A few months after I opened my own business in 1990, I got a call from a guy named Abe Jones. He was a consultant to ad agencies, and he wanted to check me out before recommending me to one of his clients who was looking for a public relations agency.
Gene DeWitt 1999
I must have passed muster and got a call to meet with the head of a small media agency called DeWitt Media. After a chat with Gene DeWitt, he hired me. DeWitt Media was my young agency's first client.
Back in those days, the ad trades mostly covered ad campaigns and the wins and losses and comings and goings in the ad business. They rarely wrote about the media end of the business.
My challenge was to get reporters to talk with Gene about the media end of advertising. Reporters were just starting to pay attention to media -- how much spots cost, new media opportunities that were opening up for advertisers (not digital back then -- think cable), innovations in out-of-home media. Gene was great with reporters, and he made my job so much easier. I knew if I could get a reporter to talk once with Gene for quotable comment, he'd come back time and again for more.
Gene made me look good. He became one of the top 5 most-quoted ad execs in the annual Advertising Age listing.
Gene always challenged people. He wasn't content to do things they way they'd always been done, and he expected people he worked with to be proactive and innovative. Gene pushed me to excel.
As hard as Gene worked, he understood the importance of family. When I first began working with him, he wanted to have a planning meeting with me. He asked me to come see him at 4 p.m. the next Tuesday. I hesitated and then, with trepidation, asked if we could make it another time. My son had a Little League game that afternoon, I explained. Gene said, "Of course we can reschedule our meeting. We can have a meeting anytime. Your son only has so many Little League games and it's good that you want to be there." Years later Gene reminded me of that conversation and said he respected me for having my priorities right.
Gene was very smart when it came to advertising and media. He saw trends before they were trends -- unbundling of media from full-service agencies, the promise of cable, the decline of network TV, the integration of strategic planning in the media buying process.
I watched from up close as Gene's DeWitt Media grew from $200 million in billings to more than $750 million. I was with him when he sold his agency to Publicis and worked with him as he built Publicis' new Optimedia into a major media shop.
I worked with him when he left the buying side and became president of the Syndicated Network Television Association. I saw him turn the traditional syndicated TV selling process on its head as he injected new energy into syndication with the first Syndication Day.
Like me, Gene loved the East End, where he had a home and a fishing boat. He loved theater and music and good books. He got into blogging a year ago, finding a new platform to express his views on advertising and media. Some readers may have met him at the first Blogger Social last April. As always, his views weren't necessarily in lockstep with what all the other "experts" were saying. Gene's voice was unique.
Gene DeWitt lost a four-year battle with cancer Thursday.
He will be missed.