A book determined his successful career in advertising and changed his future.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Former Marketing-Communications Executive
Involvement at Adelphi: Cartoonist and sports editor for The Delphian.
Favorite Professors: Birdsall Viault was an extraordinary history professor. I took a sculpture class with Peter Lipman-Wulf, who made me think about art in a completely different way. I’ll never forget Professor Phil Green telling me, “Hey, you can write!” after reading one of my first assignments in his creative writing class.
Advice for Graduating Seniors: Try to do what you love because you are a long time dead.
Almost all of us have read a book that’s impacted us on some level, but how many can say a book actually determined their future? Bruce Silverman ’66 can. A year after graduating with a degree in history from Adelphi, Mr. Silverman picked up a used copy of Confessions of an Advertising Man. After reading it, he knew he had to work for the author, David Ogilvy.
Not knowing any better, Mr. Silverman walked into the New York advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) – without an appointment or even a resume – to ask for a job. The only opening was in the mailroom, but he grabbed at it – hoping that he wouldn’t have to stay in it for long. Fortunately, Mr. Ogilvy himself took a liking to him, and pretty soon, Mr. Silverman was given a chance to write ads and commercials for such brands as Shell, Maxwell House, Panasonic, Mercedes Benz and Merrill Lynch.
Mr. Silverman went on to hold management positions at O&M in New York, Houston, Los Angeles and London, eventually ascending the ranks to executive creative director. After thirteen years with O&M, Mr. Silverman was recruited by Bozell/Southwest where, in addition to his role as Chief Creative Officer and Executive Vice President, he found himself also involved in managing accounts. From there he went on to work at BBDO/West. As Executive Vice President, Chief Creative Officer, and General Manager, he was in charge of operations, which allowed him even more versatility.
By 1986, he joined a tiny agency in Los Angeles called Asher/Gould as co-owner, President, COO, Chief Creative Officer, and manager of the supply closet. He remained there for over a decade, growing the agency into the second-largest privately owned shop in California. In 1997 Mr. Silverman was recruited by the Interpublic Group of Companies to become President and CEO of Initiative Partners, the principal U.S. unit of the then world’s largest advertising media agency, Initiative Worldwide.
Over the course of his career Mr. Silverman was the creative force responsible for ad campaigns such as American Express’ “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” American Airlines’ “Something Special in the Air,” and the “The Shell Answer Man,” in addition to other award-winning advertisements for clients such as Coldwell Banker, Baskin-Robbins, Pizza Hut, Hershey’s, Sizzler, Pabst, Mattel, Armour, Pace Picante and Suzuki.
He is especially proud of the anti-smoking campaign he created at Asher/Gould. The campaign, originally developed for the California Department of Health Services, later ran in Washington, Oregon and a number of other states under the auspices of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The ads produced by Mr. Silverman proved to be incredibly effective. “We helped cut tobacco use in half in California…which undoubtedly will save thousands of lives over time,” he says.
Mr. Silverman’s successful career was rooted in his ability to draw skills from previous experiences into his new positions, enabling him to adapt seamlessly into each role. The creative writing skills Mr. Silverman honed at Adelphi provided him the solid foundation for his future work.
In particular, he remembers a creative writing class he took at Adelphi, and Professor Phil Green’s ability to draw his students in: “Professor Green brought what he was teaching to life,” he says. Outside the classroom he savored the opportunity to put his creativity to work as sports columnist for The Delphian. “I loved sports writing because it allowed me to bring out the color of language,” says Mr. Silverman, who would build on this talent for writing throughout his nearly forty-year career in advertising.
Mr. Silverman is now retired from the advertising agency business, although “retired” would be the last word to describe him. In addition to serving on the advisory board of UCLA Extension, he is involved in business ventures ranging from animation to solar power to media relations to legal and health services. Author of the book How to Complain for Fun and Profit, Mr. Silverman continues to put his writing to use.
Today he and his wife Nancy live in California, and they have four adult children. A passionate Lakers fan, this native New Yorker is still true to his baseball roots as a Yankees fan. In his free time, he also enjoys traveling, theater, and the arts.
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