Marion Harper, Jr., a man of excitement and vigor, started out as an "Okie" and worked his way up to be one of the most powerful advertising men in history. He was born in Oklahoma City on May 14, 1916 to a feuding set of parents - Marion Harper, Sr. and Lotus Alexander Harper. They divorced when Marion was five and Marion stayed with Lotus. Not much is said between the two about Marion until it was time to send him to prep school and college. Harper, Sr. insisted Marion go east with him to an Ivy League system on the grounds that schooling would be paid for only by Harper, Sr. At that, off Marion went to Andover and then to Yale, where he earned high honors in his graduating year - 1938.
Russ Johnston says this of Harper in his biography:
Marion's Yale classmates remember him as a serious, reserved young man, with an extremely high forehead, clear, penetrating eyes, and a small chin. Apparently, he was not subject to the temptations of the flesh or of the bottle, fairly common diversions among undergraduates at the time. All the evidence suggests that when he left Yale Marion was ambitious, ready to devote himself to any useful or worthwhile endeavor, and reasonably sure of what he wanted to do - if not for the rest of his life, then at least for the foreseeable future. He was reticent but not shy, confident but not cocky, and a bit stern but not sullen and gloomy (6).
Harper took these personality attributes and went out on the road after college to be a door-to-door salesman for a year. Doing this, he learned the attitudes and selling habits of women. This led him to McCann-Erickson. The mailroom was never the same.
During his successful run as president McCann-Erickson, he started the Interpublic Conglomerate in New York to cater to competing clients like General Motors. From there a multi-million dollar empire was built with various other companies. He died in 1989 from an "apparent" heart attack, leaving the world a great legacy pf advertising genius (New York Times, 1989). Marion Harper, Jr. was the instigator of integrated marketing communication in the United States (Stringer, 1994; Johnston, 1982).
At the beginning of Harper's career at McCann-Erickson, he made $14 per week working in the mailroom. During this time Harper learned the name and interests of everyone in the company, just by their incoming mail. He wandered throughout the company, stopping by the creative and research departments and getting to know the ins and outs of a real advertising agency. Harper loved the research department more than any other and stayed curious about ways to make advertising more cost-effective. He experimented with Starch readership research and found some interesting things that would be of use to the company. With his findings, two presentations were given to Harry Atwood and Stan Briggs, both executives at McCann-Erickson. They appreciated Harper's work and moved him up to manager of copy research, where he slowly gained the respect of his friends and coworkers (Stringer, 179; Johnston, 20).
A woman who would soon become more than his friend, Virginia Epes, met Harper in 1940. She had been working on the Ford account at McCann and Harper introduced himself after five visits down to her floor and two visits to the men's room for no reason. After two years, Marion asked Virginia to marry him, and they went through with it on April 4, 1942. She would be an asset to Harper his entire advertising career (Johnston, 22-23.)
With the help of Moore S. Achenbach, Harper started to move up in the advertising world. The magazine readership test was raiding the curiosity of many agencies, and McCann-Erickson was identified as an agency with top ratings and effective advertising, all because of Harper's intuition in the mailroom. From then on, Marion moved up - from associate director of research to vice-president of McCann. Under his vice-presidency, Harper formed a computer company with his wife because of a glitch from a presentation for Esso. He wanted to be able to fix the problem easier next time! He also radically changed Westinghouse advertising on radio, and even on the "I Love Lucy" network program.
As research became McCann-Erickson's claim to fame, more and more clients were asking for McCann's help. Harper became Harrison McCann's assistant and worked long, hard hours to do the best he could. Harper used his "relative sales conviction" to test copy in fake magazines and real magazines, which made the agency more effective in its advertising strategy. As Mr. McCann reached his 60s, he retired and became Chairman of the Board, making Harper the new president of McCann-Erickson. At this time, Harper was only 32 and McCann-Erickson's billings were around $50 million (Johnston, 29-64; Stringer, 180).
While president, Harper made psychology and the understanding of the consumer his top priority. He acquired the Bulova account, and increased McCann's earnings to $60 million. As more accounts came, and more clients spent more money, the earnings went up to $200 million. With Harper's acquisition of the Coca-Cola account, a $25 million account, McCann-Erickson became a worldwide agency. He was a presentation artist. At 40 years old, Harper was an advertising genius. In this time, Harper had landed 13 new accounts for McCann (Stringer, 181, Johnston, 81-134).
The most controversial aspect of Harper's presidency was the 1958-59 "dropping" of Chrysler, a 15-year, $527 million account, and the undertaking of the Buick account, a considerably smaller account of $24 million (Fox, 99). Chrysler as a company was not cooperating with Harper's new marketing ideas and wanted to stick to their own ways of designing cars. As risky as it was, Harper took on Buick, hoping to get more GM accounts. With a large profit loss, he made up for it with other accounts, like Alka-Seltzer. The 60s were approaching, as was his divorce from Virginia - time for a new company and a new life for Marion Harper (Johnston, 137-159; Stringer, 181).
Advertising in the 50s divided itself up into the "haves" and the "have nots" in society. The economy was booming. The bigger the better. This made advertising easier because people either wanted the product for a reason or for no reason at all. Advertising had to be clear and "normal" to Americans or they would not buy the product. Marion Harper used this time period to its fullest. The 60s however, would be a little different. rebellious times and different ideas made Harper his fortune, and his failure (Warlaumont, 115-127).
Marion and Virginia divorced after 18 years of marriage. He later remarried with Valerie Feit in 1963. Tumult at home however would not stop Harper from starting Interpublic, known as a "holding and management company for a group of related communications businesses" (Johnston, 161). Up until then, agencies could not market two competing clients at a time. With Interpublic, groups like General Motors or General Foods could market all of their products together in the same place. With this idea, Harper basically used a business called Market Planning Corporation to "plan, design, and direct" Interpublic's growing client base (Stringer, 183). This is when the term integrated marketing communication came into play - many companies, one agency that did everything for each company. With this idea, Interpublic grew to, as Johnston puts it, "[Interpublic] added new companies at the rate of one a month. The parent company could boast 200 offices in 100 cities in 48 countries. The world-wide staff, serving 1,900 clients, numbered 8,700 people - 5,500 outside the United States" (261). It became the largest conglomerate agency, earning $700 million by 1967 (Stringer, 183).
The work began to be too much for Harper. His interest in aviation clients and his dire need to be the best began to catch up. In '67, Interpublic was in need of some more clients. Johnston said, "The Harper magic seemed to have vanished" (249). Even though he had ideas of two-way direct communication between the public and the merchandiser, owned many companies under Interpublic, including McCann-Erickson, (Johnston, 254-261) he fell as the top of Interpublic because of client and profit loss. This was 1967. he renamed Bob Healy as CEO of Interpublic, who then opened the company to the public (Johnston, 275). Marion Harper's career as an advertising leader was over. After the fact however, he was recognized for all of his accomplishments.