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With Tony Wainwright on board, the Bloom Agency is blooming nationwide
By Chris Tucker |

will the real Tony Wainwright please stand up?

You see, some confusion is possible when you’re discussing the chairman and chief executive officer of the Bloom Agency, one of Dallas’ largest advertising agencies and a $150 million business.

Wainwright, 50, has plenty to do at Bloom. In addition to personally overseeing certain important accounts (Abbott Laboratories and Tropical Blend, among others), he coordinates all the elements of the agency’s product, including creating ad campaigns, marketing, research, account work and production of ads.

But that’s not enough for the energetic Wain-wright, who delights in living more lives than one: He writes novels and screenplays, holds a black belt in karate and often teaches the martial arts, is a board member of several companies and serves as an advisor to the North Texas State University school of journalism. In order to squeeze all these activities into a 24-hour day, he sleeps an average of just five hours a night-in shifts. Can there be just one Tony Wainwright?

“The worst thing any of us can do is to do one thing,” Wainwright says, wearing an incredibly wrinkled blue shirt and leaning against a wall in one of Bloom’s tastefully furnished conference rooms. “We should aspire to be Renaissance persons. I want to live every day. I want to do a good job with my company, but I want to do a good job as a human being, too.”

Wainwright doesn’t believe in wasted time. He’s stripped his life down to the essentials. On his desk are only three things: a hand exerciser, an ashtray for his ever-present pipe and a list of the 18 people he will call today. Nor does he believe in excuses. “If we want to do something badly enough, we find the time,” he says. “I’ve always got extra time.”

Wainwright’s surplus time may be the result of his unorthodox schedule, which would seem like an exercise in masochism to most people. Back in the late Sixties, Wainwright quit his job as vice president and creative director of a large Chicago ad agency to start his own business, Wainwright, Spaeth & Wright. Without large cash reserves and with two children to support, Wainwright felt driven night and. day.

“My anxiety level was so high and my work load so heavy that I started getting up in the middle of the night and working,” he says. “I readjusted myself to a pattern where I could sleep a very few hours a night and feel refreshed.”

Wainwright has much less cause for anxiety now-in fact, he seems enviably relaxed-but old habits die hard. He goes to bed for the first time around 9:30 p.m., sleeps until midnight, then rises to work until 2 a.m. For the rest of his brief night, Wainwright alternates hour-long catnaps with periods of work before getting up for the last time around 5:15. He’s in his Bloom office before 6 a.m. In a sense, he’s almost never off duty.

“I get some of my best ideas late at night,” Wainwright says. “I love the early morning hours for planning my day and thinking.”

Wainwright’s carefully managed energy has helped him become a dominant force in the advertising world. Bloom was a prosperous local advertising agency before Wainwright joined it in 1980; now, it’s nationwide, handling accounts such as Colgate-Palmolive and Anderson-Clayton foods. During Wainwright’s short tenure with Bloom, the agency has almost doubled its billing, growing from $80 million in 1979 to $150 million today.

While he is quick to share credit for successful campaigns (“Everything in our business is partial credit,” he says), there’s no denying that Wainwright has been associated with the development and introduction of some highly successful products and some landmark ad campaigns.

During the late Fifties, while he was a copywriter for the Leo Burnett Co. of Chicago, Wainwright helped develop the rugged Marlboro cowboy and the Green Giant advertisements. Some years later, he had primary responsibility for introducing products such as Toni home permanents and Dippity-Doo styling gel. While he was with Wainwright, Spaeth & Wright, he introduced Dynamints, Freshen-Up gum and Oil of Olay.

Wainwright considers the Oil of Olay campaign to be one of his biggest coups. The cream had been sold only in Europe until 1972, when Wainwright’s company took over the account. Oil of Olay was, at the time, a $5 million business. Wainwright created the famous TV commercials showing beautiful women from various countries praising the product. A refined version of the ad is still used by Oil of Olay, which has current sales of about $140 million a year.

“The work we do is like dancing on the edge of a sword,” Wainwright says. “It’s a very delicate thing we do. The people in our industry who are very good survive. A lot of people go into it and don’t survive. Ours is one of those rare businesses where every day of your life, you’ve got to be very bright and very alert. Every day, someone is challenging us to come up with an idea.”

Wainwright was executive vice president and general manager of the mammoth Mars-chalk Co. of New York when he was approached in 1979 by Bob Bloom, now chairman of the Bloom Companies (parent company of the Bloom Agency). Wainwright wasn’t eager to make a job change. But when Bloom persuaded him to visit the agency’s Dallas offices, Wainwright began to see possibilities. He had long thought that the Sun Belt would be the growth center of the advertising business during the Eighties and Nineties. More important to Wainwright, Bloom was receptive to many of his suggestions about improving the agency’s output. A deal was born.

