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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  A Seattle State of Mind: Eighty Years of Cole & Weber

A Seattle State of Mind: Eighty Years of Cole & Weber

Posted on January 9, 2012 and read 5,300 times

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brettcreditpic A Seattle State of Mind: Eighty Years of Cole & WeberBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2

2011 seemed to have been a year of milestones in the advertising industry, at in our neck of the woods. Back in September we at IHAVEANIDEA celebrated our own tenth anniversary, and throughout the year a number of our agency friends also hit the big one-oh: La Comunidad in Miami and Buenos Aires just turned ten, and both John St. in Toronto and MMB in Boston turned ten earlier in the year.

So when I got a call from Mike Doherty, President of Seattle’s Cole & Weber United — and one of our favourite west coast shops — and he said that they were also celebrating an anniversary of their own, I thought “Cool! Just like us!”

It turns out it would only be “just like us” if this was the year 2081.

Yes, Cole & Weber had achieved a milestone that few other agencies had reached: an astounding 80 years in business. DDB? Ogilvy & Mather? Leo Burnett? None of these legends have been around the block as long as that little Pacific Northwest shop, founded as Wilkins & Cole Advertising in 1931 by Mac Wilkins, Arlyn Cole and George Weber.

Now truth be told, I don’t think I knew that Seattle had been around for eighty years, much less a thriving ad agency within that city. And while we know that advertising in the Cascadia region doesn’t end with Portland superstars Wieden + Kennedy, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that it doesn’t begin with them either. And when Mike invited me to see how an octogenarian like Cole & Weber gets down on its birthday, I thought it would be great for me — and the IHAVEANIDEA community — to learn a little more.


Most agencies celebrate their anniversaries with a party of some sort, and the more years they are feting, the bigger the shindig. In the case of Cole & Weber’s 80th anniversary festivities, however, they didn’t just want to pop some corks and paint the town (although that too would be in order). They also wanted to really showcase the agency’s history, and to educate the current staff about a history that stretches back further than even the most senior veteran on the roster.

To this end, an entire day of events was scheduled; the office was ‘closed’ to normal business, and instead the modern-day Cole & Weber team was sent into a time machine of sorts, with vast archives of work from the past eighty years being taken out of storage and put on display.

These were no digital copies of ancient print ads, these were the real deal: faded, yellowed copies of just about every execution the agency ever created. These early Cole & Weber ads truly captured both a region and an era that was very different than it is now. Modern day Seattle may be all Amazon and Starbucks, but in the 1930s and 40s the city’s top industries were rooted in forestry, and ads for everything from plywood to boats and other wood and paper products were prevalent amongst the Cole & Weber archives.

As great as it was to see all of the old magazine and newspaper ads, and to catch video glimpses of Cole & Weber’s early broadcast pieces — including over 2000 TV spots and national campaigns for historically important Seattle companies Boeing and Alaska Airlines — the main highlight of the day would be not one but two speaker panels made up of past Cole & Weber executives going as back as the 1950s. Yes, the Cole & Weber staff would be hearing from people whose careers pre-date Don Draper’s!

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The morning speakers panel was made up of both creatives and account executives who had stellar careers at Cole & Weber and went on to continued success at other agencies and companies. This esteemed panel included Scott Bedbury, CEO of Brandstream; Jim Elliott, CCO of Y&R; Ted Baseler, CEO of St. Michelle Wine Estates; Stuart D’Rozario, Co-President, ECD of BarrieD’RozarioMurphy; Steve Johnston, Partner of Uppercut; and Ron Saltmarsh, a San Fran based freelance writer and CD.

As you can imagine with such a group of industry veterans, there were plenty of stories about their time at Cole & Weber. The mood was light, and so we heard tales of purple pants and puffy shirts, of field trips to visit the internet, of Montana chugs in Mexico and of high speed car chases through the streets of Tacoma. While there were a few adventures the members of the panel didn’t wish to discuss — at least not until they had a few drinks in them later that evening — there was a real sense that Cole & Weber had been an incredibly crazy place to work over the years.

“I believe the fun and vibrancy that makes Cole & Weber great is rooted in the DNA of the Pacific Northwest,” says Scott Bedbury, who is no stranger to the region; after his days at Cole & Weber, he went client side to help Beaverton, OR’s Nike develop “Just Do It” and transform Seattle’s Starbucks into an international brand. “There is a true rebel spirit here, a desire to do something different. I can’t see how you can be creative and innovative in a place like, say, San Diego. You need to be in a place that appreciates the hell out of sunshine!”

Ted Baseler, who left Cole & Weber to lead Chateau Ste. Michelle, the region’s most prestigious winery, agrees with Scott assessment. “This part of the world s filled with very passionate people, and it’s apparent both in the ad world and Cole & Weber, as well as in the world of wine. Both fields deal with science, art and creativity, but it’s all underscored with the passion of the human element. Passion is what has always driven this agency.”

“Looking back, Cole & Weber has always been about the people,” says Jim Elliott, when asked to reflect on what his time at the agency meant to him. “There was a great sense of openness and collaboration. This was the first agency where I saw a true ‘all hands on deck’ approach. This led to everyone having a common purpose, and it was a tremendous amount of fun.”


After a splendid lunch where everyone got to sift through the arhives a little more, we were on to a second speakers panel, this one entirely made up of the people who shaped the creative vision of Cole & Weber over the years, the CDs. Joining current C&W ECD John Maxham and holdover from the morning panel Jim Elliott was Ron Klein, David Ayriss, Lloyd Wolfe (a name tied to some of the crazier exploits discussed in the earlier panel) and David Levy, plus Seattle legends Hal Newsom and John Brown. You see, while most of the others on this panel worked at Cole & Weber from the 1980s to the present day, Hal and John’s illustrious careers stretch back to the 1950s, and Hal served as President and CEO for an amazing 33 years!

With a panel such as this, you just knew there would be plenty of nostalgia to absorb. After all, Hal had been retired longer than some of the panel had been CDs, or even before a few of the audience had been old enough to walk! And wow, he did not disappoint! Hal had a particularly sharp memory when it came to talking about when he first met and hired others on the panel. “I hired you over breakfast,” he exclaimed to Lloyd Wolfe. “You had sausages and eggs!” “I couldn’t get any grits!” Lloyd laughed back in his Southern lilt.

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By the time the second panel wrapped up, the sun had started to set in the west and Seattle’s familiar rain clouds began to form. There was no gloom on this crowd, however, as everyone was psyched from the wit and wisdom on display that afternoon. The entire agency was shepherded into waiting vehicles for the final leg of a long and eventful day, a Cole & Weber “Brew Ha Ha” held at Elysian Fields, a popular brewpub just south of the downtown area. The beer flowed freely as the doors were opened not only to Cole & Weber staffers past and present, but to the entire Seattle advertising community — which of course is made up of many former staffers the same way a Goodby dominates San Fran or Leo Burnett is to Chicago: in Seattle, Cole & Weber United is the advertising community.

Not bad for an eighty year old.

Thanks to Mike Doherty, John Maxham and Britt Peterson for welcoming IHAVEANIDEA to share in their amazing anniversary. See you at 90!




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