Earle Palmer Brown Philadelphia: Reflections 25 years later.

On February 28, 1996, 25 years ago, I left Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia. I had been its President for 7 years having joined in March 1989 from BBDO/New York.

Joining the agency in 1989, then called Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro, was a big career move for me. I had been a SVP/Management Rep at BBDO/New York, one of the world’s biggest ad agencies. For all its craziness (and it was crazy) BBDO was, and continues to be, a great agency. I loved working in NY. As I came to Philadelphia, I know many Philadelphians wanted me to say I was trying to get out of NY and the hype was overblown, but that was never the case. But as a leader of a Philadelphia business, I needed to downplay my love for NY (though my passion for the Yankees has never subsided).

Joining Earle Palmer Brown & Spiro as its President was an opportunity.  I was an ambitious young (then 36-year-old) guy with the opportunity to be President of a 100+ person ad agency in nearby Philadelphia. And while it was merely 90 miles from our Edison, NJ home, it was a new market, new clients, new people, and a big change. I was confident and made the leap. On balance I am glad I did.

On a personal basis my wife, Beth, (who passed away last year) had grown up in Southern NJ and her family was all nearby. This photo of us was from the early 80s before we ventured down to Philadelphia. That was a good thing. Our children Carolyn (1989) and Carl (1993) were born during my Earle Palmer Brown years. Beth supported me and our family in her loving way as I worked too hard and alas ate too much. I now am far more appreciative of the sacrifices Beth made during those years. Advice to others: always thank your spouse for their support. I regret not being as appreciative back then as I should have been.

The agency was comprised of talented people and had a nice book of largely major Philadelphia area clients including CoreStates, Wawa, Comcast, Independence Blue Cross, Honda dealers, and many others. I viewed it as an opportunity to unify the staffs of previously acquired agencies—Spiro & Associates and Kalish & Rice and create a new identity. I knew little about the history of the acquired agencies, nor Earle Palmer Brown and its Bethesda, MD headquarters, when I joined. In retrospect, I think that was a big benefit since I had little baggage about how things used to be. While I respected the history of all the agencies, the goal was to build on the good, retain the top performers, attract new talent, and add an even higher level of creativity and business success to the firm. We moved into the then new One Liberty Place, pictured above, a couple of months after I joined, and it was an excellent home for our firm and a place from which to forge a new identity. (BTW: I told our young kids back then that One Liberty and Two Liberty Place were named the Carolyn and Carl buildings because their daddy worked there. They found out otherwise later—they survived the disappointment)   

With the wisdom of hindsight, I think the results we achieved during my tenure were a mixed bag. On the positive side, we attracted many new talented people and many of the existing staff remained. We had a good and growing client base and later absorbed the acquisition of Ketchum/Philadelphia into the agency retaining its key accounts—Dupont and Pizza Hut. When I left in 1996 the agency’s talent, size and creative product were all better than when I joined. We attracted national accounts far outside the region as well. Yet, there were some disappointments. The churn of accounts and talent was higher than ideal. And while we ultimately grew, our growth could have been more substantial. I always felt we were taking one step forward, one step back. But the talent of the agency was what made it great. I fear mentioning specific people, because I know I will leave out others. But at whatever level, the talent of Earle Palmer Brown was second to none.     

Personally, I was growing into a new role as agency President. I surely was confident and learned well from my BBDO experience. Yet leading an agency was far different than leading mega accounts as I did in NY. I learned a lot about myself and how to lead a company. With the wisdom of hindsight, here too the results were mixed. I was surely driven and created high expectations for myself and the agency. I probably leaned too heavily on doing things myself, which is not the best way to lead. I know it took a toll on me physically as my weight ballooned and my health deteriorated as well. (PS: Today I am 50 pounds lighter than when I departed 25 years ago). I know I could have been more supportive boss and a better listener. Time helps in viewing an earlier version of oneself. We all learn from successes and even more from setbacks.

Nonetheless, I was very proud of our accomplishments as a business. In 1995 I had hoped to acquire the agency, and separate it from the Earle Palmer Brown network which had business issues in offices throughout the U.S.  Though I made a substantial offer, I was unsuccessful in this attempt, and therefore I left at the end of February 1996. Hence my mixed feelings in my departure. I have a strongly independent nature, both a strength and weakness, and I didn’t want to work for others any longer. Though I was a minority owner of the Earle Palmer Brown network (which as I said, had serious business issues), my offer was insufficient to break off the Philadelphia office from the balance of the network. So, I left with very mixed feelings—proud of the agency and the success we attained, yet knowing it was time to go, and sad to leave so many talented people behind. Who knows how the agency would have evolved if I had been successful? No doubt we would have had both successes and failures. Change is the status quo in life. Can’t turn back the clock.

I subsequently joined a NJ agency as CEO of a firm then called RB&T which became RBT/Strum and then the Star Group. I had hoped to re-create the kind of shop we had at Earle Palmer Brown at the NJ agency. It grew too, and they had some terrific people as well, but I didn’t feel the same passion for the agency, and subsequently sold my shares and left 3 years later. I’ve now been a marketing and business consultant for 22 years since 1999, and it works very well given my independent nature and network. I am thankful for the many clients over the years who’ve put their confidence in me.

