For 46 years Ken Lavey exerted a strong creative influence on medical advertising. He worked at only three agencies—L.W. Frohlich, Lavey/Wolff/Swift, and Lyons Lavey Nickel Swift—but his talent and personality radiated throughout the industry.
Lavey was from Palermo, California. It’s a small town in the wine growing region north of Sacramento. He graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts and then came to New York to obtain a degree from Pratt Institute.
In 1949, he was hired as an art director by L.W. Frohlich & Company in time to be part of the boom in pharmaceutical advertising which occurred in the 1950s. He was a major creative force at LWF, eventually becoming creative director, as the agency grew in the next 2 decades to become the largest Rx agency in the world. At Frohlich, Lavey was involved with a range of pharmaceutical companies: Parke-Davis, Schering, Mead Johnson, Ortho, Ames, Miles, McNeil, Roche, and Wallace.
In 1972, when the agency dissolved following Frohlich’s death, Lavey was a founder with Bruce Wolff and John Swift of Lavey/Wolff/Swift. He was responsible for the launch campaigns which L/W/S conducted for such notable products as AZT (Burroughs Wellcome) and Tenormin (Zeneca).
In his long career, Lavey either personally produced or supervised literally thousands of advertisements and promotional pieces. His sense of design and appreciation for quality graphics infused this great quantity of work, helping to set a high standard for the industry. His influence, however, went beyond the work in that, over the years, he came in contact with hundreds of artist, writers, account persons, and client executives on whom he left his mark by his advocacy of the creative spirit. Ken’s impact was also felt in the training he provided to young designers, many of who went on to productive careers in pharmaceutical and consumer advertising.
In a field noted for flamboyant salesmanship, Lavey “let the work speak for itself.” He was direct, without artifice—a quality that endeared him to clients. He was a tall man, over 6’3″ with a Lincolnesque gentleness that was seen in the consideration he gave to his colleagues. He also had an unlimited capacity for creation. Anyone who worked with him will recall how at the key moment he would take charge of a presentation and, hunched over his drawing board, sketch in broad strokes the direction the work should take, usually creating the central campaign idea himself.
Typical of a career filled with productive work, Ken Lavey never retired. He was vice chairman at Lyons Lavey Nickel Swift until his health began to fail. He died in 1996.