More than 20 years ago, when Ted Knupp was starting in the advertising industry, there was a lingering suspicion that advertising was a manipulative business involving aggressive, mercenary characters routinely engaged in shady pursuits.
Not exactly the way to build a legacy….
Knupp's career in advertising has played a role in changing some minds. Perhaps more importantly, it has taught him to think more logically, deliberately, and diversely. He and business partner Jan Watson presented Knupp & Watson, Inc. as a communication vessel expressing "the benefits to the client of all the creative ways that draw attention."
Following a career of drawing attention, Knupp was named recipient of the annual American Advertising Federation's 2009 Madison Silver Medal Award. The Silver Medal Award honors an advertising professional with a strong lifetime record of achievement in advertising and community involvement. "My focus has been and always was on the community," said Knupp, 59, who serves as chair of Knupp & Watson.
His relationship with Madison started in 1970, when he came "to the Athens of the Midwest" as a graduate student, later becoming a teacher's assistant. He began in broadcasting in 1975, gaining experience at various advertising and management positions before opening Knupp & Watson in 1986.
His first involvement was with radio advertising. "I got a job at the local country music station, WMAD, sold advertising time, and wrote and produced hundreds of commercials," he said, "but I still had a hankering to do television and print."
After 12 years in radio, he invited Jan Watson to join him in building an advertising agency. In its first decade, Knupp & Watson directed approximately 60 percent of its efforts toward social marketing projects (compared to about 30 percent in 2009). This preventive intervention is the application of business-marketing concepts to health and safety problems. In Knupp's case, the intervention impacted drunk driving, HIV awareness, youth smoking, and underage tobacco sales. "I'm proud to have spent a substantial portion of my business life changing negative social, health, and environmental behaviors," he told IB.
Knupp & Watson's focus has progressed to strategic marketing communications, including advertising, public relations, and interactive media. Under Knupp, the company's creative turnout evolved from traditional print-based efforts to more integrated channels for clients such as the Beth Israel Center; Downtown Madison, Inc., and the Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Some of its organizational principles also shifted. "These last 12 years, the agency has been more bottom-up," said Knupp. "It's now more about empowering the employees to guide projects and to work and structure programs."
In August 2008, Knupp and Watson sold the firm to creative director Andy Wallman, who "we hired for his very first job out of college." The company, with 27 employees and $16 million in annual revenue, did not disclose the purchase price.
As chair of Knupp & Watson, he no longer is involved in daily operations, but he retains an office to address management issues. He and Irene, his wife of 36 years, have two grown children, Judy and Evan.
Knupp said that he is just as attracted to the collective vitality of Madison today as he was back in 1970, and that he expects even greater, more creative things to be generated from its advertising sector in the future — a future (and legacy) he has helped mold.