5 – External Communications Program – 1898-1984
5 – External Communications Program – 1898 to 1984
The external communications program of A.G. Becker & Co., particularly included its advertising and public relations activities. However, the program, also encompassed research reports, service brochures, other marketing materials, and annual reports (all in attractive formats); notices of transactions (so-called “tombstones”), written proposals, the hosting of and presentations made to gatherings, speeches, cassette tapes, along with the general demeanor of employees in client interactions, all together created a strong A.G. Becker “brand” over the years. This “sub-story” within the overall Becker Chronicle is interesting, informative, and entertaining, as reviewed below.
The Advertising Programs
In many ways, the firm’s advertising programs mirrored what was happening simultaneously within the firm, and in the investment world in general. The programs break down into a number of time periods.
Period: 1898 to 1929
The first known newspaper advertisement of the fledgling A.G. Becker & Co. was published in the Chicago Tribune on the last day of 1898, when the firm was a little over five years old. The advertisement was part of, and right near then end of, the Chicago Tribune’s “Annual Review of Chicago Business.” Most of the newspaper page for this Review was taken up by the year-end advertisements of Chicago's major banks, with the amounts of their capital and surplus in large, bold print, paired with a listing of their key officers and their board members. The Becker ad - perhaps 2 ½ inches square - appeared in the far right column near the bottom of the page. Other than “Commercial Paper” in bold font, the ad promoted “Collateral Loans” and “Cattle Paper,” two types of paper apparently at the time handled by Mr. Becker, but about which otherwise little is known. These dealings in rather unique obligations are never mentioned in any later advertising or reports about the firm. The ad lists the address of the business at the time - 199 LaSalle Street.
The next known “display” ads of A.G. Becker & Co. were in the Tribune,and were also published on the last day of 1904 and 1905, and then again for 1909, as part of the Tribune’s Annual Review. As in the case of 1898, the ad was small, and the text modest. On this occasion, the ad solely promoted “Commercial Paper” in bold black print on a white background.
In the next seven years, the name A.G. Becker & Co. was regularly appearing in the advertisements of the syndicated public financing of various issuers and securities, especially bonds and preferred stocks. However, despite a number of careful searches, until 1916, the firm apparently placed no ads solely promoting the firm’s services and capabilities.
During this time span, however, various forms of publicity did appear. The Schaffner Bank depositor repayment program was sometimes mentioned; Mr. Becker’s charitable contributions and volunteer services in Chicago’s Jewish organizations were reported. Mr. Becker's early support of the new Chicago Symphony and the Chicago Opera were noted. In addition, his work with the Westinghouse readjustment committee received national notice, as did his involvement with Chicago’s banking leadership in addressing the nation’s currency and credit situation. Lastly, he was occasionally quoted as to his analysis and view of short term interest rates. All these matters provided occasional, favorable, and free publicity for the Becker business.
In 1911-13, A.G. Becker & Co., as sole underwriter, appeared for the first time under the advertisements of the managed public offerings by Hart, Schaffner, & Marx; the American Rolling Mill Company; and U. S. Gypsum Co.
In 1915, the firm’s name appeared as co-manager/underwriter and distributor of the German government financing described in the main story. In 1916, Becker was listed as a distributor in the advertisement of the Willys-Overland Convertible Preferred Stock financing, and in 1917, as a co-manager of the Hupp Motor Car Convertible Preferred Stock offering. The firm received prominent exposure with the larger scale Tribune ad announcing the Chicago office move in April, 1917. In this ad, the A.G. Becker & Co. logo was slightly italicized for the first time.
The first restoration of the simple “poster” ad of 1909 was not until in the January 5, 1917 issue of the Tribune. “Commercial Paper” was advertised above the italicized “A.G. Becker & Co.” logo, under which the office address was given. The ad was well positioned in the upper right hand corner of the page with a strong headline effect of “A.G. Becker & Co.” in large bold font.
Period: 1920 to1929
The advertisements of syndicated financings listing “A.G. Becker & Co.” as a participating underwriter picked up in 1920 and throughout the advancing decade, starting with the October, 1919, advertisement of the $40 million First Preferred Stock issue of Goodyear, and then the October, 1920, the $50 million offer of one-to-three year Serial Gold Notes by Sears, Roebuck, in which Becker was a co-manager in each syndicate. Well over 100 underwriting syndicate display advertisements in the ten year period 1919-1929 included the firm’s name as a co-manager or participating underwriter, and these “tombstones” typically appeared in both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.
