Guide to the J. Walter Thompson Company. Staff Meeting Minutes, 1927-1938

Collection Overview

Chiefly verbatim minutes of staff meetings of the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) including Account Representatives' Meetings, Creative Organization Meetings, JWT Forum, Monday Evening Meetings, and Apprentice Group Meetings. Also included are advertisements, photographs, and other printed material attached to minutes as background material for the meetings. Topics discussed at the various staff meetings include account histories, new business prospects, market research, activities of foreign and domestic JWT offices, development and use of advertising media (print, radio, billboards, film, television), social trends, and general business conditions. Some minutes include market research reports.

The Account Representatives' Meetings deal mostly with specific accounts and offices, and with business conditions. The Creative Organization Meetings and JWT Forum usually consisted of a lecture by a staff member and focused on advertising practices and account histories. The Monday Evening Meetings were a lecture series featuring prominent outside speakers on general interest topics. The Apprentice Group Meetings were luncheon lectures by senior staff members. Among the outside speakers at the various staff meetings were Clarence Darrow, Edward J. Steichen, and Margaret Bourke-White. Speakers from inside the company included Stanley B. Resor, John B. Watson, William L. Day, William C. Esty, and Ruth Waldo. All minutes are from the New York office of JWT. All minutes are from the years 1927-1938. There are some gaps within those years.

The collection contains a set of photocopies of the all the meeting minutes, designated as “Use Copies.” Also included is a set of originals of all the meeting minutes which are restricted.

A summary list of the meetings, with selected topics of discussion and speakers, follows the container list. In addition there is also an detailed index compiled by company staff, which may be contemporaneous with the minutes. The indexes for the meetings are filed at the end of each series. The company index is fuller than the summary list, but its form is idiosyncratic and cumbersome.

Collection Details

Collection Number
J. Walter Thompson Company. Staff Meeting Minutes
1927-1938, 1951-1952
J. Walter Thompson Company
4.8 Linear Feet, 3600 Items
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], J. Walter Thompson Company. Staff Meeting Minutes, 1927-1938, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Contents of the Collection

Account Representatives' Meetings Series, 1927-1932

The minutes of weekly Representatives' meetings form the bulk of all minutes. Representatives and guest speakers from within and outside JWT discuss advertising campaigns and their results, account histories, new business prospects, strengths and weaknesses of advertising media (magazines, newspapers, billboards, radio, and TV), ethics and standards in advertising, and general business conditions.

The contents are arranged in chronological order with some gaps. There are occasional inserts to minutes, such as advertisements, photos of store window displays from 1932, and a booklet on "Indian Sign Language" by Chief Buffalo Child/Long Lance, a Hollywood actor (introduction by athlete Jim Thorpe).

The minutes cover the period when JWT was expanding abroad, particularly in the Canadian and South American markets, and include reports from employees of foreign offices. These give their impressions of other countries, the countries' "progressivism" (by such criteria as industrialization), and their various racial and linguistic groups. They also outline JWT employees' goals for foreign expansion of US business. Research reports on foreign markets give data such as literacy figures, population densities, and per capita incomes, and refer to social and political trends (including anti-Americanism). There is occasional correspondence from employees in Europe and Asia.

A wide variety of JWT accounts are discussed, making these minutes an important resource for anyone interested in particular campaigns. Minutes include market research reports on JWT clients and their competitors. There are discussions of new products entering the market (e.g. concentrated orange juice), and the development of new advertising media, especially the exploitation of outdoor billboards (important as automobiles became more numerous), radio, and advertising films and TV. The August 9, 1927 minutes discuss cigarette advertising, while those from October 3, 1928 discuss Moxie, a competitor of Coca-Cola. The May 1, 1929 minutes discuss the Cream of Wheat HCB Club for children, an example of advertising to children through mothers and schools. Arranged chronologically by meeting date.

Meeting Minutes (1927, January 11-1929, April 24)
Box U1
Meeting Minutes (1929, May 1-1930, August 26)
Box U2
Meeting Minutes (1930, September 9 -1931, May 26)
Box U3
Meeting Minutes (1931, June 2-1932, February 16)
Box U4

Creative Organization Meetings Series, 1932-1934.

