July 22, 2014

Myra Revealed

Myra.

In Naples, that’s simply enough.

When you hear the name, you know people are talking about Myra Janco Daniels, the petite powerhouse behind the Philharmonic Center for the Arts, the Philharmonic Orchestra and the Naples Museum of Art.

Her list of accomplishments, however, began to roll out long before she “retired” to Florida. The following are excerpts from her recently published autobiography,
Secrets of a Rutbuster: Breaking Rules and Selling Dreams. You’ll read about the people who influenced her the most and learn of the defining moments that shaped her life and career.

Ever an achiever, she was the first woman to lead a national advertising firm, the youngest to win the National Advertising Federation’s “Advertising Woman of the Year” award, and the first female associate professor at the University of Indiana business school, to name a few.

All this is no surprise, considering her role model: Sophie Jancowitz, proprietor of S. Janco Real Estate, paternal grandmother and boundless champion of Myra’s creativity and gumption in a time (the 1930s) when young ladies were more often stifled. Myra describes Sophie as her biggest influence from a very young age ...

Sophie & the Party Favors

My first business lesson came at the age of four. My grandmother surprised me one day by asking if I’d like to start my own company. “I’ll help you,” she said. “What business do you want to go into?” I thought about it a while—until lunch—and then told her, “party favors.” I loved colors, and I loved parties and figured I could make paper hats and candy baskets that would be used at parties.

Sophie agreed to become my first financial backer, lending me rolls of pennies to get my business going (charging two cents interest for every hundred). At dinner that night, I announced that I was now president of Janco Party Favors.

I was sitting at the dining room table later, cutting up colored construction paper, when my father walked in and looked at what I was making. “Why would anyone want to buy that?” he asked. “And who will you sell them to? You don’t even go to school yet.”

I got up from the table and left the room to think about it.

What he was telling me was that I needed a plan. So I went to Sophie, and she gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten: “Create something that people want and need, and you’ll be successful.”

So I came up with a plan: I would make paper hats and candy baskets and sell them for a penny apiece to the parents of children who were having birthday parties. If I put fudge in the candy basket, I could charge an additional penny.

My grandmother gave me a ledger to track my sales. On one side, I wrote “Make” in black crayon and on the other “Spend” in red crayon. Then I began to create the party favors from multi-colored crepe paper.

But there was still the question of to whom I would sell them. My solution was to hire Hedgewood, a little six-year-old boy from the neighborhood. Hedgewood was already in school, so he had the connections I needed. Hedgewood could find out when the children’s birthdays were, and then together we could call their parents and sell our products. I offered Hedgewood the vice-presidency of the company along with a salary of 10 cents a week. Hedgewood accepted. He did not yet know that I was paying myself 20 cents a week.

My father died long ago, but his questions still resonate in my thoughts all these decades later. I also heard my father’s questions when I started my second business 20 years after Janco Party Favors. And I still hear them today. What they taught me were the basic cornerstones of business success, lessons so simple that many businesspeople take them for granted. Always ask the simplest question: Why would anyone want to buy that? The honest answer may require changing your viewpoint, seeing your product through another person’s eyes. Is this something people really want and need?

Another woman who would remain an important figure throughout Myra’s life was Goldie Kinder Hiatt, a teacher and writer at Indiana State University who let young Myra share her home—along with seven or eight cats—in exchange for typing her manuscripts and cleaning. She would become known as “Aunt Goldie,” living with Myra again years later. But it was shortly after their first meeting that Goldie taught Myra a lesson that would influence the course of her life...

Goldie & the Editor’s Job

I hadn’t been on campus long when I saw a notice on a bulletin board that the editorship of the Indiana State weekly newspaper, The Statesman, was open. I still had notions about becoming Brenda Starr so, naturally, this intrigued me. There was just one problem: I was a freshman, and the editor was traditionally a senior.

Goldie made a face when I told her this. She made an even stranger face when I insisted. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “If you’re capable, it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or a freshman. Just fill out the application and leave the space blank where they ask for your grade level. Just try it.”

