Boise ad-agency founder retires, partner takes over

Bill Drake, who founded Drake Cooper's parent company in 1978, phases himself out of the business © 2014 Idaho StatesmanMarch 19, 2014 

  • Just like being on television

    Bill Drake draws similarities between the TV series "Mad Men," which is about an ad agency in the 1960s, and his own early years.

    On the show's depiction of women and minorities in the workplace:

    "That's the way it was. I remember when I was told, 'Bill, the office is open at 9. You need to be here by 8:30 so that Marilyn can get your coffee for you and so that you can give her some early dictation, so you'll be ready when calls start coming in. It was very segregated, very lily-white. The show is a remarkable appraisal of the times, and it's about 80 percent there on the business."

    On the prevalence of smoking, a constant on the show:

    "Everybody smoked. I smoked Pall Malls, green. They were my brand. Your brand of cigarettes really told a lot about who you were."

    On the show's boozy lunches:

    "Even when I came back with Davies, we regularly had double martini lunches. I was a skinny kid, so I learned to drink dry sec on the rocks. Davies asked, 'Drake, what the hell are you drinking?' It looks like bourbon, but it's dry sherry and has a lower alcohol content."

Bill Drake remembers his first bosses in the Boise advertising business at Cline Advertising as old, stodgy and out of touch.

Now 70, Drake shows off the new-world features of the Drake Cooper office he helped build: amoeba metal artwork, recycled metal sheeting turned into magnetic bulletin boards, the meeting table with a ping-pong net, the company crest with a deep-sea diver pushing an octopus in a baby carriage. Drake doesn't brag about the modernity of the agency with his soft voice or slight gestures. He beams with the loving way his eyes move around the place.

Drake said he has kept current by leaning on the creative and tech-savvy young people working in the office, none more than his successor and CEO, Jaime Cooper. The agency has had several names since its founding to reflect different ownership interests: WR Drake & Co. when Drake founded it in 1978; Elgin Syferd Drake in 1987 after the agency merged with a Seattle firm; ES Drake after Drake bought out the partners; and Drake Cooper when Cooper bought into the company in 2006 on the agreement that he'd take over.

Cooper was the force behind the company overhaul in 2007, which included moving from Jefferson Place to what is now the Drake Cooper Building, creating a sparse, orange-accented logo and moving the company more heavily into Web design and services. Cooper was also behind many of the artsy and casual features of the new office that Drake loves.

The employees pictured on the company's online roster are largely a collection of stylish 30-somethings, more of them wearing flannel or sweatshirts than coats or ties. Drake Cooper doesn't have a dress code, and its employees can work their 40 hours each week whenever the hours best fit their schedules.

Drake says this new way of doing business is better than how things were done at Cline Advertising and at his second employer, Davies Rourke Advertising.

His retirement party is April Fool's Day - because, he jokes, the office is never really getting rid of him.

On his crash course before starting his first agency job:

"I was selling advertising at a small radio station, WYNE, a 500-watt daytime station with a signal out of Meridian. I'd finish early and go down to Ann Morrison Park or Julia Davis Park at noon and read books on advertising, marketing, designing. Then I'd read at night and repeat it the next day. That's how I spent my summer. I read everything there was, such as 'Confessions of an Advertising Man,' and 'Castle's Handbook,' and everything else, so when I walked in the door Sept. 2, 1969, at Cline Advertising, I was ready to go. And I realized, after all that forced study, that a lot of the guys there were really old-fashioned. They didn't get it."

On the culture at Cline:

"You know Scrooge and Marley? It was like that. Everyone had an office that led to a main hall. They weren't proactive at all. We'd just do what our clients told us to do, by God. The attitude was very different then."

On moving to Davies Rourke in 1974:

"I went there and thought, 'You've got the same old art directors that Cline has. You've got to get some fresh talent in here. My talent is going to be wasted as well.' Then they hired Jerry Choat. He left when I did and started Omni Studio. He was a great art director. God, he had a good eye, and his work was just stellar. He and I got along like Jack and Jill. Jerry and I turned out a lot of great work. Pretty soon, we were winning awards."

On starting to make money at Davies:

"At Cline, I made all of $7,000 in salary. I remember getting a bonus of $400 and thinking, 'Wow. This is really great.' At Davies, I was probably at $11,000 a year. But because we had this cash cow called Albertsons, we got quarterly bonuses."

On being told by agency owner Ken Davies to enter a series of Home Federal Savings television ads into an ad contest for the previous year when the series was technically produced in the current year:

"I said, 'Ken, we'll know we cheated.' He said, 'Hell, nobody will know. Stick it in.' So we did, and we won. There was no integrity, and it still bugs me. If you don't have integrity, you don't have much."

On naming his company W.R. Drake & Co. - for William Roy Drake - when he started as a one-employee agency:

"I've always felt this industry was about relationships, and I didn't need some name that people wouldn't understand. I'd been in the market for about a dozen years, and I'd won a lot of awards, so a lot of people welcomed my new agency."

On his regret over pursuing a $3 million West One Bank account without telling his clients at Idaho Bank and Trust, a smaller competitor. They read about Drake's bid in Ad Week magazine:

"I chickened out. I didn't have integrity. Once the article hit the magazine, I got a call from my client at Idaho Bank and Trust and he said, 'You son of a bitch. At least you could have told me.' It was awful. It was a classic mistake and a lesson well learned."

On losing $1.7 million on an account with On Tour Events and filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to reorganize after his lawyer advised him to file for Chapter 7 and liquify all assets:

"He said, 'You're 57 years old. Only 7 percent of people come out of Chapter 11.' We were out in seven months because the rest of the business was fine. We didn't lose one client. Not one. The only medium that refused to do business with us was the Logan Herald. We didn't need the Logan Herald anyway."

On fielding offers to buy the agency before accepting a bid from Cooper in 2006:

"We negotiated for seven months like two porcupines mating, trying to understand one another. I realized he was a man of great integrity with a great work ethic, was smart, motivated, high-energy and had technology down. I thought, 'This is too good to be true. I've hit the lottery for CEOs.' "

On retirement:

"It's time. It's a young person's business anyway. You need agile thinking, and for the most part, young people are more agile thinkers."

Zach Kyle: 377-6464Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle

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