John Malmo once stepped into the office of Russ Williams, the CEO of Memphis-based marketing communications agency archer-malmo, after the firm had made a pitch for a client’s business and lost.
Williams, still disappointed, had the pitch material sitting on his desk. When he heard what happened, Malmo – an icon of the Memphis advertising scene since the 1950s who mixes a hard-bitten, take-charge demeanor with a personable side that endears him to his peers and colleagues – asked to see it.
“Is this it?” he asked Williams, before thumbing through the material and finally declaring, “I can see why you lost.”
Malmo – whose name, of course, is part of the archer-malmo firm name – is still going strong and has that same touch today, an irritation with anything that gets in the way of clarity, and an inability to mince words. What’s remarkable in the eyes of colleagues likes Williams, though, is that Malmo is celebrating his 80th birthday Sept. 29.
And instead of deciding his professional time is up, Malmo is, in fact, still delivering results, with examples of his work such as billboard copy currently visible around the city.
He also doesn’t accept any implied age bracket for what Williams acknowledged is “a young man’s business.”
Gary Backaus, archer-malmo chief creative officer, said the firm still consults with Malmo and that he’s in the office regularly. Malmo also works for clients of his own, and his creative work can still generate buzz.
In recent days, local and national broadcast coverage has spotlighted the billboard advertisement Malmo helped put together for the Fred L. Davis Insurance Agency. It presents an image of a young, male graduate, as well as a young man wearing sagging pants, with copy that reads: “Show your mind. Not your behind.”
Malmo has been known to drive the interstate loop, conducting his own readability test of billboard copy. His own work in that regard has some hallmarks, such as a focus on the text and brand name, and an absence of visual noise.
Near the intersection of Poplar Avenue and Mendenhall Road, one such billboard is visible with an advertisement for the accounting firm Watkins Uiberall PLLC that bears little more than Malmo’s copy:
“What the IRS taketh away, Watkins Uiberall getteth back.”
Straightforward, and memorable, just like the ad veteran behind it.
“His ability to cut through cobwebs and go straight to the solution – I’d give anything to have half of what he has in that regard,” Williams said. “There have been many, many times I’ve seen him leave a room of smart, young MBAs speechless.”
Backaus described him as a “classic Southern gentleman” who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
“If you ever have difficulty sorting a problem out, within five or 10 minutes he’ll have an insight nobody else saw,” Backaus said.
Malmo, an Army veteran who was drafted during the Korean War, got his first taste of advertising in 1959. In 1967 he made a deal to open John Malmo Advertising, and in 1991, that agency was sold to Ward Archer & Associates to create archer-malmo.
He has written a business book, “When on the Mountain There is No Tiger, Monkey is King.” His community involvements have included serving on various boards, and on his website, askmalmo.com, he succinctly ended a biographical sketch of himself this way: “Malmo has concentrated on marketing consulting since 1991. He is a mediocre golfer.”
“He’s just a fascinating man, always has been,” Williams said. “He’s just as vibrant today as ever.”