Herbert L. Rowland, who built Rowland Worldwide into one of the world’s five largest public relations firms before his retirement in 1992, died Thursday at his home in Brentwood, Calif. He was 81. The cause was complications from multiple myeloma, his wife Patricia said.
Rowland started the firm as The Rowland Company in New York City in 1961 and over the next decade developed it into one of the largest independent U.S. agencies, serving a diverse roster of blue chip clients that included Procter & Gamble, DuPont, Corning, 3M, Eastman Kodak, Toyota, IBM, Sandoz, Canon and McDonald’s.
In the 60s, Rowland’s firm was one of the first to challenge the giant advertising agencies for a significant share of client budgets, driven by its focus on what Rowland called “target marketing,” allowing clients to focus their PR efforts only on those media that met specific demographic criteria and that would appeal to their target consumers. With a focus on measurable results and was cost efficiency, the technique rapidly gained momentum and became a strong specialty of the Rowland firm.
Rowland sold his firm to Saatchi & Saatchi, an advertising agency, in 1986 and stayed on as the firm’s chairman and CEO, leading the firm as it became a global operation. By the time Rowland resigned in 1992, Rowland Worldwide had become one of the world’s largest PR firms, with offices in 34 countries, more than 600 employees and annual fee billings of more than $50 million.
But Rowland stagnated during the 90s, with little support from Saatchi parent Cordiant at a time when other PR firms were growing, in part through acquisition. By 1999, when it merged with Saatchi & Saatchi Business Communications, Rowland was significantly smaller, and a year later Rowland was part of the Cordiant operations acquired by Publicis. Ultimately, Rowland became a boutique brand under Publicis, working alongside sister agency Manning Selvage & Lee, and became the U.S. office of Publicis Consultants earlier this year.
Rowland, who was born on December 4, 1925, earned a B.S. from CCNY in English in 1948 and an M.A. from Columbia University in English in 1951. He was a reporter for The New York Times from 1949 to 1950 and, subsequently, with Where magazine and TV Week magazine. He joined Roger Brown, a New York-based PR firm, in 1954. In 1957, that firm became Brown & Rowland.
Rowland was a major supporter of Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., and the Multiple Myeloma Institute in Beverly Hills, CA.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia; two sons, Russell, of New York City and Daryl of Los Angeles; a stepson, Rob George, also of Los Angeles; a daughter, Julie, who lives in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and grandchildren Emilia and Dashiel Rowland and Erika George.
A memorial service will be held in New York City at a later date.