“Tony’s skills, temperament and character have added a new dimension to Bloom,” says Bob Bloom. “Our trend was toward more national business, and Tony’s experience in New York and Chicago has really accelerated that trend. There’s a magical moment in the life of any organization, and he could see that the moment had come for us. He’s one of the most intuitive people I’ve ever seen.”

“Wainwright has given Bloom a huge national presence,” says J.C. Kelly, publisher of Adweek/Southwest. “His repertoire of contacts in the industry is amazing, and with him in there, they can generate the work of an organization twice their size.”

WAINWRIGHT, LIKE any thoughtful man in his field, has had to come to terms with the ethics of advertising. He’s heard the chorus of criticism from the Ralph Naders and Vance Packards, who charge that admen are “hidden persuaders” preying on helpless, sheeplike consumers. Wainwright doesn’t buy it.

“I would never handle a product or service I didn’t feel was ethical and gave good volume,” Wainwright says. “I feel no guilt in trying to market these products.” He will admit to qualms about young people smoking cigarettes (Bloom handles L&M tobacco products), but he believes that advertising is essential to the free-market economy.

“If we want to have freedom of choice of goods and services, advertising is necessary. In the Soviet Union, you might get one brand of toothpaste and that would be it. We offer people a whole spectrum of choice. Even though there may be only a marginal difference between Coke and Pepsi, I’m glad to have that choice.”

Although he is near the top of his profession, Wainwright refuses to rest on his laurels. He was attracted to Bloom partly because the agency’s high-level executives work closely with clients. In many agencies, a man in Wainwright’s position would be largely an administrator.

“The fun I get from this work is not being chairman of the board, but going into meetings and contributing and giving people ideas,” Wainwright says. “Here, the top three or four guys go to the meetings and try to elicit ideas that will improve a client’s business. The last thing I want is to sit in an office and look at papers.”

Wainwright travels frequently to inspect Bloom’s far-flung accounts, usually spending two or three days a week in other states. On his journeys, he always makes time to visit department stores and watch shoppers making their choices. It’s not unusual for him to walk up to a woman who’s just put a bottle of aspirin in her basket and ask her why she chose that brand.

“They may not have much of an answer,” Wainwright says, “but they may have a terrific answer.” He is fond of quoting advertising guru David Ogilvy: “The consumer is not an idiot. She’s your wife or your neighbor.”

Wainwright also drops in on store managers to ask them how test-market items are doing. “That gives me an insight I’d never get sitting around in the office,” he says. “You’re always reaching for something, and somebody else has it. You want that piece of knowledge. If you work in a vacuum, it’s harder to get it. When you talk with a lot of people, you’re exposed to many different mind-sets.”

WHEN TONY WAINWRIGHT talks, people relax. “He’s pleasant, he grows on you and he’s able to defuse highly emotional situations,” says Adweek’s Kelly. Wain-wright’s voice seems to come from some sealed, shockproof chamber deep inside him. The general impression is of calm, a personality in equilibrium.

At least part of that calm is not hard to understand. Add a black belt in karate to your 140-pound frame, and you’ll be calmer too. Wainwright’s crushing handshake testifies to his daily workouts, which once included chopping his way through boards and the occasional brick.

Wainwright’s interest in the martial arts began with a very practical problem: At the age of 10, he was one of the smaller kids on his block. He was tired of being pounded by the local bullies, so his father shipped him off for jujitsu lessons. Now an expert at both jujitsu and karate, Wainwright has taught both at YMCAs and to neighborhood children “whom I sense are like I was.” He says the sport is a great builder of confidence.

Wainwright got to test his martial arts knowledge under combat conditions in a Memphis hotel parking lot a few years ago. He had stepped out of his car when he was attacked by two muggers. They quickly became would-be muggers when Wainwright snapped one man’s arm like a dry branch and delivered several stunning kicks to the other man’s midsection. As the man with the now-broken arm collapsed, he hooked Wainwright’s pants pocket and ripped the pant leg down to the ankle. Undaunted, Wainwright strolled into the hotel, bloodstains dotting his three-piece suit, and checked into his room. The bellhop never said a word.

Wainwright’s unflappable demeanor may have another source. Unlike most of us, he never plays the game of “what if.” When he’s wanted to try something new, within reason, he’s done so. Like writing, for example. When his 8-month-old daughter died of spina bifida in 1962, Wainwright was close to despair. Casting about for some way to deal with his grief, he hit upon the idea of writing to famous people and asking them how they had survived their own crises. Wainwright sent out 1,000 letters and received answers from some legendary figures: Eleanor Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer and others shared their experiences with Wainwright, who compiled the letters into a book called Moments of Truth.

