Illustration credit: A.E. Kieren
From the moment he started setting up shop on the floor of his mother’s living room as a 10-year-old and redrawing the ads he saw in Time and Look magazine, Mike Lazur was destined for a career in advertising. But unlike many of his colleagues, it didn’t take him long to hone that career goal.
“My mom got me the catalog for the School of the Visual Arts and I remember going through the pages,” he recalls. “‘Are you interested in print production?’ A little. ‘Copywriting?’ Not as much. ‘Pulling it all together?’ That was the one that grabbed me — doing it all, start to finish. I was 16.”
Lazur laughs after retelling the anecdote, but its point resonates: Even when his peers weren’t thinking beyond the weekend, Lazur was sweating the details. That attentiveness followed him through a career in which he presided over one of the pharma world’s truly venerable agency brands.
“‘Advertising’ has become a dirty word in our business,” Lazur explains. “Now, it’s ‘marketing and communications,’ but I hear that and think, ‘OK, communications — that’s Verizon and the cable companies.’ Advertising is what we do. That’s nothing we should feel the need to walk away from.”
Lazur looks back on his 35-year career with a similar degree of pride. His first job out of school was with consumer shop Papert, Koenig, Lois toward the end of its heyday.
While he considered his work on brands such as Prince Matchabelli perfume and the Triumph TR7 — “a horrible, horrible car” — ideal learning experiences, Lazur wasn’t sold on his commute into New York City. A colleague recommended Thomas G. Ferguson Associates, then a fledgling shop that operated out of a small office in New Jersey.
“I asked what kind of accounts they had. My friend said, ‘They do medical stuff — lots of blood and guts.’ I thought, ‘Why not?’” Lazur recalls.
He became the agency’s first full-time art director and stayed for half a decade, then parlayed his reputation as one of the healthcare world’s up-and-coming talents into a post at Klemtner Advertising.
Looking back, Lazur views his time there as his “real training ground, because it was a little bigger than what I was used to. At Klemtner, there was never any, ‘Can you wait a few weeks for your paycheck?’”
Lazur has no lingering resentment about any such requests. In fact, he looks back on the professional risks he took with something approaching fondness.
“There was never one instant where I thought I was walking into a sure thing,” he says. “I always had the attitude that I was marketable. It was usually a question of enjoying where I was working.”
Lazur had the best of both worlds by the time he and longtime professional partner — and MAHF class of 2011 inductee — Joe Torre evolved Salthouse Torre Ferrante into Torre Lazur. He was fulfilled professionally — the company’s innovative work on behalf of Paxil and Zantac elevated it onto the agency world A-list — and found great personal satisfaction in mentoring the industry’s next wave of advertising pros.
“I hope my legacy will be that I helped grow and develop a lot of great young professionals who have gone on to become real leaders,” he says.
After the agency was sold to IPG in 1996, Lazur ascended to the post of North American regional director and chief creative officer, worldwide, and turned his attention inward. In the wake of the aforementioned drug debuts, Lazur pushed to brand Torre Lazur as “the launch agency.” Asked about other agencies making similar claims, Lazur scoffs. “We own that tagline. We have the proof to back it up.”
About a decade after the Torre Lazur acquisition by IPG, Lazur departed and retired at 57. He admits the motivator for his decision was the work “wasn’t as much fun as it used to be.” And while Lazur says “you couldn’t drag me back to work,” he has only the best wishes for the current generation of pharma ad people.
“It’s a tough business today. There are so many different vehicles, and there’s so much government restriction,” he explains. “I feel for the young people coming up. I hope it will be as exciting for them as it was for me.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized Lazur’s work on Loxitane. He worked on the brand at Klemtner, not at Torre Lazur. In addition, Lazur was a partner at Salthouse Torre Norton, not a founder.