Medical Advertising Hall of Fame: Lasting Legends

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From left: Charles P. Daly, Albert G. Nickel and Ernest Smith
From left: Charles P. Daly, Albert G. Nickel and Ernest Smith

The Medical Advertising Hall of Fame's three new members have had exceptional lives and careers. We look back at their achievements

Charles P. Daly

1960s Joined Medical Economics in 1962. After an ad world stint, he returned to The Medical Economics Co. as a publication manager before becoming publisher of Medical Economics
1970s-80s Promoted to EVP and then CEO of The Medical Economics Co. When Litton Publications acquired The Medical Economics Co. in the late 1960s, he was named CEO. Thomson acquired Litton in 1981, making him chairman of Medical Economics Inc.
1990s Upon “retiring” in 1991, he taught and advised students in NYU's Masters of Publishing Studies program, co-authored a college textbook called The Magazine Publishing Industry and started a consulting business focused on leadership-development training. He held a business administrator position at New Providence Presbyterian Church
2000s Named president of the board of Family Connections, a NJ-based social services agency

Renowned for adhering to strict principles of publishing ethics, Charles P. Daly made many significant contributions to his industry. Beginning as an ad salesman at Medical Economics in 1962, he rose to become publisher of the title, then EVP, CEO and chairman of its holding company. Along the way, he helped grow The Medical Economics Co. from a family-owned business to a major force in healthcare publishing; elevated Medical Economics to the premier brand in its category; developed and launched numerous additional healthcare titles; and mentored legions of publishing professionals, many of whom became industry leaders themselves.

“He was a stabilizing influence on our industry,” explains Jack Angel, former EVP of The Medical Economics Co. “Some positions the publishing industry took to ensure readership and reader satisfaction [were at odds with] advertisers. It would be very easy to give in and do whatever they wanted, but… Charlie was unwilling to do that. Consequently, he. . . gave the rest of the publishers cover to say, ‘We're not going to do it, either.'”

Carroll Dowden, a Medical Economics colleague, recounts a story illustrating Daly's refusal to compromise, even when a major pharma advertiser threatened to pull its ads—and did. “The company eventually returned, on Charlie's terms,” says Dowden,. “In the meantime, Medical Economics enjoyed record revenue, even without its largest advertiser.”

Daly's daughter, Elise Daly Parker, currently editor of HM Exchange, says people were her dad's top priority. “He knew everyone from the mail room to the board room on a first-name basis,” Daly Parker says. “He believed everyone deserved respect.”

Daly, who passed away in 2009, is remembered by colleagues and family as having a great sense of humor. Maintaining a familial internal culture was important to him, and he carried forward the spirit of the family-owned business even as ownership changed.

Angel says he has sought to emulate several of Daly's leadership qualities, including his decisiveness and his practice of sharing a drink with employees in his office at closing time while discussing goings-on in their personal and professional lives and inquiring as to how he could improve the company.

Before joining Medical Economics, Daly spent 13 years in sales and management training at Shell Oil. He left the magazine for a two-year stint at healthcare ad agencies Klemtner and Robert A. Becker in the mid-1960s before returning at the request of owner Bill Chapman to turn around RN, which was losing money. Within one year, RN was generating a $100,000 profit.

After Chapman retired in 1973, Daly became CEO of The Medical Economics Co. A number of titles were added to the portfolio, including Hospital Physician, PDR, Drug Topics and The Red Book. He also launched Medical Laboratories Observer, Diagnostic Medicine and demographic editions of PDR.

From 1975 to 1981, Daly was CEO of Litton Publications, which acquired The Medical Economics Co. in the late 1960s. He oversaw numerous healthcare titles, textbooks, trade books, several consumer titles, and began mechanizing delivery of PDR.

Thomson acquired Litton in 1981 and named Daly chairman of Medical Economics Inc. The book companies were sold, and Thomson invested heavily in healthcare. Daly concentrated on development and acquisition, bringing into the fold a number of products, including veterinary magazines, healthcare newsletters, dental magazines and Patient Care.

After retiring in 1991, Daly taught in NYU's Masters of Publishing Studies program; co-authored The Magazine Publishing Industry, a widely used textbook; worked as a church administrator; and coached executives. He was also immersed in work as president of the board for the New Jersey nonprofit Family Connections, and he served as the primary caregiver to his wife, who suffered from Parkinson's disease.

“Charlie had so much to teach about the pharma industry, the publishing industry, and about Medical Economics and its standards, which were in my humble estimation the standard for the industry,” Angel says.  —Tanya Lewis

Next page: Albert G. Nickel

Albert G. Nickel
1960s Started out at Pfizer
1970s Joined USV International, then went to the agency side at J. Walter Thompson. Later he became a founding principal of Dorritie-Lyons
1990s Dorritie-Lyons became Dorrite Lyons & Nickel. He took the helm as president and COO
2000s Named co-chairman at TBWA World Health, then chairman of LLNS Healthcare Communication

As co-founder of Lyons Lavey Nickel Swift (now LLNS), he is best known as “the consummate client service professional.” That legacy is as distinctive and personal as Albert G. Nickel the man.

The industry in which Nickel's people and business skills blossomed isn't what it used to be. “I think it was completely different than it is now,” he says. “Now, there's so much pressure on profits and margins. I don't think it has the same feel as it did before. ”

Nickel began his career as a market research analyst for Pfizer. The job came through a campus recruiter whom he met after graduating from Indiana University in 1967. “I joined Pfizer for two reasons; one was New York City, which gave me a sort of a thrill,” he reminisces. “It was also a different business than I knew about or even considered—prescription drugs were not something on my menu at the time.”