I hadn’t thought of that. But I did it. The application required an essay describing why we felt qualified to become editor. In a sense, what we were being asked to do was write advertising copy about ourselves. I could do that.

A few days later, the faculty member in charge of journalism called me in. She didn’t know me, but she was impressed by my essay. As we talked, she also seemed impressed by my enthusiasm. “Well, I think you’re the person for this job,” she said. It paid $5 a week. I was elated. It didn’t matter that I was a freshman. Goldie had been right.

Soon after, Myra sought a position at the Terre Haute Star to supplement her income. Angry after being dismissed as a “paper doll” by the male editor, she marched into the nearby Meis department store and landed her first advertising copywriter job. She impressed the boss and within the year became the highest paid woman in Terre Haute. She was only 19. Six years later, she launched Wabash Advertising. Her philosophy was to learn everything she could about a potential client’s business in order to land the account ...

Myra & the Whiskey Shots

Pretty soon, I knew just about everything there was to know about whiskey from a marketing standpoint—and also how it was made. So I put on my beret, fired up my Tri-Pacer and flew up [to Chicago].

It was mid-morning when I arrived, and I hadn’t eaten breakfast. I walked into the chairman’s office—a beautiful office with the largest kidney-shaped desk I had ever seen—and took a seat. We talked for a little while and then the chairman said, “You really seem to know the whiskey market.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you know our product? Have you tasted the product?”

“No, sir,” I said.

They had little Drambuie glasses lined up on this magnificent desk, I noticed—marked A, B, C, D—along with what I thought was a pot for a plant but turned out to be a spittoon for the whiskey. And I suddenly realized that these men expected me to taste their products.

I thought, Well, these are very small glasses, I guess I can do it. After all, this was what I’d been working toward. So I convinced myself to go ahead and sample their whiskey. I drank down the first one, and it was just terrible. It burned my throat and tasted something awful. This is a product I need to sell, I reminded myself. I quickly put down A and went to B. B was even worse—the vilest taste I’d ever known. I thought, We could never sell this even if we did the best advertising in the world.

Who would buy it?

But I kept quiet. I went to C, suddenly feeling a little hot. I drank C and pretended to smile and then I lifted D. After drinking that, I sat down, my beret fell off, and I went to sleep. When I woke up, I heard voices in the background, laughing.

We didn’t get the account, and I never again went after a whiskey product.

The lesson I learned from the whiskey experience was that I should not try to sell a product—or an idea—that I did not believe in. That became part of my philosophy of advertising. It’s a good life lesson, too. Don’t try to sell something if you don’t understand it or if you don’t believe in it.

To continue growing her business, and to make a change after breaking off an engagement, Myra decided that she needed a more sophisticated way to do research. She enrolled in the doctorate program in marketing management at Indiana University and moved her agency to Chicago, reuniting with “Aunt Goldie.” She accepted what became a six-year associate professorship in marketing and advertising. Her skills at fundraising were obvious early on ...

Turning Hypotheticals Into Real-Life Challenges

Among the most memorable real-world exercises was one we tackled in a public relations class. More than 100,000 stray animals lived in Monroe County at the time, but the county had no rabies clinic and no shelter for strays. If you were the president of the Humane Society, what would you do? That was the exercise.

We determined that a shelter and rabies clinic would cost about $10,000 to build. Then I said to the class, “OK, let’s do it. We’ve got three days.”

There were some raised eyebrows when I said that. “Is this for real?” some of them asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

Turning a hypothetical into a real-life challenge motivated the students. So did my faith that they could do it. It also motivated me, and I became the baton twirler for the project. My students left the classroom and went out into the world to implement their plans. First, they notified the newspapers and radio stations about what they were doing. Then they prepared a press release and called a press conference. They also networked with the student body, the fraternities and sororities, generating word-of-mouth interest in their campaign all over campus.

