Marion Harper, Jr. (1916-1989) won distinction as founder of Interpublic, at one time the worlds' largest advertising agency conglomerate, and as a recognized innovator in the use of research in the preparation of effective advertising. His meteoric career terminated soon after his removal as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Interpublic in 1968. Harper devoted his remaining twenty years to other interests.
Harper was born in Oklahoma City on May 14, 1916. He attended Philips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and Yale University, where he majored in psychology and graduated tenth in the class of 1938. After college, he decided to follow the example of his father, an advertising executive with General Foods. His assignment to the McCann Erickson mailroom was the first step in an executive training program at the agency.
Known in the industry as the "boy wonder," Harper advanced in nine years from the mailroom to president of McCann Erickson, then the sixth largest advertising agency in America. In the succeeding ten years, his success in attracting new business and in acquiring smaller agencies made McCann Erickson second only to J. Walter Thompson in billings.
Harper saw an expanding role for advertising agencies using global communications and facilities to market "world brands." To achieve this he pioneered important structural changes. One was the agency holding company, The Interpublic Group, which circumvented the prevailing ethic that agencies should not represent competing accounts. Another was the elimination of a taboo which forbade agencies from raising capital by selling their common stock to the public. By the time Harper was deposed as chair in 1968, Interpublic had become a model for Saatchi & Saatchi and other advertising agencies to expand worldwide.
Harper's reputation as a "boy wonder" rested on more than his skill in acquiring new accounts and agencies. He was a voracious reader of scientific materials related to human motivation. At McCann Erickson he was noted for employing people without regard to race, creed or gender a rarity in advertising agencies of that era. He wrote and talked about the scientific application of semantics in the management of businesses and preparation of more effective advertising.
In 1942, he was named manager of copy research and in 1947, assistant to the president of the agency. The following year, at the age of 32, he was named president of the agency. In 1958, Harpers was named Chairman of the company, which changed its name to Interpublic three years later. By 1967, bankers had become concerned about declining Interpublic profits and on November 7, the six directors turned his power over to Robert Healy, a McCann Erickson executive recalled from semi retirement. On February 2, 1968, Marion Harper resigned.
Except for two brief and unsuccessful efforts to form new partnerships in advertising, Harper remained in seclusion in Oklahoma City. During those years, he returned to his voracious reading and his interest in semantics and human potential. Much of his effort during the last 10 years of his life was devoted to writing a manuscript advising "the well functioning" mature woman on ways to "reach her possibilities." Harper died on October 25, 1989.
Harper was the author of Getting Results from Advertising. He served as chair of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Advertising Research Foundation. He received the Parlin Award of the American Marketing Association Hall for contributions to the advancement of marketing, and was elected to the Market Research Council's Hall of Fame in the 1980s.