American Copywriter salutes Phil Dusenberry

Dusenberry8Former chairman and CCO of BBDO, Phil Dusenberry, passed away on December 29th after a battle with lung cancer. He was 71. In 1999, Ad Age ranked him 31 on their list of the century’s most influential advertising people. He was a bona fide advertising luminary. His lofty titles and achievements disguise the fact that he was, throughout his career, a copywriter’s copywriter. Dusenberry’s work is the stuff of legends including Pepsi’s Michael Jackson spot and Ronald Regan’s Morning in America commercials. He penned a few screenplays, too, most notably The Natural. An apt description for Dusenberry himself in the context of his chosen profession.

When I was in college I interned in the corporate communications department of Pizza Hut, Inc. When it came time for the big franchisee convention, I got plopped down in some back room of a Wichita Marriott hotel making last minute changes to speeches for the Pizza Hut execs. I was pecking away (on an original Mac BTW) when I heard someone say, "Hi Phil!" I turned and saw Dusenberry sweep through the room. He was there to present BBDO’s new crop of spots to the franchisees. I punched "save" and stole into the darkened hall with everyone else. I really wasn’t supposed to be there but no one hassled me. The room was electric. Advertising is a big expense and franchisees pay much of the bill. Hundreds of eyes locked on Dusenberry as he took the stage. From word one, he owned that room. With his white hair, whiter teeth and power suit, Dusenberry was the definition of an "ad man." He deftly introduced several spots to the crowd that afternoon including (if memory serves) the classic "Right Field." The crowd loved it. And him. It was a lesson to me. An advertising contract is a potent mix of money, power, politics and creativity. Yes, it’s always about the work, the work, the work. But a little showmanship never hurts.

Here’s to you, Mr. Dusenberry.

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