Creative Organization staff meetings were held on a weekly basis between March 1932 and May 1933, with additional meetings in January and February 1934. Top company officials and creative staff attended the meetings, at which one staff member usually lectured on a subject such as advertising practices and media, trade advertising and advertising to specific groups, client campaigns, research, foreign office activities, and legal aspects of advertising. Some of the meetings included question and answer periods.

The contents are arranged in chronological order. The series consists of typed copies of the minutes. Photographs, charts, advertisements, and printed material are sometimes attached to the minutes. Minutes of the Nov. 9 and Dec. 14 meetings include photos of store window and counter displays.

Presentations include a talk by Ward Greene, Executive Editor of King Features (the selling agent for Hearst news wire services and director of International News Photos and American Radio News Corporation). There is a report on consumer behavior at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, and the text of a talk by Mr. Hooper of Daniel Starch's Advertising Service, analyzing magazine readers' reception and retention of texts. The social theory of "technocracy" was the topic of two speeches, one in favor by Quincy Howe, editor of Living Age magazine, and one against by Mr. Van Deventer, editor of Iron Age magazine. Relevant articles from their publications are attached. The question of "scientific" advertising, and the American Medical Association's reaction against it, is discussed, as is the related issue of Federal Trade Commission regulation of advertising. There is a copy of an October 1934 speech, with handwritten corrections, by Miss F.A. Bell (a JWT employee) on legal aspects of advertising, that was never delivered to the group. Bell did speak on that topic to the Men's and Women's Apprentice Groups in 1936, so the 2 speeches allow comparison over time. Both contain examples of legal difficulties arising from Fleischmann Yeast testimonials. Some minutes contain ideas for campaigns that were not used or were quickly pulled, such as the November 16, 1932 discussion of a proposed campaign for Eastman Kodak that suggested taking photos of family members before they died and were lost forever.

Arranged chronologically by meeting date.

Meeting Minutes (1932, March 5-1933, March 29)
Box U5
Meeting Minutes (1933, April 12-1934, October 11)
Box U6

JWT Forum Series, 1936-1938.

JWT Forum is a resumption of the Creative Organization staff meetings. The new meetings, attended by top company officials and the creative staff, were held bi-weekly and featured lectures by staff members. Discussions included advertising practices and media, client campaigns, activities of domestic branch offices, and legal aspects of advertising.

The JWT Forum subseries consists of typed copies of minutes of meetings held between 1936 and 1938. Charts and advertisements are attached to some of the minutes, as well as one photograph of "outstanding premiums" offered to consumers through ads in 1938. A booklet reproduction of a slide presentation for Shell Oil, with drawings by Walt Disney, is attached to a summary of that presentation given to JWT Forum , June 9, 1937. Several large items have been placed in an oversized container.

Presentations include talks by Howard Henderson, Arno Johnson, William Resor, and James Webb Young among others. They deal with advertising and motion pictures and other media, the history of advertising, its criticism. and regulation under the New Deal. Howard Henderson's April 6, 1937 presentation on advertising history includes copies of ads from Life, 1884-1918. Some presentations incorporate JWT market research. Clients discussed include the Eastman Kodak Co., Curtis Publishing Co. (Ladies' Home Journal), Lever Brothers, and Shell Oil Co. Talks often centered on innovative approaches or potentially troublesome accounts, such as Tampax (folder 2), Ballantine beer, and Bromo-Seltzer, which was advertised to men after JWT discovered its largest single use was for hangovers.

The minutes give insight into the relations between advertising and social and political trends, and into advertisers' perceptions of the limits of acceptable public discourse. Several speeches include racial or ethnic jokes. Others have titles such as "Is Advertising Honest?," "Is Advertising Copy in a period of Decadence?," and "Bad Taste in Advertising." William L. Day's Dec. 7, 1937 presentation deals with the international political situation and the relation of public opinion to advertising.

Arranged chronologically by meeting date.

Meeting Minutes (1936, January 7-1938, October 5)
Box U6

Monday Evening Meetings Series, 1930.

