Rolf Rosenthal came to the US from Germany when he was 8 years old. His family lived in Cleveland for a time and then moved to New York where Rolf went to Brooklyn Tech, Queens College, and, for graduate work in literature, Columbia. After 2 years of service in the Army during the Korean War, he continued his education in Europe at universities in Vienna and Innsbruck.
Returning to the US, he broke into advertising as a “copy cub” with a small consumer agency. In 2 years he was copy chief. Answering a blind ad for a copywriter, he was interviewed at McAdams and hired, entering the world of medical advertising. He moved up to senior copywriter and then switched to account work. After 13 years at McAdams, he left to found Rolf Werner Rosenthal Advertising (RWR) in 1970.
Rosenthal’s founding account was Burroughs Wellcome’s Empirin; other clients followed and, over the years, the agency created important promotional programs for such products as Pipracil (Lederle), Cardizem (Marion), Atrovent (Boehringer Ingelheim), and BW’s Septra and the antiretrovirals, Zovirax and Retrovir (AZT).
Contributing to RWR’s success was the agency environment Rosenthal created to encourage contributions from all employee levels. He sought input on the agency’s work from everyone in the organization and set up mechanisms to foster group dynamics. Employees from secretaries to group supervisors were incentivized. The working atmosphere at RWR is fondly remembered by those who worked there.
Beyond management innovations, Rosenthal was the first medical agency to conduct ongoing advertising, direct mail, and PR programs promoting itself. Rosenthal also abandoned the practice of giving clients expensive gifts at the holidays and, instead, made contributions to the Save the Children Fund. He, personally, gave his time to the Allergy Foundation and the Thomas A. Dooley Foundation/Intermed USA program.
Rosenthal retired in 1989.