They attached baskets to the necks of German Shepherd dogs from the fraternities and walked them around the town square, collecting money. People gave. The excitement of the cause became contagious. On Saturday night, the students gathered at my house and counted up the money. In three days, they had collected just over $9,000. Goldie counted it out. I wrote out a check for the rest, and the shelter was built.

The lesson that we all learned from this exercise was that people can do almost anything when they’re galvanized and they share belief. I’m sometimes asked how I manage to motivate people, how I’m able to get them excited about a project. It’s simple: by being excited myself.

Myra returned to the world of advertising and moved just outside of Chicago—with “Aunt Goldie” in tow—and became executive vice president of Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst Inc. In 1965, she became the first woman younger than 40 named as the national Advertising Woman of the Year. And then fate came calling ...

The Janco-Daniels Merger

I had known the name Draper Daniels for some time, although it wasn’t until 1965 that I got to know him. By then, he was considered something of a legend in the advertising world, having created such campaigns as the Marlboro Man while executive vice president at the Leo Burnett Company.

I was introduced to Draper Daniels by Vivian Hill, a stylish, intelligent woman who dressed in Chanel suits and high heels and wore the most gorgeous South Seas pearls I’d ever seen. Vivian was a headhunter, whose specialty was bringing corporations together. She mentioned that Draper Daniels might be interested in purchasing our company.

Vivian offered to call Draper Daniels and say I was interested. He agreed to come in the next day at 5 p.m. and meet with me. Draper Daniels was a tall, distinguished-looking man, who was known as a maverick—and also as something of a chauvinist. When he walked in the office at Roche, Rickard, Henri, Hurst Inc., heads turned. “Is that Draper Daniels?” people whispered.

The first thing he did when he came into my office was kick the antique desk, which I thought a little odd. I remember thinking, He’s not only a chauvinist, he’s also a klutz (both perceptions, it turned out, were wrong). Then he sat down across from me and said, “Miss Janco, I’m so glad to meet you. Now tell me: What do you think is the best advertising in America right now and why?”

I reluctantly answered his questions, only to find that he had others. Question after question, until it began to feel more like an interrogation than a business meeting.

Finally, after close to an hour, I said, “Mr. Daniels, you came here to investigate a business, and you haven’t asked one question about that business.” 

“But if I buy a business I’m also buying the head of the company to run it,” he replied.

So he kept asking questions—not the ones I expected. He never even asked to look at our books. What really interested him, I came to realize, was not sales volume, it was vision. Finally, at about 10 o’clock that night—he’d come in the office at 5:15—Draper Daniels said, “Miss Janco, you must be hungry. Do you want to go get a hamburger?” So we walked down to the Wrigley Building, and we had a couple of their famous hamburgers. We talked a little more and then he told me that he wanted to buy the business. He also said that he wanted me to stay. I told him I couldn’t—that I was planning to move to New York. “But I’ll stay long enough for you to feel comfortable running the company,” I told him.

A few minutes later, he said: “If I were to do this, what would we name the company?”

“Well, the best name in the business is Draper Daniels, so maybe we should call it that.” All the way home, I was mad at myself for handing him the name so easily.

The next day, Dan—which is what he called himself—phoned Vivian. He wanted to make the deal. I said, “Would you like your lawyer and finance man to come and meet with me and my finance man?” He said, “No. It’s not necessary. You have an honest face. Whatever you want for the business will be fine.”

Years later, after Dan lost his battle with cancer, Myra learned that he told Vivian something else the day after they met: Within two years, he would make Myra his wife. Two years after joining the firm, Dan proposed. Myra was surprised because she considered their relationship strictly business, but she reluctantly agreed to a year’s courtship. With Dan’s persistence, within six weeks, their “merger” was complete.

Coming in the December issue of Gulfshore Life:

Read about Myra’s retirement to Florida and how a simple phone call asking for her help to form a chamber music ensemble launched the creation of the world-class Philharmonic Center for the Arts.

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