At the age of 21, F. Wayland Ayer used his savings of $250 to found N.W. Ayer and Son. Beginning with a small clientele of only 11 religious newspapers, Ayer worked vigorously to build his agency into the nation’s largest by 1900. The success of his agency and the rapid pace at which it grew was unparalled in its day. By the time of Ayer’s death in 1923, his agency handled many of America’s largest companies including RJ Reynolds, Ford, DeBeers, Canada Dry, H.J. Heinz, Cadillac, Western Union, American Telephone and Telegraph and Steinway.
Ayer revolutionized the function and activities of the advertising agency, setting the pace for the high professional standards of agency service today. In 1875 the common role of the advertising agent was limited to buying space from publications as inexpensively as possible and reselling it to advertisers at a much higher price. Ayer completely changed the way agencies approached the business, choosing to represent the interests of the advertiser even when it stood to work against the immediate interests of his company.
In 1875 Ayer introduced the "open-contract-plus-commission" plan. Ayer’s contract guaranteed his clients the lowest possible rates the agency could negotiate with the media. The agency’s profit came in the form of a commission, eventually 15 percent, based on a percentage of what the advertiser paid for the space. In 1887, Ayer circulated his agency’s philosophy, which was truly a reflection of his dedication to the advertiser. It included statements such as, "We do not wish any advertiser to deal with us unless it is to his interest to do so."
To better serve the needs of clients, N.W. Ayer and Son began to offer broad professional services that went above and beyond the conventional agency role of just purchasing space for the advertiser. Ayer’s firm pioneered the fields of planned advertising, improved typographic technique, advertising art, research and public relations.