Madison Avenue owes a great deal to Marion Harper. Harper pioneered the concept of an agency holding company and paved the way for agencies to go public. He introduced new advertising disciplines and set up the first agency structure with affiliate services.
Harper began his advertising career in the mailroom of McCann-Erickson in 1938. Three years later, at age 26, he could look at a magazine ad before it was published and predict with startling accuracy what its Starch rating would be. He encouraged creatives to use this research to create better advertising and reassured clients they were getting the audience they wanted.
In 1948, at age 32, Harper became president of McCann-Erickson. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the industry was combining two or more autonomous agencies under one corporate umbrella. In 1954 McCann acquired Marschalk & Pratt, and instead of absorbing it, maintained its separate identity and location. Soon after, Harper created the affiliate principle and added a separate public-relations unit, a research unit and a sales-promotion company, making McCann an agency like no other. In 1960 Harper launched the Interpublic Group of Companies and the holding-company concept.
While he was reorganizing agency structure, Harper also was winning new business. In the 12-month period beginning in late 1954, McCann landed 13 new clients. In three years, the agency’s United States billings doubled.
Harper was deeply involved in many areas of public service. He served as chairman of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, as a consultant to the United States Information Agency, as a strong supporter of the Ad Council and as an adviser to both President Johnson and Governor Rockefeller. He served for many years on the board of Lenox Hill Hospital and headed fundraising activities for many national charities. He endorsed scholarships for youth education, established funds for furthering the work of the Institute for General Semantics founded by Alfred Korzybski and, at the time of his retirement, turned his attention to better distribution of medical research findings on a worldwide basis.