It is interesting to note that in the Chicago Tribune advertisement of the Sears financing, the three co-managing Chicago banks - First Trust & Savings, Continental and Commercial Trust & Savings, and Illinois Trust & Savings - are listed on the top line, then, under them, on the second line, Goldman Sachs & Co., A.G. Becker & Co., and Lehman Brothers. In the New York Times advertisement, the three “pure” securities firms are listed on the top line in the above order, and the three Chicago banks are listed under them, on the second line, in the above order. “Tombstone appearance protocols” were already emerging!
The particular advertising programs of Becker during the 1920-30 decade were unique, interesting, and eye-catching. The decade started with the firm’s small ad in the December 29, 1919 Tribune, when in addition to “Commercial Paper,” the phrase “Investment Securities” was added. The year 1920 was marked by a large number of prominent syndicated financings in which Becker participated. In the January, 1921 issue of the Tribune appeared the first real “institutional” advertisement of Becker with the long headline - “Sinking Funds Aid Marketability and Strengthen Security” - below which were three paragraphs of text and a listing of three bond issues which had sinking funds and which the firm recommended. The “block font” logo was still being used. This ad was followed by a similar one in May, including a long list of corporate and municipal bond issues being offered subject to prevailing prices and prior sale.
Starting in June, 1921 and running on five additional dates over thirty days, the firm published six institutional type ads of the same format, entitled “A.G. Becker & Co.” (in block font) and under that, italicized, “Bonds,” and in small print under that, on the left, “Short Term Notes” and on the right, “Commercial Paper.” Each of the six ads has a different text message, as shown in Jun28, Jul26, Jul21, Jul14, Jun30, and Jul28. Interspersed with the appearance of these six ads were two ads with very similar formats offering specific bonds of the Republic of France and of Swift & Co.
Starting in early May, 1922, the firm adopted a new format for its ads, along with a new, highly italicized logo. As to the new format for Becker ads, the logo appeared below the text and off-center to the right. Goodyear and Net Income . Under the logo was the Chicago (or New York) address and phone, and a list all other office locations. In the lower left hand corner of the ad, in small print, sometimes, was an invitation to request a circular with more complete information. This format for firm advertising - which we might label the “1922” format - was used for about twelve months, until a new format appeared in February, 1923.
We might pause and ask, What was bringing about this new emphasis on firm advertising? Why this development of fresh and eye-catching formats? Copy of an “educational” or “instructional” nature? A new distinctive logo? In business today, this would be called a “branding” program? Why was this taking place now?
It will be remembered that starting about this time, Mr. Becker was rapidly expanding the Chicago sales force and had just recently opened a New York office. The emphasis in both locations was on the sale of short and longer term bonds. It is also apparent in the archives that the firm began to retain advertising agency services about this time, and the bills were sent to the attention of a new hire, Joseph Levin, a very bright young man right out of the University of Chicago.
The archives suggest that Joe Levin was assigned the oversight of the firm’s advertising program. He clearly brought to his work a great deal of creativity and a willingness to try new approaches. As an example, starting in February 15, 1923, a new theme with a new format appears in Becker’s Tribune ads - an “American Industries” theme. The ads include an educational message in a small vertical frame to the right, with the Becker logo, address, telephone, and office list in a horizontal frame under the message frame, to the left. In the background is an illustration of some aspect of “American industry.” Bonds and Banks. This series of ads appeared for some four years (well into 1927) including, in part, in a hybrid of the “1922” format incorporating an illustration along with text.
Starting in October, 1924, and running, with little modification through mid-1927, the firm regularly published a larger scale ad with the headline, Safe Investments . Under this heading were listed, by category: Corporation Bonds, Railroad Bonds, Foreign Government Bonds, Federal Income Tax Exempt Bonds, Short Term Notes, and Commercial Paper (no listing of commercial paper issuers; just a mention that “many names” are available). Later, the list combines Corporation and Railroad Bonds. In early 1927, the list is entirely made up of Preferred Stocks, and in June that year, for the first time, the list includes six common stocks. In 1928, the heading Safe Investments was succeeded by the heading Sound Securities for Investment.
