I put the first version of this bio together when I was nominated for the Art Directors Club of Cincinnati's Lifetime Achievement award for the year 2000. I received that award, and with it, I entered some distinguished company. I'd like to thank the Art Directors, and especially Sandy Weinstein, who nominated me.
Richard Blumberg - a brief professional biography
My career has been distinguished by three themes. The first of those has been the marketing theme: the search for increasingly better ways - more creative, more impactful, more sophisticated, more precise - to help buyers understand what sellers have to offer, and how those offerings can improve the buyers' lives. The second theme has been driven by information science and technology, and has particularly encompassed the startling emergence, everywhere in our human affairs, of small powerful computers and the world-spanning Internet. The third theme has focused on writing, and my lifelong desire to write well, so that the words I string together might be honest, graceful, lucid in their meaning, and ultimately persuasive.
After a very brief stint as a teacher, and a slightly longer one as editor of a series of junior high school science texts, my first job in marketing communications was as a copywriter, with Widerschein/Strandberg, in Toledo. Mark Widerschein was a brilliant young man, with a distinctive vision of marketing communications that focused on the central role of the selling process and the ability of sales promotion activities to stimulate and direct that process to desireable ends. Mark put together a top notch team of young people to implement his vision, including, most importantly for my future, a savvy and far-sighted journalist named Dale Wolf. Our small group, under Mark's challenging direction, turned out a series of highly effective, award-winning sales promotion programs for major national clients, including Owens-Corning Fiberglas, Doehler-Jarvis Die Castings, Champion Spark Plugs, and American Motors. And then Mark died, tragically young and suddenly; shortly after his death, we left Toledo to come home to Cincinnati.
I had gotten a lot from Mark and from my Widerschein/Strandberg experience. I pretty much bought into Mark's understanding that sales promotion, as a discipline, is at the heart of the marketing process, and I've continued to develop and sharpen that understanding through my career. My Toledo experience taught me that there are many audiences for any marketing communications campaign, and that each audience must receive the message that's tailored particularly to its needs and expectations. I learned how to write tightly for all those different audiences. And I learned that an effective marketing communications program is more than a good idea. Having a good idea is where it starts, but if that's all you have, it's not worth much. What gives an idea real value is a lot of talented people buying into it. When designers and engineers and worker bees and managers and creators of smart words and revealing pictures all buy into a good idea and commit to making it work in the real world, that's what gives it value.
When I returned to Cincinnati, I went to work with marketing legend Martin Spicer at Baer Kemble Spicer. I learned a lot from Martin, but he was from the old school, and I didn't find, at BKS, a very hospitable environment for the tools, techniques, and marketing communications strategies that I'd learned at Widerschein/Strandberg. After about a year, I started a new company, WordSmith, Inc., to develop sales promotion and sales training programs and materials. One of my first clients was NuTone, where Dale Wolf had become Advertising Manager.
At WordSmith, we pioneered the development of multi-media production in Cincinnati, working with microprocessor-controlled slide and film projectors to create rich and lively multi-screen extravaganzas for conventions, trade shows, and sales meetings. We also developed and refined the sales promotion concepts that I learned in Toledo, creating well-received training and motivational programs for such clients as Hilton-Davis, Formica, Procter & Gamble, Pease Everstrait Door Systems, Lunkenheimer Valves, and Federated Department Stores, as well as NuTone.
In early 1978, while I was still running WordSmith, I bought my first personal computer, a Processor Technology SOL 20, with 16 kilobytes of memory, a Radio Shack cassette tape player for mass storage, and a used black-and-white TV as a monitor, converted to present a 16 line x 64 character display. I had been interested in computers since the late '60's when I wrote some articles on them for a British anthology of popular technology; my interest had been piqued by my experience with programmable multi-media controllers, and then further when I provided some marketing consultation to Gretchen and Vince Heuring as they were planning to open the City's first computer store, the 21st Century Shop on the new Skywalk. But the SOL was a real computer, running real software, and one of the programs it ran, Michael Shrayer's Electric Pencil, doubled my productivity as a writer.
In 1978 also, Dale and I decided to form a new sales promotion agency, and we were fortunate enough to enlist Barron Krody, the endlessly talented designer whom I'd first worked with back in my textbook editing days. Wolf Blumberg Krody opened its doors in '79, with the three of us, plus the SOL 20, by now upgraded to 32 K of memory and a pair of floppy disk drives (those were eight inch disks, and they were truly floppy).
Over the next decade, WBK continued to maintain its leadership position in the use of computers to increase productivity and insure quality.
- We were the first agency to go online. It was early in 1980; we used a 300 Baud acoustically coupled modem to connect to The Source, a predecessor to the online service later known as CompuServe.
- We were the first to create a Local Area Network. That first network used some simple terminal software that I'd written in Assembler to permit our Heathkit H-89 computers to connect as terminals to our Xilog dual-Z80 "mainframe".
- We were the first to adopt desktop publishing technology. By 1984, we were turning out a 32-page full-color magazine, "Building Profit", for Butler Buildings, using Ventura Publisher running under MSDOS on a 386-based computer.
- We were the first to adopt the Macintosh for graphic design. We bought into the technology when Apple introduced the Mac II in 1985; our first machine had 5 megabytes of memory, a 20 Meg hard drive, and a 14" color monitor.
