Leo Burnett studied journalism at the University of Michigan and received his bachelor’s degree in 1914. His first job out of college was as a reporter for the Peoria Journal Star in Peoria, Illinois. In 1917, he moved to Detroit and was hired to edit an in-house publication for Cadillac Clearing House. That’s right, Leo B. was an early practitioner of content marketing.
At Cadillac, Burnett met his advertising mentor, Theodore F. MacManus, whom Burnett called “one of the great advertising men of all time”. MacManus ran the agency that handled Cadillac’s advertising.
Burnett worked for an agency called Homer McKee for 10 years. In 1930, he moved to Chicago and was hired by Erwin, Wasey & Company, where he was employed for five years. In 1935, Burnett founded the Leo Burnett Company, Inc. in a suite at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago.
In December 1967, nearing the end of his career, Burnett delivered his famous “When To Take My Name Off The Door” speech at the agency’s annual holiday gathering.
He said he would demand that the agency take his name off the door when…
- “When you stop building on strong and vital ideas and start a routine production line.”
- “When you lose your itch to do the job well for its own sake — regardless of the client, or the money, or the effort it takes.”
- “When you are no longer what Thoreau called ‘a corporation with a conscience’ — which means to me, a corporation of conscientious men and women.”
- “When you begin to compromise your integrity — which has always been the heart’s blood — the very guts of this agency.”
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