In the rear view mirror of life, the memories of the business issues, ad campaigns, client demands, and key presentations of the time at Earle Palmer Brown all fade, although no doubt staffers remember my zealous commitment for rehearsals for new business presentations (btw- the #1 key to success). But people are the things you remember most and I have fond memories of the people at Earle Palmer Brown. I stay in touch with several people, but have lost touch with more folk. I am saddening by the passing of key people over the years—Herb Smith and Tom Papi passed away during my tenure, and Walter Spiro, the firm’s Chairman and Norm Tissian, who led the hotel accounts, also passed in the years after I left. Ken Bofinger, who was the print production head, and Chris Goodrich, a senior account manager, also died. Angela DiBartolo a direct response whiz and good friend who later joined me at the Star Group has also passed. Gary Jonas, a good man, who was a key executive for the overall company, passed away a few years ago as well.  And most recently Scott Franks, who had led Ketchum and, joined Earle Palmer Brown as a key exec when it was acquired, just passed away in February. All good people. I sincerely apologize if I missed others who I’ve lost touch with who’ve passed as well.

But on the 25th anniversary of my departure, the business issues all fade, and the memories I have are good ones.  No woulda/shoulda/couldas. Several years later, Earle Palmer Brown ultimately failed in Philadelphia and elsewhere, and they closed their doors in 2002. I had obviously been gone several years by that time.

I left with some sadness on February 28, 1996, but with a warm feeling of pride. The ad agency business I left 25 years ago hardly resembles today’s version. But good people and good ideas are still the currency of success. Earle Palmer Brown/Philadelphia had plenty of both.

More Strumings


  1. Such an open, warm, heartfelt struming Lonny. So proud to have been a part of a few of those years EPB. Fun times and great people for sure! Shocked to learn about Scott. Thanks for sharing these meaningful moments of your life.

  2. Beth Johnson says:

    Such a great post, Lonny. I value your reflections on leadership.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks Beth. But you’ve far surpassed me in leadership. You’re doing great. Smart companies would do well by working with you/RP3.

  3. Denise Duffin says:

    Lonny, you created something special that was very different than Kalish & Rice and the EPB & Spiro merged agency. When we came together in One Liberty Place as EPB Philadelphia, I dare say, you brought NY swagger (and yes, annoying Yankees and #8 Yogi Berra references!) To think you were just 36 you led and grew a talented team of well over 100 people, is impressive. And the memories of what was a highly “social” staff make me laugh to this day.
    It was the very definition of a Work hard/Play hard environment!

    • Lonny Strum says:

      You were one of the people who made it special. You were talented and yet made the the agency fun. It was a special time.

  4. Karen Brenner says:

    EPB was the closest thing to a NY agency that I experienced in Philadelphia. I was also a NY agency transplant and was happy to find a home where I was surrounded by really smart people and led by you!

    I am so shocked (and sad) to hear about Scott Franks and Angela DiBartolo. Really respected and enjoyed both of them!

    Thanks for the good memories today Lonny. Stay well!

    • Lonny Strum says:

      The painting of Yankee Stadium in my office gave us that “NY agency” feel no doubt. You were an important part of the team, Karen.

  5. Steve Albertini says:


    Like you, I have wonderful memories of my years with Spiro/EPB. One of my fondest memories is playing basketball with an agency president for my departmental budget. LOL.

    I was lucky to have both you and Walter as friends and colleagues and readily admit that with your Departure, some of the fun went out of the agency. We had a lot of great people some of whom you mentioned. That’s what I remember most about my time at the agency, the people. Thanks for the memories, Steve

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks Steve. Business was not easy as we both remember. But all the “stuff” fades, and memory of good people remains. Hope you are well.

  6. Trish Bradley says:

    I was a college intern in the summer of 1990, working in marketing research. What a dream to work in the newly opened Liberty Place with such amazing talent. We interns were in awe of leaders like you and Steve Albertini. Totally worth the $50 cash that we would have to crowd into the accounting office to get on a Friday. Thanks for the look back!

    • Lonny Strum says:

      I remember you Trish. Sorry we were so stingy back then. But glad your internship had value. EPB interns have gone on to big things in their careers.

  7. Bob Paine says:

    Nicely said, Lonny! Proud to have been one of your leading clients. So sorry to hear about Scott..

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Enjoyed working together years ago. I had a great relationship with all my clients who were Rangers fans (alas you were the only one in Philly). Yes, sad news about Scott. Be well.

  8. What an incredible reflection on an incredible run and an amazing life.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Ed williamson says:

    What a great retrospect. As I’m sure you’ll agree those were the days. We never worked directly together be we certainly moved in the same circles. For what it’s worth I never heard anyone say anything disparaging about you. Continue to enjoy your new adventures . I’m retired now to Cape May and have a job I call a hobby job that keeps up my computer skills. Keep the strumming coming and have fun. Edw

    • Lonny Strum says:

      Thanks Ed. I surely deserved at least some disparagement even if you didn’t hear it. It was challenging, exciting, and frustrating. But more good than bad.

  10. Amy Coles says:

    What a lovely walk down memory lane! I was a PR summer intern at Earle Palmer Brown in 1994. Marlene Petter took a chance on me and offered me the gig, despite a terrible resume. (Apparently, I aced the writing test, though.) Twenty-seven years later, it is still one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. (Although…is it a job if it’s unpaid? How times have changed!) The camaraderie among not only the interns but our supervisors was special; I loved the energy at EPB. More importantly, it was the foundation for a 15-year career in agency PR, which ultimately took this Philly girl to NYC. Although EPB dissolved many years ago, it’s nice to see how its legacy continues in the work and careers of the wonderful people who made it what it was.

    • Lonny Strum says:

      It was a special place with good people. Glad it served as a springboard for your career. Thanks for your feedback. Lonny

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