Senior industry figures have paid tribute to Lester Wunderman – the man widely regarded as the founding father of direct marketing – who has passed away at the age of 98.
Lester was born in 1920 in the Bronx and after an apprenticeship at several agencies, joined Maxwell Sackheim & Company in 1947, where he became executive vice president. In 1958, he co-founded Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, which specialised in mail order and direct mail.
The agency was acquired by Young & Rubicam in 1973, and ultimately became part of WPP Group, when it acquired Y&R in 2000.
Lester had stepped down in 1998 but had lost none of his enthusiasm for the business. As chairman emeritus, he still reported to work every day at the agency’s offices, where he often visited with clients, executives and interns alike.
Martin Troughton first met Lester in 2001, when WPP bought HPT Brand Response and merged it with Wunderman to form Harrison Troughton Wunderman.
Troughton explains: “When Steve Harrison and I first merged our small agency with the Goliath network of Wunderman, Lester kindly paid us a visit. He flew in from New York, at this time aged 81, and was due at the agency at 10.30am; a civilised time we thought.
“When he arrived we asked if he needed some more time. He simply informed us we were his second appointment and that he had also had them open the British Museum at 7am as there was an exhibition he wanted to see. He was a man who knew how to pack in experiences to his life and apply them with his razor insight. A true inspiration and a great direct marketer.”
Troughton also recalls the time when Lester was still driving, and he arrived at Greater London House for a visit and simply parked in the first space he could find. However, the over zealous car park attendant walked over and berated him, asking who he was and why he had parked there. Lester replied: “I am Lester Wunderman, here for a quick meeting.” The car park attendant responded: “I don’t care if you are Superman, you can’t park there!” Lester moved his car.
In a statement released by the agency, Wunderman global chief executive Mel Edwards added: “Lester possessed the curiosity of a scientist, an artist’s eye, the soul of an author and the heart of an entrepreneur.”
Meanwhile WPP chief executive Mark Read said: “Lester was a true visionary with a lifelong commitment to innovation and creativity. He will be remembered and respected for his achievements and revered as a friend and colleague.”
WPN Chameleon chairman John Watson said: “Wunderman (the agency) was at one time the most gritty, traditional, offer-heavy and determined direct response agency there was.
“We all sneakily admired Wunderman’s approach and I guess when setting up WWAV in the Eighties, Wunderman was the agency we most envied. The world moved on, of course.
“In those days JWT was the exact opposite. Berkeley Square, public school, proper gents instead of the direct response wideboys. Now look what’s happened: Wunderman Thompson! I can take pleasure in thinking of a very, very big grin on Lester’s face as he looks down on lots of lost battles but a won war. RIP.”
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