency started by realizing that milk is usually served with cookies, or an evening meal, or on cereal. Co-chairman and partner Jeff Goodby created the statement “Got milk?” and Michael Bay (who directed the Transformers movies) directed the first TV spot, a commercial about a history fan who loses a trivia question regarding Aaron Burr due to a mouthful of peanut butter sandwich and no milk with which to wash it down.

With milk back in the spotlight, the Milk Processor Education Program hired Bozell in 1995 to create a national campaign. The initial ads featured heavy milk mustaches and the tagline, “Milk, What a Surprise!” MilkPEP later acquired the rights to the slogan “Got Milk?”

“The first target of the milk mustache campaign was women,” said Bernie Hogya, who at the time worked for Bozell’s New York office. “So, our idea to feature celebrities meant that we’d be photographing some of the most beautiful, glamorous, and successful women in the world wearing milk mustaches. Easy to envision now, of course, but back before the campaign was launched the thought of having milk splashed on your upper lip after several hours of hair and makeup was not an easy sell.”

The answer, Hogya realized, was to hire someone associated with glamour and success. He told B2B via email, “We were hoping the celebrities would think, ‘If Annie Leibovitz was behind the lens, it has to look good, right?’” 

Leibovitz initially shot five ads—Naomi Campbell, Joan Rivers, Iman, Vanna White, and Christie Brinkley. Subsequent celebrities followed, from Lauren Bacall to Backstreet Boys, through the campaign’s successful run. 

Despite the success of this campaign, on which Hogya continued to work until it ended in 2014, Bozell became part of the conglomerate True North in 1997, and in 1999, all of Bozell’s offices outside the U.S. were taken over. In 2001, Bozell was inherited by Interpublic.

Mickelsen could not let that happen to the agency she loved. She, along with now-president Robin Donovan, John Bauer, and Scott Moore bought back the company from Interpublic with a determination that it would remain the biggest, and best, ad agency in the area, if not the U.S. After 80 years, the company returned to its roots—a single-office shop in Omaha owned by employees.

“When I heard that [Mickelsen] helped lead the effort to buy the agency back I was envious,” said Hogya, who never met the Omaha partner. “With her talent and expertise, I can think of no one more dedicated and prepared to lead Bozell into its next 100 years.”

The agency has continued to thrive, and acquire large accounts. In 2019, Bozell launched a new campaign for the 529 College Savings Plan, The campaign was a collaboration between Bozell and Fred Rogers Productions to increase awareness of the importance of parents saving for college and included 15-second spots before and after the popular kids show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an aggressive website campaign that included the microsite 529forCollege.com, and a social media campaign on popular sites. That campaign resulted in the total amount of money saved in 529 plans increasing at a record amount of 19% in 2019 alone.

“The 529 college savings plan was one of my favorites because it was such a challenge,” said Jackie Miller, now the third owner with Mickelsen and Robin Donovan. “It involved the states and state treasurers, and we didn’t have a budget. The mission is to solve the debt crisis.”

Paul Siefken, president and CEO of Fred Rogers Productions, said via email: “Bozell recognized that saving for college was as much a personal commitment as it was financial. For multiple generations of Americans, Fred Rogers Productions’ content has emphasized children’s social and emotional well-being to prepare them for life’s challenges. By connecting Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood to the 529 College Savings Plan, Bozell acknowledged that parents and grandparents are looking for a full set of tools to meet their children’s needs holistically as they learn and grow. We were proud to combine our efforts to help children and families.”

The company worked with 27 states on this campaign, which garnered a 40% awareness increase by the end of the 18 months.

Through the years, the company has remained focused on its local community and companies/organizations the partners believe in. They partnered with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo for their 2018 Zoo More Good Campaign. This campaign was a switch from the zoo’s usual idea, which focused on new exhibits or their reputation as a family-friendly activity. The Zoo More Good campaign focused on Henry Doorly’s conservation efforts. The campaign enabled the zoo to meet their monetary goal while amping the organization’s social media presence with more than 500 new page likes and nearly 3,500 reactions, comments, or shares.

At the end of the day, the Bozell of 2021 believes in the causes, and companies, with which they align themselves.

“We have now evolved into having a vision about doing good for the world,” said Donovan. “There’s so much more meat to that, and it really makes you want to come to work…We have been grounded in passion more than anything else. We try to be pragmatic in what we do. We are going to work with companies that do good in the world.”

Visit bozell.com for more information.

This article originally appeared in the August/September issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.