Ad legend Frank Ginsberg turns everyday products into household brands.
By Corinne Steinbrenner | Images courtesy of Avrett Free Ginsberg
In the 1970s, he helped create Nair’s catchy “Who wears short shorts?” campaign. In the early ’80s, he introduced TV audiences to the distinctive gull-wing doors of the DeLorean sports car (featured in Back to the Future). More recently, he directed photo shoots of pop stars Rihanna and Jessica Simpson wearing little more than their signature fragrances.
After nearly five decades as a successful art director in the New York advertising industry, Frank Ginsberg (’65) has stories to tell. But ask him to reminisce about bygone glories and you won’t get much out of him. He’s just not a dwelling-on-the-past type of guy.
“I don’t think about yesterday,” says Ginsberg, now chairman and CEO of advertising firm AFG& (formerly known as Avrett Free Ginsberg), where he’s spent most of his career. “What you have to do is keep on growing and moving forward and looking to the future.”
Longtime colleague Lynne Kluger admires Ginsberg’s progressive attitude. “The people who don’t succeed are those who had their moment and don’t want to move on,” she says. “Frank is not that kind of person. He is constantly going to functions and seminars, networking and surrounding himself with people who see how we’re going to move forward in this industry.”
Ginsberg discovered his passion for advertising in the late ’60s when a CFA classmate helped him land a job at Grey Advertising as an assistant art director on the Revlon account. In 1971, he joined experienced copywriters Jack Avrett and Marcella Free in launching a new firm, where he soon became a partner. Free eventually retired and Avrett passed away in 1997, leaving Ginsberg to run the agency alone. He admits he struggled at first without his longtime mentors, but he soon found a crop of talented young employees whom he could nurture as Avrett and Free had once guided him.
Today, Ginsberg oversees 120 AFG& employees working in the United States and Europe and revels in his dual role as teacher and student. He enjoys sharing his print and broadcast expertise with his young associates as much as he loves hearing their ideas for reaching consumers via Facebook, Pinterest, and other digital channels.
“It’s very invigorating, very refreshing. I call it reverse-mentoring,” he says. “They don’t know it, but they’re mentoring me.”
Dawn Terrazas, an AFG& group managing director, says it’s inspiring to watch Ginsberg interact with the interns who come to the company’s Manhattan headquarters from around the globe. “Frank is such a charismatic and delightful person that you forget he’s the CEO. These kids sit down and talk to him just as they would anyone else.”
“My job encompasses everything I love: film, art, writing, editing, design, color, people, problem-solving, storytelling.”
“I’ve worked at small and large agencies,” Terrazas adds, “and what impresses me so much about Frank is how involved he is in the business—looking at the work and looking at the detail that goes into the work.”
Kluger is also quick to point out Ginsberg’s day-to-day involvement in the creative process. “He will go to shoots. He will be involved in the editing room. He will be at the recording sessions. He will work late into the night. That’s really unheard of for someone in his position.”
Ginsberg wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves his job so much that it feels more like play than work. “My job encompasses everything I love,” he says, “film, art, writing, editing, design, color, people, problem-solving, storytelling.” Whether brainstorming the unique selling proposition of a new product or selecting the right lens for a close-up shot, he can’t help but be intimately involved.
Ginsberg’s insistence on personal touch has won him loyal clients (he’s represented Purina for nearly four decades) and devoted employees. Handwritten cards on their employment anniversaries and flowers on Valentine’s Day make employees feel like extensions of Ginsberg’s family, says Terrazas, and ensures they’ll want to stick around long into the future.