John O’Toole discovered the power of the pen early. As a skinny 15-year old, he composed poetry under the pseudonym Elliot Carter. More than 100 of the verses appeared in the Chicago Tribune. O’Toole remembered later in his book, The Trouble with Advertising, "In the neighborhood where I grew up (Chicago’s South Side), there was a certain peril in being known as a poet."
After Northwestern and a year in the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea, he joined Foote, Cone & Belding in 1954. The young copywriter learned discipline and high standards from Fairfax Cone, who became his mentor. Blessed with Irish eloquence, O’Toole honed his gift, writing for every account in the office including Dial Soap, Kleenex, Kraft, Armour and Hallmark.
O’Toole was appointed president of FCB Communications in 1970 and chairman of the board in 1981. During his tenure, he developed a single-minded focus on promoting creative excellence. One of his top priorities was nurturing young talent through innovative programs. He spearheaded efforts to encourage equal opportunity, believing that diversity strengthened our profession. When he retired in 1985, FCB billings had grown from $241 million to reach $2 billion.
Perhaps O’Toole’s most lasting contributions came during his service to the American Association of Advertising Agencies. As president, he used the full force of his charisma, wit and erudition to protect and defend advertising from over-regulation, unfair taxation and threats to limit free speech and free choice. He once said, "We simply cannot allow the First Amendment to be legislated away. If we ever compromise, we’ve sold out the industry’s future and made fools of those who shaped its past."