His menu would expand. “There were other interviews, but I felt [the healthcare industry] was much more of a learning environment,” Nickel says. Indeed, his time at Pfizer would become the teachable moment of his career: “That's when I really learned the health business. They taught me the language, therapeutic categories, specialties, and all the terminology that goes with our business.”

Nickel then went to USV International as a product manager, which expanded his international experience and proved helpful when he became co-chairman of TBWA WorldHealth in 2002.

In the early 2000s, LLNS became a part of holding company Omnicom. The turn of the 21st century also saw measured media spend for DTC pharma advertising really take off, with LLNS right in the thick of things. “My favorite part of the industry was my last stop with our own agency as part of Omnicom,” Nickel says. “It was a fantastic experience, and we got into DTC in a big way. We grew into a global entity with healthcare communications around the world.”

During his time on the agency side, Nickel helped launch such brands as Zoloft and Celebrex for Pfizer, and Bayer's Cipro. “All of the drugs I worked on…offered specific challenges,” he says. For Zoloft, the challenge involved communicating mental illness. “It's unsolved and unspecific compared to treating an infection with Cipro,” he explains. “With depression, it's much more difficult to treat, and treat specifically.”

These days, Nickel keeps active, both through sports and through his association with such non-profits as Washington and Jefferson College, the Wilton Family YMCA and the Visiting Nurse and Hospice Organization. And even in his retirement, Nickel's legacy reverberates within the agency he helped start, explains Sharon Callahan, president and CEO of VUE Group (a mini marketing network that houses LLNS and three other Omnicom shops): “Al's key contribution to our industry was knowing the value of a great culture. The culture that Al created at LLNS recognized and maximized the talent of its people and created unprecedented business results.”

What's his advice for young professionals looking to make their own mark? Stay the course. “There will always be something positive in the future,” Nickel says, “and you have to be aware of that. Sooner or later, it will come along if you keep working toward it; you just need to be persistent in getting there.” —Kevin McCaffrey

Next page: Ernest Smith

Ernest Smith

1950s Started work at Sudler & Hennessey as a designer. He later became creative director
1960s Herb Lubalin, who hired Ernie at S&H, lured him away to form Lubalin, Smith, Carnase, Inc.
1970s After leaving the business to manage a resort, he returned to work with Lubalin
1980s Rejoined S&H in 1980, retiring in 1989

Whenever one asks members of the medical-advertising community about a legend of the business, the responses come across as canned and predictable. The individual in question was a “genius” who “practically invented this thing that we do” and “innovated practically every minute."

But when one asks former peers—including his ex-wife, a co-worker at Sudler & Hennessey for several years after they divorced—about Ernie Smith, their quick-hit impressions are very different.

Respondents toss around the expected plaudits—appropriate, given his creatively prolific 30-year tenure in the business—but they speak first about Smith as a person. They note his intellectual and creative generosity, applaud the eagerness and interest with which he mentored younger staffers, and recall how he treated the janitor the same as he treated marquee clients. In short, they remember a big shot who never acted like one.

“Ernie was one of the originals in this business,” says Robin Davenport, creative director of Sudler and S&H division SentrixHealth, who worked under Smith as a junior copywriter. “There was nothing at all intimidating about him, except the degree of his talent.” Adds Fay Barrows, a longtime Sudler employee and the mother of his three children: “He was a very natural and honest guy. There was no artifice.”

Smith's disinclination to proclaim his creative bona fides, in fact, might be why the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame is only now getting around to enshrining him. “Lots of people who were big on talking about themselves and putting their names on doors have been recognized,” says Louisa Holland, Sudler's co-CEO, the Americas, who first encountered Smith when she was a young account person. “That wasn't Ernie. He didn't blow his own horn.”

Which isn't to say that Smith lacked reasons to do so. He won scores of Art Directors Club awards and Gold Medals, working with med-ad luminaries (Herb Lubalin) and pop-culture icons (Andy Warhol) alike. At every professional stop, he was the “ideas man,” the rare individual who didn't traffic in what Holland refers to as “the borrowed metaphor. With so many people, it's like, ‘Here's a picture of a butterfly—how can we make this make sense in the context of the product?' Ernie didn't go into art or photo books. Nothing was borrowed. It all came out of his head.”

One such idea, the “Benadryl Fathead,” is identified by med-ad pundits as one of the industry's transformative images. To depict the respiratory scourge that is nasal congestion, Smith dreamed up and created the image of a wheezing, comically overinflated face—a hugely complicated task in the days before Photoshop. “You looked at it and you knew exactly what the image was trying to say,” Barrows notes. “He could always tell a story without words.”

Smith was no less fascinating outside the office. He pursued his interests vigorously, especially jazz (the Smithsonian now hosts his collection of jazz films) and black dance (he contributed to the Dance Black America Festival and donated works to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). Barrows recalls a short silent film he created with a friend, in which he played a German World War I fighter pilot and she was drafted into service as a Dietrich-like muse. “He was a renaissance man,” she says.

Smith's greatest legacy may be that he was incapable of not sharing his talents and interests. After retiring, he returned to Sudler's offices regularly to give lectures about the histories of the agency and the business. “One of the benchmarks for the Hall of Fame is, ‘Would the industry be different if the inductee hadn't been a part of it?'” Holland says. “Between his work and his interests and the way he influenced the next generation as a teacher, the industry would absolutely have been different without Ernie.” —Larry Dobrow
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