In early 1925, and into 1926, four “institutional” Becker ads appeared in the Tribune without a headline, but with a very strong first sentence in the copy. Extent and More than Half. As a reminder, the text of these first ads is quoted in the Chronicle, as they were published just before the death of A.G. Becker. These ads are a clear enunciation of the philosophy of the founder; in fact, the copy may well have been drafted or edited by Mr. Becker. The other two ads of this series were published after Mr. Becker’s death, the third very shortly thereafter, and the fourth in early 1926. He may well have had a hand in drafting or editing these ads also.
It is interesting to note that the third ad, first published on June 9, 1925, must have been a “favorite” of Bob Schaffner and Joe Levin, as this ad was republished, word-for-word, on seven separate occasions between June, 1925 and November, 1928.
In late 1925, a short series of three ads appeared with the common headline, Changing America, but each with three different text messages. This format was not repeated, but the messages may have been symbolic of the recognition within the firm of the significance of industrial growth in America. Agriculture was being replaced by industry as the centerpiece of the U. S. economy. This shift was resulting in the rise of the broad ownership of businesses by the public through common stocks as investments.
In 1926, the firm initiated a new form of ad, which we might called the “Quotation” ad. This was a series of four ads each of which featured a quotation by a prominent source (for example: Andrew Carnegie; the Supreme Court; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Cecil Rhodes) in which a quotation was tied in with and used to bolster a text message.
In late 1926, the firm published a fresh series of six ads with the common headline “Money and Business,” and the sub headline, “A summary of current financial, commercial and industrial conditions of pertinent interest to investors.” As was noted, each of these ads promoted a publicly available report and forecast of economic conditions. They were probably drafted by Dr. David Friday, the new economist for Becker. They were designed to convey interesting and valuable economic information and to promote the image of Becker’s professionalism. The last such report was in August, 1927 and may have led later to the firm’s extensive 1929 advertising messages about sound common stock selection, and in August, 1928, to the first quarterly Investment Bulletin. (See Appendix 7).
Starting in early 1927, and running well into 1929, a new series of ads appeared, with a common heading, “Financing American Industry.” These ads were targeting the CEO and CFO of businesses which Becker might serve as investment banker. Each ad had a sub-headline naming a business client of the firm and a short story about the financing carried out to date for that company by A.G. Becker & Co. This series of ads featured companies served by Becker: Hart, Schaffner & Marks; Hammermill Paper; U. S. Gypsum; Wildebeest's; Interstate Iron & Steel; Penick & Ford; Alfred Decker & Cohen; Edgewater Beach Hotel; Hupp Motor Car Co.; Central Coal & Coke; Monsanto; Inertial Rubber; Auto Strop Razor; Acme Steel; and John Morrell.
Contemporaneous with the above ads – also seeking new corporate clients - was a four ad series in 1928 entitled “Sound Corporate Financing.” These ads trumpeted Becker’s dedication to sound corporate funding, suggesting that at the time there were, in Becker’s opinion, some emerging financing practices which were unsound.
Finally, as noted in the basic chronicle, the firm began in mid-1927 to research, sell, purchase, inventory, and promote “conservative,” “sound,” and relatively “safe” common stocks. By 1928, dealing in common stocks, especially with and for individual investors, but increasingly with trust departments and other non-bank institutions, was becoming a growth avenue for Becker. In this connection, a whole series of 1929 advertisements-- from January through October-- were published; they preached diversification, knowledge, conservatism, patience, and other more capital-preservation investment practices. As a reminder, these ads preceded by just months the great stock market decline of October, 1929. The headlines of these ads and extracts from their copy appear below. As mentioned earlier, the copy of these advertisements is a primer on excellent investment policy for individuals and trustees.
"When You Buy Stocks"
(January 30, 1929)
“More people have been investing money in common stocks than ever before. They have felt that in a growing country like the United States an ownership in well managed enterprises should prove profitable over a period of years . . . An investment based on this premise is sound providing, of course, the choice of stocks is a sound one. . . A strong long-experienced investment house can be of service to you (with) specialized facilities for conducting investigations . . . its judgments are based not only on the available facts but also on long experience in finance and investments . . . We recommend stocks for investment not because they are acting well on the tape or because a pool is said to be active in them but because. . . we have decided that they are worthy of our recommendation as investments . . .”