- We were the first to establish working links between design computers, pre-press operations, and printers. In the mid-'80's, we took the leadership role in establishing the Digital Artists Working Group, which developed, standardized and documented processes and procedures to enable the effective transfer of information among companies involved with the production of printed materials.
- We were the first to integrate computer technology into every aspect of our business. Within a few years after we opened our doors, virtually every employee of WBK had a personal computer, which they'd been trained to use productively; all those computers were linked in a network.
- We were the first to connect our computer network with those of our vendors and clients. By the end of the decade, we were routinely transferring proposals, designs, and finished art files to and from art directors, outside contractors and consultants, pre-press houses, and printers.
- We were the first to establish a database marketing program. The program we created for Hawaian Punch in 1989 used software we developed to manage, monitor, and evaluate the direct marketing of Hawaian Punch to school cafeterias, and to motivate and manage the efforts of soft drink bottlers to support that marketing with a focused sales effort.
That whole-hearted adoption of computer technologies was not the cause of WBK's growth through the '80's, but it certainly did help fuel that growth. And the growth was significant; in addition to a few clients that we inherited from WordSmith, we added, in the course of the decade, such major national brands as White-Westinghouse and Frigidaire, Kohler Plumbingware, Wenco Windows, Clopay, ChoiceCare, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Kenner Toys, and Milacron Robotics, as well as a number of P&G brands - Duncan Hines, Pringles, Folger's, and Comet, among others - and several P&G categories - most notably paper, beverages, and household cleaners. By the end of the decade, we'd become one of the largest agencies in town, with more than 60 networked computers.
As EVP of WBK, I was responsible for developing and directing the implementation of strategic plans for many of those clients, as well as supervising, stimulating, and evangelizing the agency's continuing exploitation of computer technologies. Along the way, I became more and more involved with those technologies, and with two in particular - software development and online communication. In the former I found a natural extension of my interest in writing; modern computer languages are highly expressive and precisely structured, and programs written in those languages are capable of elegance, aesthetically pleasing concision, and even such traditionally literary qualities as irony and wit. One of my most memorable extra-curricular activities during the WBK years was teaching a course in Forth programming at CTC - probably the only such course ever taught by an advertising agency executive.
In the as-yet-unhyped area of online communications, I caught a whiff, by the late '80's, of a technology that was going to change the way we live and work. And I wanted to be part of that change. I didn't see any way of doing that within the confines of the typical agency structure, and so, in 1991, I left WBK to launch Productivity OnLine, the first online information service in Cincinnati.
Technically, POL was an enormous success. Using proprietary conferencing software, we brought the City of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Post, and many area schools online; we provided our subscribers with their first access to Internet email and Usenet newsgroups; we automated the translation of the Scripps-Howard news wire to our POL conference forums; by 1993, we were providing dialup Internet access to subscribers; we built the first websites for WGUC, the City, Cincinnati Bell, and others; we were the first Cincinnati business to connect to the Internet using a fiber optic T1 line. And all of that development was based on software that I developed or configured for our purposes.
From a business standpoint, it was a different story. We were in too early to attract the kind of venture capital that we would have needed to sustain our growth, and I was unable to continue funding the operation on my own. Eventually, I had to sell my interest in POL to get out from under the debt we'd accrued; the company continues to exist, now metamorphosed to QueenCity.com, but I have had nothing to do with it since 1996.
Since I left POL, I've worked with several companies as a consultant, helping them develop their Internet/marketing/software development strategies.
For InterLearn, I created an ambitious CDROM-based ethics training program for the National Association of Securities Dealers, and designed and supervised the implementation of an online university for the American Press Institute.
For TalkPoint Communications, I helped design a set of products based on TalkPoint's proprietary voice/data server technologies, designed and developed their website, and designed and supervised the development of a database-driven program to administer the TalkPoint server online.
For Digineer, I helped define a marketing strategy that would support their ambitious growth plans, and I worked with them to hire and initiate an advertising agency to implement that strategy.
I'm totally retired now; that means that I don't take money for the work I do. But I continue to work. I created the original site for the place that we've been going to in Maine for the past 30 years, Hiram Blake Camp (that link takes you to the current site, which I did not create, although most of the photos of the camp are mine). And I've developed a strong Buddhist practice, meditating daily, moderating courses on the Buddha's teachings at the University of Cincinnati's OLLI program, working with the Cincinnati Chapter of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship to lead meditation sessions at Lebanon State Correctional Institution, and working on a new kind of Buddhist gathering, one devoted to a secular, skeptical, and pragmatic investigation of the Buddha's teachings. And there's more; I lead a busy and happy life.
Looking back, I am enormously fortunate to have been involved so intimately with technologies - computers and the Internet - that have changed the world so dramatically. It has all been interesting, every second of it.
I am even more fortunate to have had colleagues along the way whom I have admired and cared for deeply. Mark Widerschein, may he rest in peace, Martin Spicer, Dale Wolf and Barron Krody, Les Hall, Alan Brown, Rebecca Malamud, Greg Eckel, Sharon Hill, Mike Smith - all those talented people, and so many others, have taught me, shaken me, prodded me to further effort. It's been a great trip.
And it's not over yet.