The Richards Group

Congratulations to Stan Richards, for whom I worked long ago at The Richards Group in Dallas. He’s now the namesake of the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Texas. It’s a terrific honor for him, and it makes everyone who worked for him feel proud.  Stan is a famous designer, but he also taught me a lot about the craft of writing.    

He banned the word “plus” from our lexicon, as in “Free hot dogs plus lots more!” It’s a weak and ad-dy word that I still won’t use in copy. He detested ellipses … because they implied disconnected thinking and left bare holes in a layout. He insisted on good English. You were your own proofreader and your signature on the final art meant it was right. I signed with trembling hands after checking the copy a dozen times. You were responsible.  

We called him “The Chief.” It was like the city room at a newspaper and he was Ben Bradlee. He touched everything. He saw every piece of work. There was no hiding. In that era before computers, he insisted art directors sketch the ad in pencil. You put your thinking into the idea, not the trappings.  

He said  “I trust you” a lot, even though he had very little reason to have confidence in a scrum of 20-something rookies, many graduates of UT. It was indicative, most likely, of his incurable optimism. There was nothing we could screw up that he couldn’t fix.  

He was honest in his assessment of work. When I screened my first television commercial for him (made while he was away on vacation) he politely told me that while it was indeed clever, it looked like something “made for Carpet Warehouse.” (As I recall, it had a man jumping out of a newspaper box and screaming. Lots of screaming.) As I stood in his office, he called the client at The Denver Post and told him he felt it wasn’t quite right for the brand (no joke). He then shot a new commercial on his own dime. He didn’t fire me or humiliate me. He trusted me. (I made sure never to shoot another commercial while he was out of town.)  

He had rules. You signed in every morning.  You did your timesheet promptly. Discussing salary was a firing offense (as some found out). You also got the distinct hint that taking up running would improve your career, as he was, and still is, an avid runner. I was a smoker when I went to work for him. Not for long.  

The result of all this (besides the usual eye-rolling) was that Stan created a distinct point of view about advertising and ad agencies. He built the most successful independent agency in America. There’s a lot to learn from him. He didn’t just own the place. Or run it. He led it.   

Creative people, at least in the business of advertising, need leadership. They don’t really like anarchy. Creating advertising is a time-sensitive discipline, not an endless art project. It’s a craft that can be learned, if you have a good teacher.  

I had one of the best.  

Fowler is an advertising writer in New York City. He worked at The Richards Group from 1983-87. Follow Fowler on Twitter @dfowlernyc.

Stan Richards talks to supporters Tuesday afternoon after an event celebrating the renaming of the Department of Advertising and Public Relations in his honor.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

A crowd filled the auditorium in the Belo Center for New Media on Tuesday in celebration of the new Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations.

“This is the greatest honor of my life,” said Stan Richards, founder of the advertising agency The Richards Group. “We have a new school just waiting to propel advertising to new heights.”  

The school, previously known as the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, changed its name in early September after a $10 million fundraising campaign. The school will continue to be housed under the Moody College of Communication.

“The department was already one of the top advertising schools in the country,” said Nick Hundley, Moody College director of communications. “This will only elevate it more.”

Student volunteers from the school wore shirts, printed with an imitation of Stan Richards’ notorious glasses, to commemorate the event. Richards received a commemorative picture of the naming of the school.

Moody College Dean Roderick Hart said the event came together almost effortlessly. 

“The fact that we’re able to name the department within the college is a big deal,” Hart said.

Noting that the department has always had the “most exalted” reputation, Hart said The Richards Group has long been a friend of the college. 

“Students from here go on to work in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and other places,” Hart said. “The funds we raised will help us remain on the cutting edge of faculty and students.” 

Public relations senior Hugo Rojo said he couldn’t wait to see what new opportunities would become available through the school as a result of the increased support.

“A lot of the best students who graduate from the department go on to work for The Richards Group,” Rojo said. “Richards has always supported the college.”

After a $10 million campaign, the Department of Advertising and Public Relations will become the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations. 

The school will be named after Stan Richards, the founder of the largest independently-owned advertising agency in the world, The Richards Group. According to Roderick Hart, outgoing dean of the Moody College of Communication, advertising professor Patricia Stout will be the new director of the school. 

Isabella Cunningham, advertising professor and outgoing chair of the department, said Richards has always supported the advertising and public relations department at UT. 

“He wanted [UT] to continue to be number one in advertising when it came to faculty and resources,” Cunningham said. “When we set out to raise funds five years ago, there wasn’t really a trend in advertising agencies giving to higher education. Stan Richards has changed all that. … Richards has hired some of the best students in advertising, as well as making monetary contributions.”

Advertising professor John Murphy said the department has worked with Richards for more than 30 years. 

“The school for advertising and public relations at UT finally adopting Mr. Richards’ name is just a public display of the relationship that has existed for many years,” Murphy said. “Being able to associate with Richards openly is a huge feather in our cap as a department. We, here at UT, share in Mr. Richards’ idea of striving for perfection in our work.”

The department has been working toward this transition for several years, Hart said.

“We are flattered and honored to share names with Stan Richards; no one is more deserving,” Hart said. “Stan is an advertising legend. We are very thankful for everything he has done for the department and will continue to do for the school.”

According to Hart, schools tend to have more regard and are better at graduate job placement than departments are. 

“The future of the school for advertising and public relations is in the youthful and energetic hands of the exceptional new faculty and the new director of the school, Patricia Stout,” Hart said.

The Moody College will hold an event celebrating the change on Sept. 23 in the Belo Center for New Media.

Correction: This story inaccurately reported The Richards Group is the largest advertising agency in the world. It is, in fact, the world's largest independently-owned advertising agency.