Medical advertising leaders have left their imprint by changing how we promote products and express brand messages creatively, as well as by adding media and analytical innovations to pharmaceutical marketing. Some members of the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame not only accomplished great things, but also had a strong personal influence on those who worked with them. Their philosophy and style in handling the work and managing their people shaped attitudes within their agencies. They are remembered as much for their ideas as for how they dealt with the confounding failures and heartening successes that come with Rx advertising. Sylvio (Sal) deRouin was such a person.
Sal was a creative director at Rolf Werner Rosenthal (RWR) who produced advertising that changed MDs’ prescribing habits. At the same time, he was the kind of person who changed the way those he touched—especially young people—looked at themselves, their work, and their lives. The example he set is still being felt in the careers of creative directors and agency executives in the business today.
For instance, Jed Beitler, chairman and CEO Worldwide at Sudler & Hennessey, has this to say about deRouin: “To me, Sal was not just a business mentor. I learned a lot from Sal…about how to view the world, not necessarily in agreement with him, [but] a strong perspective on the world and his views on the business world, as well. He was one of the first people to get me to appreciate the need for finding the core and running with it.”
Brendan Ward, creative partner at Regan Campbell Ward, on deRouin’s influence: “The most important thing I learned from Sal was how to stay relaxed. Advertising is a terrible business…deadlines and unexpected client miseries and you’re really not the master of your fate. I learned from Sal that if you’re relaxed, you could actually do it. You can actually get through this thing.”
And finally, from Marjorie Vincent, creative director, Harrison and Star: “Sal was very comfortable in his own skin. Sal was always himself. He didn’t put on acts for clients. He told them what he thought about the creative product and about his creative vision…and they listened to Sal. He spoke to them in very plain language and he didn’t put on airs.”
From the aristocratic sound of his name, the time he had spent at an ad agency in Paris, and his stint as the designer of a Palm Springs, California magazine, one might have expected Sylvio deRouin to be in the aesthete school of creative directors. But his style was defined by his nickname.
Says Philip Brady, co-chairman of CommonHealth, “I don’t think I’ve called him Sylvio more than 3 times in my life. He was Sal! There are certain individuals and that’s who they are. He’s a nuts and bolts guy. A down to earth, honest person who tells it like it is. I mean, the name was made for Sal. Sal is Sal!”
Vincent adds this about his personality: “He was very irreverent. Sal loved to have fun. And there was a lot of bawdiness. Those were the days before one had to be too worried about being politically sensitive or politically correct. We played football in the halls. We tackled each other. We told dirty jokes. There was a lot of laughing…a lot of irreverence. And we had a lot of fun.”
Office high jinks also included a miniature golf course to create the “relaxed” atmosphere deRouin believed in.
Rolf Rosenthal opened RWR in 1970 with deRouin, Charles Riegle, and Ron Souza as partners. If Rosenthal was the intellectual leader, then deRouin was the creative heart. The agency built on its first client, Burroughs Wellcome, to grow rapidly with such top-flight accounts as Lederle, Marion, Boehringer Ingelheim, Schering, American Home, and Squibb. RWR became a major competitor among medical agencies and its pace of new business was remarkable. RWR campaigns under deRouin’s direction launched such important products as the HIV drug Retrovir, the interferon Intron-A, the anti-infectives Zovirax, Pipracil, and Septra, and the anti-anginal Cardizem.
The product icon that deRouin created for Cardizem demonstrated his practical approach to brand imagery. Communicative effectiveness was deRouin’s goal, and graphic artistry was secondary to making the product’s message clear and memorable. The symbol for Cardizem that he proposed to Marion was a construction worker’s hardhat as an emblem of the product’s message of safety.
Brady recalls the client presentation: “Sal found a true positioning to set Cardizem apart in the yellow safety hat with the words ‘Safety First’ emblazoned on it. When we presented it to the people at Marion, you could have heard a pin drop. It wasn’t because they loved it. It was because they felt that a safety hat was a blue collar image that they didn’t want associated with their premier product, Cardizem. But Sal and others convinced them it was the right way to go, and it was successful. It became part of Cardizem for the life cycle of the brand…and that was magic. That’s what agencies strive for. Sal had the ability, more than most, of finding that magic in a brand.”
In the nomination for Sal deRouin submitted to the MAHF, a number of industry executives contributed recommendations for his election. As evidence of deRouin’s influence on the leadership of the industry, these included (in addition to those quoted above): Thomas Harrison, chairman and CEO, Diversified Agency Services, Omnicom; Susan Roessner, formerly an associate creative director at RWR; Rolf Werner Rosenthal; and Larry Star, CEO, Harrison and Star.
Looking back on working with deRouin, Star wrote: “With Sal, what you saw was what you got—genuine style. Sal valued talent of all kinds. He got jazzed up by wood turners and wordsmiths, photographers and fashion designers, chefs and cinematographers. He would seek out young staffers to find out what was hot, what was wow, what was today. He would store it up like a rechargeable battery, waiting for the right time to discharge the juice. His work was unmistakable. Sal’s design had graphic power and vocal range that moved from the tranquil symmetry of a Japanese rock garden to the steroid intensity of a Captain America comic.”
Sal deRouin retired in 1990 and now lives with his wife, Lenahan, in Charleston, South Carolina.