The promotional ideas that advertising agencies produce are a meld of creativity, marketing, salesmanship, strategic thinking, and media knowledge. But within this mix is another potent influence for gaining and holding accounts and making the client/agency relationship productive. This element is the personal relationships that agency leaders develop within their organization and with their opposite number on the client side. Norman Cooper, well versed in the advertising disciplines, added this personal dimension to his dealings with clients and colleagues, and this ability made for an outstanding career.
Company executives and those who worked with him use different language to describe the strong interpersonal talent that was central to Cooper’s effectiveness. Marcia McLaughlin, who was a beginner in medical advertising under Cooper at KPR and is now president of Centron, says of him, “The thing that’s made Norman most successful is really the way he deals with people. More than anything, he is fair and honest and has a tremendous amount of integrity. People recognize that, whether they’re clients [or] people who work for him, he’s somebody who you just want to be with.”
“If you ask me what makes Norman unique,” says Milton Loeb, who knew him as his account person when he was an ad manager and subsequently worked with him at KPR, “I would have to go to my thesaurus and the word that would pop up would be integrity. This is what the man is made of…not only with fellow workers, but I believe that our clients picked this up. They knew they were going to get a day’s work out of this man and an honest day’s work.”
And this was the case as recalled by Alan Steigrod, a former executive vice president of marketing and sales at Glaxo, a KPR client, who adds to this assessment of Cooper: “He was straightforward. He was “straight speak.” He told you things good and bad. If there was a program that he felt was a mistake for the agency, he’d discuss it with you. If he felt that there was a mistake internally at Glaxo, he’d tell you. That kind of advice is invaluable.” With this mandate of trust, Cooper was an effective leader at KPR.
Cooper’s background as a writer was appropriate when he joined KPR, where the founders were creative talents John Kallir and Warren Ross (copywriters) and Jerry Philips (an art director). However, as Loeb recalls, “When KPR hired Norm as a copywriter, they also hired him because of his ability to know and understand the marketing of pharmaceutical products. And this helped to complement their strengths in writing and creativity. This was one of the major forces, I think, that helped to grow KPR into the agency that Norman brought it up to. He kept hiring more people with marketing expertise. He saw that [was] the way to go.”
Within Cooper’s profile, other qualities have been noted. For example, McLaughlin notes that he was “cool, calm, collected…leadership by example.” Robert Croce, a J&J executive for whom Cooper worked for years characterizes him as “likable…a pleasant, caring man [who] treated people in a first-class way.”
However, under Cooper’s smooth, friendly exterior was also a compelling competitive spirit. According to David Chapman, a top CommonHealth executive who knew him at KPR, he possessed a passionate instinct to win. “I think what drove Norm,” he says, “was clearly the idea of making KPR the single most successful agency. We were going to win and be bigger and we were going to grow. We set out and really did everything we could to make it number one.”
Cooper’s competitive drive extended beyond advertising. Loeb remembers a pick-up basketball game with Cooper: “He always had it. Proof is we had a meeting at a hotel, and we decided to set up a little basketball. I was shocked at the drive. He wasn’t the tallest man on the court, but there was a drive that he had that showed us he wanted to win. He wanted to win as the agency of record for every company as the best, and, of course, you may have heard he likes the track. He likes to win there, too.”
Michael Mazzei, a founder of the West Coast agency Baxter Gurian & Mazzei for whom Cooper worked when he was an ad manager at Riker, tells about a day at the races with Norm: “He wanted to go to Santa Anita in Pasadena. He liked to play the ponies. It was a wonderful afternoon. But what struck me was that he bet on a horse and he won…but he was sad about it! And I said, why are you sad? He said it didn’t win by enough. The horse should have done better. A reflection on himself that he always pushed to do a better job. Certainly, for me and Riker, and I guess for his other clients.”
Cooper’s goal of achieving leadership in medical advertising came in 1991 when KPR was the largest Rx agency in the US with him serving as the agency’s CEO.
In his 30 years at KPR, Cooper was the agency leader on successful programs for many upper tier Rx companies such as Glaxo (antibiotics, anti-virals, and asthma products), Ortho (oral contraceptives, dermatologicals, and biotech brands), Janssen (anesthesia and psychotropic products), Roche, Syntex, and Merck. He was an early public voice for conversion to fee compensation with a 1981 article in Pharmaceutical Executive entitled, “Does the Commission System Still Work?” He is also credited with integrating KPR into the Omnicom network.
Alan Steigrod sums up Cooper’s most important characteristic: “Number one would be honesty. Number two would be creativity. And number three would be total openness regarding what’s good and what’s bad.”
Finally, Marcia McLaughin: “He would not stop at anything to win, but at the same time, he would do it in a way where he treated people well. He was fair to people. He never hurt anyone, and he brought people along with him for the win. He didn’t want to win alone. He wanted to win as a group.”