"Buy for the Long Pull"
(February 12, 1929)
“The argument for the purchase of common stocks as investments is based on the premise that as the country grows, sound well managed concerns should grow with it. An ownership interest in such companies should, therefore, prove profitable. . . It is obvious that if stocks are purchased on such a basis they must be thought as investments to be held for some years. Only over a period is there time for the anticipated growth to take place. The practice of buying a stock for a quick profit is, therefore, inconsistent with the whole principle of buying stocks as investments. And, furthermore, the records show clearly that the real benefits of the expansion of American business have gone to those who have disregarded the possibility for quick profits in favor of the long pull developments . . . We sell stocks and bonds for investment. When we recommend a stock we do so because we fell that the company whose security it is has possibilities over a period of time. We want investors to buy the stock because they have confidence in the growth of the business. We want them to buy to hold in order that they may really benefit from the growth.”
"On First Principles"
(March 14, 1929)
“The basic principle of diversification dictates the inclusion in an account of all the forms of investment, and the determination of the exact proportions involves a nice balancing of all the factors in the individual situation.”
"A Question of Balance"
(March 16, 1929)
“In the general enthusiasm for common stocks, some investors have lost sight of . . . the basic principles of sound investment . . . Consideration of income, diversification, and safety dictate the inclusion of an investment account of senior securities with a fixed rate of return . . . Sound bonds and selected preferred stocks . . . add strength to an investment structure . . . The current high price of money has made fixed income-bearing securities particularly attractive.”
"When You Invest"
(March 29, 1929)
The investor has available to him an almost infinite variety of investments -- common stocks, preferred stocks, investment trust securities, bonds of all descriptions, domestic and foreign . . . A market tip sometimes makes him the owner of stock in a company (about which) he may know nothing except the name and line of the business . . . Bonds (that) are cheap (lead) to the purchase of a few that seem attractive . . . A new investment trust finds him on the bandwagon . . . and when all the enthusiasm wanes, he has an investment account that does not reflect . . . needs . . . nor opportunities. . . (with this) ever-growing complexity . . . a strong and intimate investment connection . . . (with) a seasoned and responsible investment organization . . . is more useful than ever before . . . “
"A Factor of Importance"
(April 11, 1929)
“There are advantages to an investor in a close connection with a long established investment house. . . (particularly when the house) offers a list of securities broad enough to meet practically (your) every investment need . . (we) can recommend the security exactly fitted to the investment requirement . . (and desired) diversification. And every recommendation is based on a thorough investigation of the security and of the business and prospects of the (issuer). It has been our privilege to serve several thousand banks and individuals during the past 36 years (and) we welcome the opportunity of placing the experience and facilities of this organization at your disposal.
"The Whole Story"
(June 19, 1929)
“An investor may accumulate a great deal of information about a company, all of it accurate, and still be in no position to formulate a profitable line of action . . . because the facts more difficult to obtain are usually the very ones that have the most important bearing on the company’s future. The old rule of thumb does not hold good for all businesses under all conditions. Through its ability to get all the facts, to interpret and to accord to them their proper significance, an experienced investment house can be of very great service to its customers.”
"Foundation Principles Still Count"
(July 18, 1929)
“The security of an investment structure as well as of a building of steel and stone depends largely on the solidity of its foundations . . . The basic strength in investment accounts is best assured by securities that meet the highest standards of safety -- namely high grade bonds. . . These principles are well known (and worth recalling) when exciting developments in the stock market are causing many to overlook their importance . .. especially (when at present the) bond market is decidedly a buyer’s market. . . A combination of circumstances has made bonds unusually low in price at the present time.”
"The Underwriting Background of an Investment Security"
(September 12, 1929)
“Whether the investor always realizes it or not, he has as vital a concern in the facts about the origination and distribution of a security he buys . . . Public financing of a corporation’s requirements must be sound both in conception and execution, if the investor’s interests are to be properly safeguarded . . . Much is involved in underwriting an issue. . . A thorough . . . analysis to determine . . the exact form of the issue . . a fair offering price. . .wide placement . . a continuing interest in the Company’s affairs. . . (we have had) long and comprehensive experience (and are equipped) at all points to serve the interests of the investor.”
"Common Stocks as Investments"
(October 25, 1929)
“The common stock of a company represents the ownership of that company. If the business is sound and its earnings grow, and investment in its common stock will increase in value over a period of time. . . Market fluctuations, however violent, do not affect the intrinsic investment value of a common stock. With the inevitable growth of our country and its industries, the investor who includes sound common stocks in his permanent investment account will share in that growth.”
