Roger Bachman was a major player in the advertising world in the 1960s, owning several agencies after starting his career as a printer.
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Roger Bachman and Meridel Prideaux at McCann Erickson Collaborative Group 1970.
On design with a purpose
By Roger Bachman
As told to Tim Leigh, December 4, 2011
When we started Bachman-Ferris, the standard model for ad agencies was to have art directors and copywriters on staff and to process projects through creative teams. We did it that way, too; that approach was the norm, not novel. The management idea was to sell enough work to keep a couple people busy, and then when bigger projects came along, to find freelance help as needed. A pretty good system and it worked for us for a long time.
Our original guide was the Gerber Agency, an old-line place. Copy chief Dean Pollock would hand over some messaging to an art director and say, “Do a layout.” And a workmanlike visual treatment would emerge. Thing was, though, the art director wasn’t usually in on the solution to the problem; he just processed what was given to him, unlike firms such as Doyle Dane Bernbach in the east who had creative teams working on the problem from the get-go, combining message and visual from the start.
I learned from that. It took me a while, as a convergent thinker, to deal with divergent thinkers. Many times, because of the pressures of budgets and deadlines, art directors would come in with ideas. I’d pick the one I thought fit the situation best and say, “Let’s go with it; produce it, get the work out the door.”
I learned the hard way that creative artists like to play with ideas. And oftentimes they’d bring concepts and approaches that didn’t answer the communications problem. They were interesting ideas, but they didn’t zero in on getting the correct message through. So, I learned to say, “This is good, but maybe I didn’t explain the problem well enough to you.” And I would restate the situation we faced, then suggest taking this enhanced understanding back and revisiting the work. Well, the designer liked this because it afforded an opportunity to play some more. Point was, I took the onus of the misfire.
Peter Jenkins was just the opposite. He’d say, “Oh no, you’re all wrong. For Christ sake, do I have to design this thing myself!?” Joe Gerber was the same way. And the art directors would listen to these tirades, grumble awhile, then turn to the task of giving the SOB account director what he wanted. Well, that’s a way to survive, of course, but in no way is an effective pathway to brilliant answers.
By Tim Leigh
Roger Bachman was born in South Orange, NJ on Dec 10, 1924. He attended Yale, class of 45W (special designation for the war), and worked for a while in NYC, which he disliked because the city was so big, so crass. In 1948, at age 24, he headed west to Portland.
Roger found a lot of people, like himself, had come from somewhere else. Some of them were corporate nomads who were transferred every two years, but a lot weren’t. He wondered why they ended up here. His answer, in the end, was they were interested in defining themselves, living lives they’d chosen rather than slaving along mindlessly in some corporate bullpen. Many came from large metro areas, people who were tired of artificiality, crowding, ruthless business practices, etc. Plus, WWII, the Depression and the rest of recent history had made for independent thinkers, and here they were.
Roger himself was looking for a healthier place to live and work. From youth (his dad taught him how to rope climb as a child), Roger had interest in things environmental, and in Oregon he found green fields to plow. There were mountains to ski and hike. He joined the Mazamas and learned more about rope climbing. He liked fishing, and eventually bought land and a cabin on the Deschutes so he could do it whenever he wanted. And he became involved with water quality commissions and conservation groups like Oregon Trout.
His first employer in Portland was Gerber Advertising. And it was from Joe Gerber that Roger bought Arkady Press in 1950. At that point he became a printer. He met Eve MacVeagh, and fell in love.
Roger much enjoyed the creative aspect of printing and ran that business for 14 years. But when the market changed to focus on production efficiency (cheap speed) and customers began to dry up, he left it behind. That was the Fall of 1964.
He returned to the advertising business — Dawson Turner & Jenkins — for three years. After a while, Peter Moore came to work there, too. Peter was a direct and open person who spoke up when he saw something needed fixing. He wanted to be constructive, so Roger helped him gather opinions from the agency staff and present proposals for changes. But the principals got defensive and balked, saying they wanted to leave things “like the good old days.”
In April ’67, Roger decided to leave DTJ and open his own place, On April 11, he announced his departure, planning to take the Boise Cascade account with him. He did leave, but the big account stayed behind. He joined with Byron Ferris and formed his own firm anyway, called Bachman Ferris. Interpublic eventually purchased Bachman Ferris and installed it in the Portland McCann-Erickson branch as a creative profit center.
Later, Roger and Meridel Prideaux ran a firm called The Collaborative Group for many years.
In retrospect, Roger calls himself a convergent thinker, and that working with creatives in advertising was a process of dealing with divergent thinkers. Many times, because of budget pressures and deadlines, when art directors would come in with ideas, he’d pick the one he felt fit the situation best and say, “Let’s go with it; produce it, get the work out the door.” But the creative would want to explore the ideas, and often came up with treatments that no longer focused on the problem.