Frank Corbett founded his advertising agency in 1962, in Chicago. Naturally, he’s identified with that city, but his career in pharmaceutical marketing had its earliest beginnings in New York City. It was there that he was a teenage delivery boy for Cut Rate Drugs. Corbett grew up in Manhattan, attending parochial and high school there and also Columbia University where he earned a degree in pharmacy in 1938. In 1941, he went to work as a sales representative for Upjohn. After 2 years of calling on physicians, he left to gain retail sales experience with Rexall Drug and then, in 1944, he joined the marketing department of William R. Warner.
When a 1946 merger resulted in downsizing at Warner, Corbett moved to a unit of the Lambert Company in California. Another corporate consolidation found him uncertain about his future with the company. When an opportunity came to join a newly formed advertising agency in Chicago, he went to the Midwest in 1951 to begin his career in medical advertising.
The agency was Jordan Sieber. Corbett’s sales and marketing experience proved valuable background in advertising and he advanced rapidly to become a partner in 1956. The agency was renamed Jordan Sieber Corbett. By 1962, Corbett left this partnership for another, establishing Frank J. Corbett, Inc. with his wife Dolores as creative director and a partner in the new agency. Their first account was Westwood Pharmaceuticals. Baxter, Lakeside, and Eaton were soon added to the FJC roster.
The Corbett agency, with Frank in a hands-on role, helped build such leadership brands as Keri Lotion and Fostex for Westwood, Synthroid for Flint, and Bronchometer for Breon. He was innovative in the use of feedback mechanisms in direct mail; for the sales force, he experimented with a Super 8 Kodak film shown by representatives to physicians in their offices that made Beecham’s Amoxil, for a time, the top-selling antibiotic in the US. Influenced by the key role of Dolores Corbett in operations, the agency was in the forefront in advancing women to positions of authority. In a memorable first in the history of our business, Frank J. Corbett, Inc. was the first medical agency to be acquired by a large consumer advertising agency. In 1972, BBDO purchased Corbett, establishing a precedent which has become a significant ownership trend in our field.
Corbett’s years in pharmacy, field sales, company marketing departments, and in running an advertising agency, gave him practical insights into all aspects of pharmaceutical promotion and an unusual perspective on developments in the market. He was the “complete professional” who put his personal knowledge to work for his clients with energy and creativity. In operating his agency, he ran a “tight ship,” but at the same time, was known for his warm sense of humor, the friendly work environment he created, and his polite, gentlemanly manner. He cared about his staff, seeing the BBDO acquisition as a mean of assuring the continued growth of their careers.
Long after he had relinquished operational responsibilities, he maintained an office at the agency and kept in touch with the business. He formally retired in 1997.