Hometown “Mad Man”
Bauerlein and the local p.r. biz
Leon Trice photo, courtesy of Pat Gormin
“Well, the agency was pretty staid – you know, strait-laced,” David Snow reminisces about his time at the venerable New Orleans advertising agency, Bauerlein, Inc.
From its 1922 founding until the company ended in ’97, Bauerlein specialized in advertising and public relations, and in the process put some Madison Avenue flair in its New Orleans creations.
At the same time, especially under its long-time president, the late Ken Gormin, there was an insistence on professionalism. David Snow’s nighttime moonlighting as a bartender was definitely frowned upon. “But, when I explained that we expected a baby and needed that extra money, Ken Gormin gave me a $75 raise!” Snow recalls.
Gormin’s daughter Pat, a former newspaper and television journalist herself, explains that her father “didn’t drink – he didn’t like the way it tasted. And, he didn’t smoke. But he wasn’t a prude: he had a wonderful sense of humor.”
Ken Gormin was from Minnesota, the son of Russian immigrants. In New Orleans he was a newspaper reporter. As his daughter remembers, “he had done a lot of political reporting. He saw politics as very important in peoples’ lives.” He also did entertainment reporting. “He would go around the night spots and report in his column ‘The Spotlight’ on celebrities in town. The bartenders loved him – he didn’t drink!”
Clark Salmen, himself a newspaperman, had gone to work at Bauerlein and, in 1952, hired Gormin to handle public relations.
The agency was established 30 years earlier, in 1922, by G. W. “Wally” Bauerlein, a dapper Midwesterner, given to wearing spats, who had worked as a reporter and had been manager of a Chicago advertising agency that had a New Orleans office. When Bauerlein, Inc., was founded it had two main accounts: Illinois Central Railroad (Southern Lines) and the Dunbar Molasses and Syrup Company, according to the trade publication Printer’s Ink.
Bauerlein, who died in 1942, had himself known Ken Gormin: both men were present at a ’40 event at the Roosevelt Hotel introducing the “new Blue Room,” for which the agency would produce advertising.
By 1960, Ken Gormin was Bauerlein’s president, a post he held 20 years, and was in charge of the firm’s public relations department. That included politics and handling campaigns for Louisiana’s Congressional heavyweights, Congressmen F. Edward Hebert and T. Hale Boggs. Possible clients were always around. Longtime Bauerlein account executive Hughes Drumm remembers Boggs’s driver: Harry Lee, later Sheriff of Jefferson Parish.
Bauerlein’s advertising department under Pierre Villere had accounts such as Bill Watson Ford, Pan American Life Insurance Company, the Roosevelt Hotel, Sunbeam Bread, Chrysler Corporation’s Michoud operation and Delta Steamship Lines. Drumm headed the agency’s broadcast media section, and WWL-TV was also a Bauerlein account, as was the New Orleans Sears Roebuck store.
Besides producing memorable ads and campaigns, Bauerlein employees had some interesting tasks. Ken Kolb remembers meeting Broadway star Mary Martin when she arrived on a Delta Line ship. He also got to escort “Miss Sunbeam” when Sunbeam Bread donated an elephant to the Audubon Zoo. David Snow recalls spending time with singer Frankie Laine after a Blue Room appearance by the star (who also liked to shop for antiques). Charles Beverly worked on the Delta Lines account and remembers traveling to South American on their ships.
Bauerlein was involved in good causes, once even producing a film, The Yam Goes to Market for the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission. The agency also worked on a campaign to encourage polio vaccinations.
Pat Gormin remembers that her father and Bauerlein, Inc., had worked with both black and white civic leaders to produce a newspaper ad in 1960 urging New Orleanians to obey laws ending segregation. The late newspaperman Walter Cowan, quoted in Ken Gormin’s 2000 Times-Picayune obituary, noted, “It was a strong statement. You can never know for sure, but it was generally thought this was a factor in preventing serious violence.”
Bauerlein was at one time the largest advertising agency in the south during its 75 year run. Straightforward and professional like Gormin, its longtime leader, the agency left a proud legacy.