But publishing houses were cool to Wainwright, who finally had 500 copies printed at his own expense and gave them as Christmas presents. Recently, a producer with Good Morning, America toyed with the idea of a Moments of Truth TV series, but later abandoned the idea.

Despite its lack of commercial success, Moments of Truth helped Wainwright through his dark night of the soul. The experience of his daughter’s death left him a changed man. “My sense of values became real and important,” says Wainwright, who converted to Catholicism after the tragedy. “Before that, I was selfish in the sense that I only cared about work and had little sense of responsibility. It’s much easier to write a check than it is to give of yourself.”

Wainwright has also written books on television commercials and new-products management, but most of his writing efforts aren’t related to the ad business. He wrote his first novel when he was 18. The book went unpublished, but Wainwright refused to be deterred and hasn’t been by the failure of his other novels to find a publisher. He did write a movie screenplay that was produced under the title Together for Days, as well as a “female Western” that has been optioned twice but never produced.

Two years ago, Wainwright turned out his most recent novel, The Treasure. The tale is set in the Superstition Mountains outside Phoenix, where Wainwright and his second wife, Mary Beth, once lived. “It’s about the Lost Dutchman gold mine,” says Wainwright. “It’s been fondled by several publishers, but never published.”

Wainwright’s omnivorous appetite for new, exciting projects has been his trademark for years. One night in 1961, he was reading Caesar and Christ, a volume of Will Durant’s monumental series, The Story of Civilization. Bowled over by the sweep of Durant’s work, Wainwright was seized by an idea. “Why doesn’t somebody put this on film?” he asked himself. Wainwright wrote to Durant and, to his surprise, received an offer to visit the famous historian in Los Angeles.

“I was 25 or 26, and I had to explain to rum that I didn’t have the money to come out right then,” Wainwright says. “I did get out there about six months later. We talked, and he agreed to give me an option on the book. I told him I didn’t have much money. He asked me if I had a dollar and gave me a year’s option on the book for a dollar.”

For a year, Wainwright fought to raise money for the project, writing to Walt Disney, David Wolper, the Ford Foundation and many other potential backers. But the young man had bitten off too much. “It was such a massive idea,” he says. “I couldn’t do it.”

But the story didn’t end there. Years later, while living in New York, Wainwright got a call from Durant, who asked if he would try again to bring The Story of Civilization to the screen. This time, Wainwright had to decline. “I told him I thought I could do it. I was older and knew more. But 1 would have had to quit my job to give the project the time it needed, and I couldn’t quit my job.”

You get the feeling that Tony Wainwright doesn’t like turning down tough jobs and doesn’t do it very often. He certainly didn’t shrink from jumping in to help Howard Putnam, an old friend and client, when Putnam’s Braniff International was spiraling into its final nose dive.

The Bloom Agency had worked for Southwest Airlines from the carrier’s early days. But when Howard Putnam left Southwest to try his luck with ailing Braniff, Bloom went with him. “We made the decision to cast our fate with Howard and with Braniff,” Wainwright says.

When Braniff hit the panic button in late 1981, Wainwright, the man with the extra time, began showing up at Braniff headquarters at 5 o’clock each morning. He’d work there until noon, when he’d drive to the Bloom Agency and put in another full workday. In the final days of Braniff, Wainwright became part of the airline’s senior management team, taking over most of the marketing functions and struggling to keep Braniff in the air.

Wainwright did what he could, including convincing Braniff to offer a two-for-one ticket sale in Febuary 1982. It was a desperate attempt to muster quick cash, and it worked-temporarily. But in May 1982, the weight of debt proved too much for Braniff. Wainwright, philosophical in defeat, doesn’t regret the eight months of grueling service that left him in the hospital with a severe stomach condition.

“It’s a testimony to the people who worked on the deal that we were able to keep it alive for nine months,” he says. “When Howard Putnam walked in there, they had something like 13 days of cash available to run a billion-dollar business. We felt that saving a business as important as Braniff would be something worthwhile. Obviously, we were representing them, but there was more to it than that. We had 12,000 jobs on the line. It was the single most emotional experience I have had in my business career.”

On a bookshelf in Wainwright’s office, a scale model of a Braniff jet reminds him of one of his few losing battles. But he doesn’t live in the past. Right now, he’s free-associating about patterns of consumer behavior, the rabbit detectives in his Seven Seas salad dressing ads and that mysterious stuff called creativity-an adman’s life-blood.

“Some people have the innate curiosity and the ability to take an idea and move it in different directions,” he says. Wainwright constantly uses himself as a laboratory for studying consumer behavior. “When I buy something in a store, I try to track myself back. Why that product? I was influenced by something, but does it correlate with ads? Giveaways? Something else? That’s what I want to know.”

Given Wainwright’s track record, don’t bet he won’t answer that question.

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