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CMF&Z . . . THE GOOD YEARS
AN INSIDER'S LOOK BACK AT A GREAT AGNECY IN ITS PRIME
"Madison Avenue in a cornfield" they liked to call it for a while. And most everyone who ever worked there - especially in the '70s and '80s - will tell you it was quite a ride.

It started out unpretentious enough in 1939 as the W.D. Lyon Company. The goal was to be a good agency, handling accounts in eastern Iowa. In 1962, a slender Boone County, Iowa, fellow named Bill Munsell walked in with a passion to build a substantial package goods agency in an unlikely place.

Considered by many to be one of the most powerful campaigns created by CMF&Z was "Living and Learning and Planting Pioneer." It was based on research showing the strong association growers saw with using Pioneer and being successful. Photo courtesy of Farm Journal magazine.
New management and bigger, flashier accounts started to attract some flashy talent, including a creative team that everyone points to as the foundation of the great work the agency did. Ron Howes was the lead writer. "Ron loved to write," a peer observed. "Most of us love to have written, but Ron loved the art of putting words to paper." Bill Fritz was the lead art director. He was amazing "on the board" but often would make a one-word change in one of Howes' headlines, turning a good piece of advertising into truly great work.

Two more were recruited by Munsell to fill out the team: Marv White to head up a new research department for the agency; and Dick Meyocks to lead ag client contact.

Munsell penned the agency credo: What's best for the client will in the long run be best for the agency and its people. The team set to work to make that happen in agriculture, and the name was changed to Creswell, Munsell, Shubert & Zirbel (CMS&Z).

Ben Marion, who came along later, says Munsell's idea of an ag agency bringing in a guy like White to take the lead on consumer research was a stroke of genius at the time. "Sometimes we had insight into the farmer/customer that hadn't even connected in the client organization yet," Marion says. The agency came to call this process of uncovering buying attitudes Focused Fieldwork.

NEW BREED OF ADVERTISING

Meyocks knew some Monsanto folks and wrangled a herbicide assignment. Then, Monsanto tossed out another challenge. It had bought a company called Farmers Hybrid, which sold hybrid corn and hogs. Hybrid animals were a whole new concept on the farm.

Focus groups with breeders uncovered key insights into swine genetics and some dramatic print ads captured much attention. Then came the big idea: sell boar semen on television! A spot was created that earned a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal and planted the "Ag Advertising Par Excellence" flag at the agency for years to come.

The spot was extremely simple - cuts back and forth of a young boar and a gilt running to each other in a field of fresh clover. No copy, just a piano tinkling "As Time Goes By" in the background. Finally, the hogs meet nose to nose and the voice-over concludes: "Our boars are lovers. Our gilts are, too." Unseen by the camera were several agency staff members armed with sheets of plywood running to keep the boar from his intended. Had they not been successful in this, instead of being a parody of a Clairol commercial, it would have been a fairly blunt demonstration of the product.

With all the industry talk, the folks at Elanco responsible for crop chemicals thought this looked like a place to get great work. There was a competitive pitch and CMS&Z was awarded the account, which more than doubled the size of the agency. This was the first time that a major agricultural advertiser selected an agency outside the "major ad centers" of New York, Chicago, Minneapolis or St. Louis.

At the time, Elanco's lead herbicide - Treflan - was second to Monsanto's Lasso. The agency took the strategic position that the double-incorporation of Treflan was actually an advantage, making the product less weather-dependent. With this position - along with strong creative - market share for Treflan grew steadily and it overtook Lasso. Monsanto was understandably upset by this and pulled the Boar Power business. CMS&Z found out that sometimes you lose by winning.

Eventually, the usage of Treflan was so widespread, it could be described in brand cycle terms as a way of life. Enter the "We believe in Treflan" campaign. The creative concept was launched at an Elanco sales meeting. (Another relative strength of the agency was its focus on the client sales force and involving them in the marketing concepts.) This was the era of multi-screen slide presentations, and Terry Taylor was a master of the medium. Rousing music was created for the campaign, and by the end of the presentation, all of the sales force were on their feet ... some on their chairs singing along.

THE GREATEST ASSET

More business, more talent. One of those was Dick Jensen, previously from Gardner Advertising in St. Louis. He focused on strategic planning for clients, and this focus played heavily into a creative product that won countless awards and, more importantly, moved product for many of America's most important agricultural brands.

Buzz Baker, who joined from Fletcher Mayo in the '70s and eventually headed up the whole operation, cites internal competition as a key element in creating great work. Much of the agency staff gathered at a local watering hole on Friday evenings to compare the week's work and determine who had "won." The next week, everyone set out in earnest to outdo that work.

Dave Patterson, who joined the team from John Deere as a writer, felt the research-based strategic focus - plus a staff full of people who had a passion for agriculture and the drive to excel in the category - made the agency a force to be reckoned with in any competition.

Andy Wignall, along with a team in Des Moines working with Dennis Gaukel at Pioneer, shaped and incorporated a powerful customer/prospect database for Pioneer. This was some time before marketers realized that one of their most important assets was their database.

Public relations was added to the mix as a separate division headed up by Rick Mayes in 1977. By 1981, it was in O'Dwyers Top 50 PR firms and the fastest growing in the country. Clients ranged from Winnebago to IBP to Pioneer to Elanco, Dow and DowElanco.

Meanwhile, another powerful agency was building a consumer base in Des Moines. Bill Fultz and Bob LaCasse built the Graphics Corporation, which then became Fultz and LaCasse Advertising. LaCasse went to Pioneer, and Wes Ritchie joined up with Fultz just prior to merging the operation in 1980 to become CMF&Z.

The client base focused on state, regional and national consumer accounts: Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Pella Corporation, Iowa Lottery, Iowa Health Systems, as well as ag businesses such as Pioneer, Massey Ferguson and Syntex.

IN THE PRESENT

As you know, this Camelot that has been depicted didn't last. It is very tempting to try to assess blame for the demise of CMF&Z. But what's to be gained by that? The magic slipped away and there was no reversing it.

Over the years, dozens of America's greatest agrimarketers worked in and with CMF&Z. One who rose to national leadership in NAMA - and who's been with several other agencies - said, "Whatever kind of an advertising person I've become, it is because of the time I spent at CMF&Z." AM

Greg Michel is a marketing consultant in Des Moines, Iowa. He was with CMF&Z for 17 years and has worked more than 30 years in ag communications, including four different ad and PR agencies.


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