Period: 1930 to 1944
The above form of “investment policy” ads continued into 1931, following the pattern of the examples earlier presented. However, some new formats for the firm’s advertising began to appear in 1930. A variety of approaches began to be utilized over this very difficult two year period.
Within days of the ad on August 8, 1930, as above extracted, the firm published a series of “Art Deco” advertisements starting with “Crows Nest." There must have been a serious internal discussion about this type of ad given its unique and very “institutional” and “modern” design aspect. This series included some 20 ads over a period of 24 months. Here are some additional samples: Art, World, Markets, and Partners. The agency which provided Joe Levin with the design, copy, and placement of these ads was Needham, Louis, and Broody, an up-and-coming, Chicago-based agency.
This series of ads was submitted into the annual national Bok Awards advertisements competition sponsored by the Harvard Business School. The Becker ad “Markets on the March" as selected by the Bok Awards jury (including leading HBS marketing professors), from among some 10,000 submissions, as the winning “Advertisement Distinguished for Its Effective Use of Typography.” The Award was presented at a national gathering of some 100 persons prominent in the field of advertising. The Award was received by Joe Levin on behalf of the firm and Needham Brorby. The large awards book presented to the winners is archived at Newberry.
In parallel with the Art Deco series, a series of five advertisements under the basic headline “Sound Investment” appeared and ran from October 10 through December 10, 1930. Each ad (Oct10; Dec10) told a thoughtful investment story; here is the first and the last of this mini-series.
Some of the ads in this period, picking up from occasional past practice, promoted particular securities or groups of securities.
Promoting the Investment Bulletin. Becker’s Investment Bulletin continued to be published quarterly during this difficult period, and some ads promoted the latest issue, available upon request. The Bulletin provided overall, “macro” recommendations to the confused investment world: Jan8-1930.
Some ads had a new sub-headline: “What A.G .Becker & Co. Offers The Investor.” This new format apparently didn’t “take,” and thus was discontinued shortly after being first tried.
The last Becker ads during this very confusing and disruptive period were published in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune in late 1931. The different themes suggest an uncertainty within the firm as to what kind of advertisement would help or awaken a very subdued, if not distraught, investment community. The variety also suggests that in light of the expense of advertising, the practice itself was being examined. The conclusion must have been to curtail advertising. After many years of creative advertising in the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, a careful search for Becker ads in these primary media comes up with no entries from 1932 through 1944.
Period: 1945 to 1964
As noted in the main Becker story, this was a period of joining the NYSE and entry in a big way into the equity securities business. It was also the period during which James Becker, like his father in 1912, decided to expand the professional staff by hiring a range of younger men (not many women, yet) in sales and corporate finance. It was also a period during which the range of services offered by Becker’s innovation and risk taking began to flourish.
As to firm advertising during this period, it was what might be termed “rudimentary. It missed the creativity and consistency of Joe Levin and a good ad agency.
Starting in early 1944, and continuing through 1945, Becker ads appeared every week or two in the Chicago Tribune and, a few days later, in the Chicago Sun - consistently using the same ad and format - four inches wide and three and one half inches high. These ads variously promoted recent underwriting issuers ("prospectus available on request"), or research reports ("memorandum available on request"), or corporate finance services, or War loans, or just the overall services capability of the house. Becker used the same ad format and with diversified topic and copy on into 1946-1948 but only on a quarterly or specific event basis.
In November, 1945, with the War now over, Becker published a series of three advertisements over four weeks targeting the corporate Chief Finance Officer. Solution, Markets, Timing. Clearly, Becker was back on a peacetime program to build its corporate finance business.
In late 1949 and into 1950 the firm initiated a fresh advertising series promoting its common stock services - research reports on selected equity securities (such as the common stock of Marshall Field & Co). The ads featured a headline in white script in a black box at the top of the ad, and at the bottom, A.G. Becker & Co. in white placed in a similar black box - with copy in between. One of these ads apparently appeared about every two weeks, one two columns wide and the other three columns wide, both nine to ten inches high- thus quite prominent on a newspaper page. Example. These ads promoted the Becker & Co. New York Stock Exchange partnership and mentioned in fine print the affiliation with A.G. Becker & Co., Incorporated. For the first time, the Wall Street Journal was used as a medium.