Monday Evening Meetings were enrichment lectures by outside speakers presented each week from March through May 1930 in the JWT lecture hall. Speakers included editors and publishers, Clarence Darrow, Rudy Vallee, and motion picture censor Will Hays. Stanley Resor also gave one talk about his trip to the JWT San Francisco and Los Angeles branch offices. All surviving speeches are by men.

The Monday Evening Meetings subseries consists of typed copies of the speeches and the question and answer sessions.

The speeches offer insights into various business, social, and cultural issues of 1930. Clarence Darrow discussed his life story and philosophy, his conception of justice, and the connections between poverty and crime. William L. Chennery, editor of Collier's magazine, discussed the strategies behind the recent growth of that magazine, while James Quirk, editor of Photoplay, stressed similarities between the movie business and advertising as sellers of ideas and emotions. Resor's speech gives an Easterner's impression of the American Southwest and California, and of California universities and hospitals. Besides music, Rudy Vallee spoke of his early acquaintance with Rudolph Valentino and Helen Kane. Will Hays' presentation gives examples of changes made to movies, such as the head of the Boy Scouts of America using influence to have a scene of Kit Carson getting drunk cut from "Covered Wagon" because Carson was a role model for Scouts. Hays also discussed his cooperation-operation with the YMCA and other organizations and his agreements with the Authors' League of America regarding scripts and with advertisers regarding film ads. He responded to a question about the linguistic problems of making US films for foreign audiences.

Arranged chronologically by meeting date.

Meeting Minutes (1930, March 3-May 26)
Box U6

Men's and Women's Apprentice Group Meetings Series, 1936-1938.

The Men's Apprentice Group, made up of new NY Office employees, was established in 1935. Members of the group attended weekly luncheon meetings chaired by Howard Kohl and generally featuring a company speaker. The group also published a bi-weekly newsletter from 1935 to 1938 originally called the Junior News Letter and then the Flash. A Women's Apprentice Group was founded in 1937 but no additional information about the group has been found.

The Men's and Women's Apprentice Groups subseries consists of speeches given by Miss F.A. Bell to the two groups from 1936 to 1938, and records of question and answer periods. Copies of only 3 presentations have survived.

Subjects of the talks were the legal aspects of advertising, Federal Trade Commission regulations regarding unfair or deceptive advertising, and the functions of the Information and Records Division of the Research Department. The legal use of testimonials in advertising was a topic of particular concern since companies such as Fleischmann Yeast had legal troubles (settled out of court) over allegedly false testimonials.

Arranged chronologically by meeting date.

Meeting Minutes (1936, September 3-1938, October 7)
Box U6
Meeting Minutes
Box U6

2. Restricted Materials Series, 1927-1938.

Original meeting minutes for the Account Representative Meetings, Creative Organization Meetings, JWT Forum Meetings, Monday Evening Staff Meetings, and Men's and Women's Apprentice Group Meetings.

Account Representatives Meeting Minutes (1927, January 11-1928, August 29)
Box 1
Account Representatives Meeting Minutes (1928 September 12-1929 April 17)
Box 1a
Account Representatives Meeting Minutes (1929, May 1-1930, August 26)
Box 2
Account Representatives Meeting Minutes (1930, September 9 -1931, May 26)
Box 3
Account Representatives Meeting Minutes (1931, June 2-1932, February 16); Index 1927-1932
Box 4
Creative Organization Meeting Minutes (1932, March 5-1933, March 29)
Box 5
Creative Organization Meeting Minutes (1933, April 12-1934, October 11); Indices
Box 6
JWT Forum Meeting Minutes (1936, January 7-1938, October 25)
Box 7
Monday Evening Staff Meeting Minutes (1930, March 3-May 26)
Box 8
Monday Evening Staff Meeting Minutes Index by subject and speaker, 1930
Box 8
Men and Women Apprentice Group Meetings (1936, September 3-1938, October 7)
Box 8
Chicago Office Junior Forum, 1951-1952
Box 9

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The Staff Meeting Minutes were transferred to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library from the J. Walter Thompson Company in 1987.

Processing Information

Processing of this collection was supported in part by gifts from the J. Walter Thompson Company Fund and the John and Kelly Hartman Foundation.

Processed by: Rhonda Mawhood

Completed August 22, 1994

Encoded by Stephen Douglas Miller, Alvin Pollock