Francis Gace was born in South Africa and graduated as a Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) from the University of South Africa. After graduation in the late 50s, like many of his compatriots-of-the-day, he headed to London to attend the famed St. Martin’s College of Art and Design. He gained the coveted AAPA (Association of Accredited Practitioners in Advertising) Diploma and was recruited by the blue-chip advertising agency J. Walter Thompson.
After meeting his future wife, Claire, in London, they returned to South Africa where he joined a small, independent agency in Johannesburg and was entrusted with handling the agency’s flagship account, Datsun Nissan Motors. However, as agency chief Tommy Young warned him at the time: “…You’ll also have to handle Burroughs Wellcome – it’s a pharmaceutical account and nobody else wants to work on it!”
Far from being deterred by the complexities and restrictions of pharmaceutical marketing, Gace was enthralled with the challenges of Pharma and in his own words said, “ I caught a bad attack of Medicine!”
Significantly, during this time, he met his future British partner, Clive Lewis, who became his client at BW. Two years later Gace joined the South African affiliate of what was to become Merrell Dow and then moved to today’s Sanofi, where he spent several valuable years developing his inherent creative talents, as Director of Advertising and Marketing.
The high caliber of the creative work he produced for many of the multinational’s brands including Syndol, Tenuate, Bentyl and Bendectin, won Gace South Africa’s premier advertising award sponsored by The South African Society of Marketers. His campaigns were adopted by Merrell affiliates around the globe, including the USA, and, as a consequence, in 1975 he received an unprecedented promotion, moving from a relatively small subsidiary at the tip of Africa to become the Advertising Director of the Merrell’s U.S domestic operation with global oversight for new brands.
After several years on the client side, in 1984 Gace was lured back to the agency side, becoming Senior Vice-President, Client Services, under Larry Lesser at Medicus in New York where he handled several of Merrell’s brands, as well the professional promotion of P&G’s Crest and related brands.
During the mid-80s Gace lead the movement into ‘DTC’ promotion, particularly with brands like Nicorette and Seldane which preceded the popularity of DTC/and DTP initiatives by almost a decade.
In the late 80s Gace reunited with his old friend and ex-client, Clive Lewis, in co-founding Lewis & Gace. With 11 major account wins in a single year, the firm became Agency-of-the-Year in 1991. The fledgling agency attracted major clients like Merck, GSK, Lilly, Genentech, Novartis, Roche, Astra, Schering AG, and Pharmacia with their uniquely elucidated approaches to Global Pharma Brand creation and Gace’s deep experience with DTC promotion. In fact, Gace’s pioneering work in this field led him to recommend to Merrell’s Nicoderm brand team that they should run TV commercials during the 1992 Super Bowl. This million dollar media buy for a Pharma product was the first of its kind and was unheard of at the time!
Inevitably, with its tremendous success, the agency became a target for acquisition. In 1995, Lewis & Gace was acquired by Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhart. BJK&E was acquired by True North, which, in turn, merged with The Interpublic Group, in 1997. During this time Lewis Gace Bozell Worldwide grew to become the fourth largest specialized medical agency in the world.
After an illustrious career, Francis Gace retired as Co-Chairman of LGB in 1998 and now lives with wife Claire in Bainbridge Island, in Washington State, where he has become an accomplished sculptor and portraitist.