Very abruptly in mid-1950, picking up on the "white font on black background" theme reported above, and continuing a few months into 1951 - in what now looks like an experiment - the firm placed "strip" ads in the Tribune, exactly one inch high and presumably running all across the bottom of a newspaper page. "A.G. Becker & Co." appears in prominent white block font on a black background, taking up the left two thirds of the strip, with some copy on the right one-third. "Gaudy" and "distasteful" are words that might appropriately describe this peculiar format. Maybe that is the reason this series of ads had such a short life.
There was apparently very little advertising in 1951-1952 after the above aborted series. However, in December, 1952, a new approach was initiated and was carried forward for some eight years, into early 1961. All ads in this long-running series were two columns wide and about seven and one-half inches wide, with a headline, below which was copy, and then either the partnership or corporate logo in white font on a black background (as was done in the two earlier ad series). The headline/copy/logo were encircled with two black bold arrows. Example These ads appeared in the Tribune, and were followed by somewhat smaller but regularly published ads in the Wall Street Journal. The subject matter of the ads (headline and copy) ranged from research reports on specific securities or on industries, to how population trends would affect particular companies. One Becker ad in 1956 invited an inquiry by interested parties in purchasing a substantial minority interest in the Chicago Cubs, a "famous Chicago institution."
In the meanwhile, as the firm had relatively high organizational growth during this period, there was an increased flow of advertisements of officer promotions, persons joining the firm, shareholder elections, etc., along with a growing number of tombstones listing Becker as an underwriter.
Period: 1965 to 1969
As noted in the main Becker chronicle, at the prodding of Kingman Douglass, Jr., then head of the Chicago area corporate finance new business effort, the firm decided to do some advertising, to “raise the awareness of the firm’s history, growth, professionalism, competencies, and extent of services” especially in the Chicago corporate and investment community, including individual investors. Out of this decision, as summarized in the main chronicle, Ben Laitin, a freelance copy writer was retained. Ben worked with and placed ads through Draper Daniels, a small Chicago agency founded by Myra Janco. Rather promptly, Dan came up with the main slogan for the four year, consistently executed, advertising campaign: “The Man from A.G. Becker is always worth listening to.” The media which were used were primarily the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, but also Time and Fortune, and selected other national circulation publications, such as the Harvard Business Review. Over the period of the campaign, some 40 “Man from Becker” ads appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and then in parallel, in the New York Times – about once a month. In the author's memory, that was also about the periodicity of ads in Time and Fortune. The ads in the national magazines were of course selected to be those more directed to officers of corporations and investment institutions. The author has only access to the archives of the Tribune and the Times, but the flavor of the whole campaign is evident from the copy of the various ads below reviewed.
The Draper Daniels agency must have had especially good relations with the Tribune staff because the Becker ads typically dominated a full page of otherwise small items, providing little competition for the reader's attention.
The campaign kicked off with a bold ad in the Tribune on March, 1965. Starting with this ad, “The Man from A.G. Becker” began to be a very intriguing and distinctive person around Chicago. (The NY version is shown; the Chicago version can't be located).
This original format for series or ads was used consistently over the next four years. The reader’s eye was attracted to a “catchy,” large font, shadowed headline, using “open-width” letters, with a slight relief, followed by “folksy” text. Sometimes in an almost power-point logic, with the Becker logo, offices and addresses centered below, and under all that, at the very bottom, across the ad, the campaign slogan: “The Man from A.G. Becker is always worth listening to.”
Linked into the following paragraphs are examples of ads used in this campaign. Almost all the ads reflect exceptional creativity – space limitations do not permit presenting the full collection which, however, is in the Newberry archives. Also, almost all the ads which appeared in the Tribune and Times and are available on the internet in the archives of those newspapers.
Some ads began to promote certain long standing services of Becker, such as commercial paper. The “Found Money” ad was the first of this type, published in the Tribune in mid-May, 1965. But the main theme, “The Man From A.G. Becker is always worth listening to,” appears at the bottom of each ad.
Shortly after the first ad, the original purpose of the campaign came out in the Tribune with an ad offering some “biased but sound” advice to Midwest companies. This was a memorable ad. Flirt. The author is confident that when published it was a subject of more than one lunch discussion at the Chicago Club – and at the Wall Street Club. The ad appeared again in the Tribune in November.
