Agency chairman who gave city 'Charm' retires

ADMAN BILL EVANS TAKES FIVE

August 20, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

After a life spent in the advertising business, Bill Evans has only one ad hanging on the wall of his home office on the Eastern Shore.

It's a large cartoon with the headline "Suddenly It's All Fun and Games Under the JFX." Anybody who lived in Baltimore in 1987 will remember it.

People all over the city roared as they scrutinized Don Schnably's intricate, detailed cartoon in The Sun and found the tiny drawing of a couple engaged in some particularly explicit "fun and games" on a carousel at the City Fair.

Mr. Evans, Mr. Schnably's partner, had nothing to do with the joke. He was the guy who caught the flak and delivered the abject apologies that saved his agency after that incident.

The "fun and games" affair was only one incident in a colorful 37-year advertising career that came to an end this month when Bill Evans retired as chairman emeritus of Gray Kirk/VanSant, one of Baltimore's largest advertising agencies.

"At the time, it wasn't very funny for me," said Mr. Evans, 61. Evans & Schnably had to return $30,000 to the client and pay for an apology ad, but Mr. Evans kept the client.

"He handled it extremely well," said Mr. Schnably, who resigned as a result of the incident but remains a friend and admirer of Mr. Evans.

During that career, Mr. Evans became one of the most influential and respected advertising executives in Baltimore at a time when the city was evolving from an advertising backwater to one of the most important regional centers in the industry.

"He was regarded as the creative guru, certainly in the region, if not nationally," said Roger Gray, president and chief executive of Gray Kirk/Van Sant, the last of several agencies where Mr. Evans worked since he settled in Baltimore in 1961.

Mr. Schnably, whose association with Mr. Evans goes back to W. B. Doner & Co. in the 1960s, said his friend is "a real pro" who was also a devilishly clever practical joker at a time when the Baltimore agency was populated by a particularly wild, creative team.

"We worked hard, but boy did we play hard," said Mr. Schnably, who now runs his own creative service out of his home in Freeland.

Part of Mr. Evans' work was to put the charm in "Charm City."

Early in Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schafer's administration, when the Inner Harbor was known more for its rotting piers than its attractions, Mr. Evans was asked to come up with a tourism slogan for Baltimore as a public service.

"I looked all over the city and drove for miles, and all I found was charm," Mr. Evans said. "So it was Charm City by default."

Mr. Evans said the campaign he remembered most proudly was the one he helped devise for the city during the mid-1980s to explain the renovation of the Jones Falls Expressway to about 95,000 commuters.

It was not a campaign with a memorable slogan, Mr. Evans recalled. The key to the campaign was that it didn't try to fool people, he said. The ads told them up front that the renovation would be a big headache that would last 2 1/2 years. The campaign went on to suggest alternate routes and to offer a hot line for commuters who needed help.

As a result of the candid campaign, complaints were held to a minimum. "People sort of rallied around," Mr. Evans said.

When he was at W. B. Doner in the 1960s, Mr. Evans created a long-running campaign for Colt 45 malt liquors that showed comedian BillyVan in a variety of outlandish situations, never batting an eyelash until he was given a Colt 45. One of the ads, which showed Mr. Van lounging on a beach in the middle of a Marine landing, won one of Mr. Evans' four Clio awards, the ad business' equivalent of an Oscar.

For another client, Ozite indoor-outdoor carpets, Mr. Evans' team carpeted the Baltimore Zoo to show the product's sturdiness.

"We had tigers pawing at it. We ran it down the steps into a hippopotamus pit," Mr. Evans said. That campaign won two more Clios, he said.

Mr. Evans began his advertising career in New York but took a job as a writer at W. B. Doner and rose to become creative director there and later at Richardson Myers & Donofrio. Along with Mr. Schnably, he formed his own agency in 1984. Renamed Evans/McLaughlin, it merged with Smith Burke & Azzam to form Gray Kirk & Evans.

Mr. Evans was chairman of Gray Kirk & Evans until its merger with VanSant Dugdale last year. Since the merger, he cut back to part-time status as he prepared for retirement.

Now that his retirement is official, Mr. Evans plans to spend his time at his bayfront condominium in Grasonville.

But he's not planning to spend all of his time putting out crab pots. He's planning to write a book about marketing for small businesses and to do a little consulting work.

And if it doesn't violate the "non-compete" clause in his contract with Grak Kirk, he might even create an ad campaign or two.

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