Epilogue: Bob Guckenberger, one of advertising's original 'Mad Men', known for humor, heart

Robert "Bob" Guckenberger was known for his love of practical jokes and storytelling. (Photo courtesy Anderson McQueen Funeral Home).
Robert "Bob" Guckenberger was known for his love of practical jokes and storytelling. (Photo courtesy Anderson McQueen Funeral Home).
Published Feb. 9, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Robert "Bob" Guckenberger, a local legend in advertising, was known for his large heart and his love of practical jokes and telling gregarious stories.

Mr. Guckenberger, founder of Guckenberger 'N Partners and co-founder of Landers & Partners, died Jan. 30 at 78. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathy, sons Bob and Ken and their wives, and five grandchildren.

Mr. Guckenberger started as one of Madison Avenue's original "Mad Men" in 1960s New York.

After moving back to Queens — where he had met Kathy at St. John's University and worked before the two moved to North Carolina when he was called back into the Army Reserve during the Berlin crisis — Mr. Guckenberger worked for a small advertising firm.

A man who lived on their floor saw Mr. Guckenberger throwing away an Advertising Age magazine. He asked him if he worked in advertising, then asked him to interview with his firm. Soon Mr. Guckenberger began working for Ogilvy (now Ogilvy and Mather), one of the nation's top firms.

Mr. Guckenberger initially did research, and Kathy said he hated it. But one day, he was allowed to take home a Mercedes-Benz as part of his research for the client.

Mr. Guckenberger had read car magazines since he was 10, Kathy said. His son Bob compared his relationship with cars to Elizabeth Taylor's with men. He wrote an analysis and his supervisors were impressed by his writing, Kathy said. His career as a copywriter took off.

His career led him to take on clients as big as Mercedes-Benz, IBM, Publix and Taco Bell and win hundreds of awards. In 1975, the family moved to Florida and in 1978, he and Sam Landers founded Landers & Partners.

In 1992, he created Guckenberger 'N Partners, which son Bob took over after he retired.

Pat D'Amico, who now has his own advertising agency in Boston, remembered applying to Landers & Partners in 1988, while he was at his first job. Mr. Guckenberger interviewed him.

"Bob was Tampa Bay advertising royalty," D'Amico said. "He even had a name that sounded like it. He was tall, handsome, everyone knew him."

After the interview, D'Amico said Mr. Guckenberger fought hard to hire him.

"He gave me a shot when no one else would," said D'Amico, who continued at Landers & Partners until 1991.

His son Bob said that was a big part of his father's philosophy, which he tries to emulate to this day.

"When anyone called, especially a recent college graduate, he would always let them come interview," he said. "He felt it gave that person a wave of confidence to set up more interviews and ultimately land a job. He'd open up his huge list of contacts, and say 'Call so-and-so. Mention that you're a friend of mine. If he doesn't see you, call me back and I'll set it up.' "

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His sense of humor made its way into his work as well.

D'Amico remembered accompanying Mr. Guckenberger on a pitch to Taco Bell. After the pitch, Mr. Guckenberger handed out rubber rats and cockroaches he bought and said they might consider leaving them at competing franchises like McDonald's or Burger King. They got the pitch.

Mr. Guckenberger was also a big fan of baseball, Bob said. Growing up, he listened to Yankees games on the radio.

When the family moved to a place without baseball, he worked with the city of St. Petersburg to show the sport would be strong here, doing season ticket deposit drives to try to attract other teams here. When the Rays arrived in 1998, his son said he dropped his allegiance to the Yankees and became a season ticket holder, attending Rays games for years and later not missing any on TV. He was involved with the St. Petersburg chamber, the Suncoast Clutch Hitters Club, served on the board of the St. Petersburg Museum of History, was an active member of the St. Raphael's parish and was involved with several other organizations.

"He really couldn't say no to anyone who asked for his time," Bob said. "In a dog-eat-dog industry, he was simply the nicest guy."

Contact Divya Kumar at Follow @divyadivyadivya.