One of Ben Laitin’s greatest accomplishments as a copy writer was to come up with a headline (and an event) which “drew you in” - to read the ad, and to think about the message – especially if the topic of the ad was novel. A good example of this creativity was the ad in the Tribune in August, 1965. Keenest Financial Minds. This was followed by an ad in December. What Happened? .
The kickoff of the New York campaign took place in January, 1966, using the same ad as was used to start the Chicago campaign in March, 1965 – except now Ben Laitin was placing “The Man” slogan in a box, right in the middle of the advertisement. The author’s guess is that the placements in the Wall Street Journal, Time, and Fortune started about this time. "The Man" is Here.
Ben was well informed when he learned that women made up an important segment of Becker’s prospective personal investor clients. Woman with $100,000. Ben also knew first hand that behind the man from A.G. Becker was, in many cases, a woman. "Woman Behind the Man" And in case the reader didn’t know anything about the “Man from Becker,” here was the profile.
More broadly, what about "A.G. Becker as whole? What is the firm like? Is It True?
Now that the “Man from A.G. Becker” was more widely recognized, a small, more randomly placed ad would carry on the campaign’s main theme, in between traditional placements, and with less expense. Small Ad.
Harking back to ad copy which A.G. Becker himself might have drafted, and certainly to the drafting of Joe Levin and Rob Schaffner in the late 1920s, Ben Latin understood the basic optimism of almost every investor but also understood how those ambitions needed to be tamed with reality and with some fundamentally good advice in June, 1966. "Plain Talk."
In his many interviews with Becker personnel, Ben realized that “discretion:” was a primary concern and condition in client relationships, a tenet followed in all departments of the firm. "Man is Discrete."
The management change within Becker which took place in 1967 was announced and supported in a clever ad by Master Laitin. "Young Fogies." Another clever headline and copy dealt with the professionalism and service as opposed to size "Colossus'"
Becker had the general policy of providing specific research reports only request, and not through its general advertising program. However, there are exceptions to all policies. "Research." As noted, the firm began to provide a name of a person to contact to receive a report and from whom a followup call would come.
Working off the established format, but with a few “twerks,” Becker soon began to provide that name a sales manager – or the photo and the phone number of a specific broker in the New York or Chicago office – to contact if you wanted personal investment advice. If memory serves the author correctly, these adds were placed in Time (among other media) and the New Yorker (NY office personnel) and ran down the outside edge of a page. They were quite impressive. They promoted the firm's top brokers in each office and carried headlines such as “Dick Digs,” or “Andy Analyzes.” The “Man from Becker who is always worth listening to” began to have a physical form.
It was (and, in many cases, still is) an objective of many investment bankers to push privately owned companies into public ownership. Sometimes that is (and was) not the thing to do. "Stay Private."
Period: 1970 to 1984
A.G. Becker & Co. carried out no general advertising programs in this period. Given the firm’s long history in the effective use of general institutional advertising, why didn’t the firm continue this path?
As the author thinks back, there was to his memory no consideration of the use of general advertising. To his knowledge, the idea was not ever discussed within top management as long as he was a member, which would have been through 1981. Given the absence of any such advertising through 1984, one can assume that it was not a topic of discussion in the three remaining years of the firm’s life.
Looking back, there are are number of reasons why the last general advertising was in 1968, including:
Institutional awareness was well established by 1968.
- By 1968, the name “A.G. Becker” was a well established “brand” not only regionally but nationally, and widely recognized in business and investment circles to be an “investment,” “stocks and bonds,” “securities,” “money market,” “pension fund measurement” or general “Wall Street” business. There was little further “general awareness” that could be gained by general advertising.
- The Becker name was highly recognized by corporation financial and commercial banking officers primarily by reason of the firm’s long standing, and more recent aggressive, high growth commercial paper and money market activities (including FNMA Notes and being a reporting dealer), and increasing market shares, bolstered by the growing reputation of the firm’s pioneering work in retirement fund investment performance.
- The name was highly recognized among key personnel in investment counselors, trust departments, and investment managers and institutions of all character, by reason of its investment research and order execution capabilities, and more recently, by the funds evaluation services.
- The name was well recognized for its growing general investment banking capabilities, but more recently by those commercial and industrial sectors valuing specialized investment banking services, such as businesses in installment contract businesses. Selective industrial sector services and name recognition would expand through the early 1980s in such commercial and industrial sectors as commercial banking, captive finance company owners, savings and loan associations, ship owners, public utilities with large working capital needs (such as nuclear fuel), cable television and related communication companies.
Public investor recognition was adequate and not a priority
- Since the late 1920s, A.G. Becker began to service the investment needs of individual investors, initially with selected bonds. With the substantial “boost” of becoming a NYSE member and beginning to research, underwrite, trade, and distribute common stocks in the post WW II era, individual investors became more important to Becker and Becker more recognizable to them.
- Even so, emerging in the 1950s and then forward, Becker’s management geared its individual (retail) business toward larger individual portfolios. It hired brokers with strong educational backgrounds, and trained and oriented them toward customers with substantial means. It encouraged its brokers to think like investment managers, to take a more “portfolio” approach to meeting their client’s (vs “customer’s”) investment objectives.
- Although Becker’s managed offering business was steadily growing post WWII, and also its underwriting participations, the growth of Becker’s institutional securities distribution capability was growing even faster. Becker’s underwritten securities purchase commitments could usually be placed institutionally. Allocations to individual accounts were often rationed. Starting about 1965, there was very little need or need or advantage to having a number of individual customers to whom to “sell” securities.
- Because of Becker’s generally good securities research over the years after about 1965, the firm’s individual account salesmen usually always had a range of good “ideas” from which to choose to offer to their select individual clientele.
- Becker’s individual account representatives were trained to develop a favorable mix of clients on the basis of hard work, creative client development procedures, and the firms’ institutional recognition. It was the implicit view that the firm did not need a general, public wide advertising program to obtain clients of any form. Direct calling and marketing were part of the firm’s post WW II culture. It is not that such programs wouldn’t have added to the firm’s general public awareness but that the cost/benefit trade off would not likely have been favorable, and the expense could probably directed advantageously in other directions.
By 1968, a range of marketing methods well beyond general advertising were now well developed and by 1984, even more advance, as below described.
Marketing methods used by Becker especially after 1968
- Press releases – Since the early 1960s, the firm was conscious of the interest of the press in good stories, and usually had an officer on staff responsible for handling telephone inquiries, distributing press releases, and arranging interviews
- Quotations – certain officers were authorized and encouraged to respond to inquiries about their areas of work and expertise, without clearing with a central authority other than their department head.
- Public speaking was encouraged, as approved by the department head. The speech quite often was reprinted within Becker for general use by others.
- Published materials. The firm encouraged the development of internally published marketing materials, including a number of data-based services
Brochures and Pamphlets
All through the years, the firm published various “marketing materials” - personalized form letters regarding firm services and available reports; research reports; income tax commentaries; pamphlets and brochures on subjects of interest to personal and institutional investors, and the like. Starting in the 1960s, publication of well written, colorful, and image-filled marketing materials proliferated. Some examples of the topics covered appear below; all these and other Becker marketing materials are in complete form in the archives.
- An early Funds Evaluation brochure (1968)
- The Finance Company Subsidiary booklet (1966)
- The Discretionary Account description (1969)
- Services to Investment Dealers brochure (1972)
- Private Placement Services pamphlet (1972)
The firm had an excellent in house capability, in the Communications Department, to outline, write, edit, design/format, and print marketing materials, with ease and fast turnaround. With the product innovation and alteration taking place regularly within the organization, there was a steady demand for fresh marketing materials. Also, it was understood around the firm that the 'Man from Becker' didn't depart a client's or potential client's office or other meeting place without leaving some kind of published document or other materials, along with a calling card.
Annual Publications and Reports (see ___link )
Gatherings of clients and prospective clients
Particularly for the presentations by Dr. John Langum, Dr. Roy Moor, Don Hahn, and/or other industry and securities analysts at research conferences, and similar gatherings, Becker applied care in the development of the invitation lists; seating charts; food, drink, and service; room logistics; and presentation content. Periodic gatherings were well attended and invitees looked forward to attending. Such gatherings were conducted with a high degree of preparation and professionalism. Such meetings were considered valuable tools in maintaining contact with a large number of senior general management and corporate finance and investment management officers, conveying professionally organized ideas, and as a way for our guests to interact with each other, all coordinated and buttressed with good hosting and personal contacts before and after the event. Also, these gatherings were quite often held in regional cities (as well as Chicago) where the firm had offices but also where such professional updates and good cocktails and food were not that routine.