What It Takes

Doug Laughlin

Doug Laughlin was drafted into the military right out of college and he says his time in Uncle Sam's armed forces turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him, career-wise. A stint in public affairs at the U.S. Army's headquarters in Europe led to opportunities when he got out of the service to work on the advertising campaigns for the U.S. Army's "Be all you can be!" campaign, and later, the U.S. Air Force's "Aim High!" campaign.

Then, in 1995, at an age when most of his contemporaries were contemplating retirement, he bucked the advertising industry trend of consolidation and founded his own independent ad agency in Arlington. Today, LM&O Advertising, which initially focused on military and government accounts, has $153 million in annual billings, 70 employees and clients including the Army National Guard, Avis Budget Group and Sears Portrait Studio.

Laughlin, 68, recently received a silver medal from the American Advertising Federation. He splits his time between homes in Arlington and rural Virginia with his wife, Grace. They have two grown sons: Chris, who is president of LM&O, and Scott, who is a member of the board.

His big break:
Laughlin earned a bachelor's degree in marketing from Kent State University in Ohio in 1964. He was working at an advertising agency in Cleveland when he was drafted. "At the time, a lot of the mid-grade lieutenants and others were in Vietnam, so they were backfilling some of the jobs they would have held with folks with experience, like me ... It wasn't traditional public relations, but it was handling press inquiries and various things ... It turned out to be a wonderful career-expanding experience ... When I got out, I went to work for N.W. Ayer, a New York City ad agency, which had the U.S. Army account. President Richard Nixon had promised when he campaigned to eliminate the draft, so there was this marketing campaign so that they could attract people into the service. We came up with the slogan 'Be all you can be.'"

From Madison Avenue to the nation's capital: He was recruited to work for the agency that became D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles to work on the account for the U.S. Air Force, then went to Bozell Advertising, where he headed the team that pitched and won the U.S. Army National Guard account. "The slogan that we came up with for that was 'You Can.' I worked at Bozell until 1992, when both my boys were in college, and then I started thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I decided New York City and an agency were not where I wanted to be. I was able to negotiate a deal with Bozell that I would go out on my own and they would be my first client ... In 1995, Bozell wanted to contract a little bit and I was able to work with them to acquire their Washington office, which became LM&O."

Why he's successful: "There's a side of me that always wanted to go to the next step. I was never satisfied with where I was."

Obstacles he overcame: "I don't think I had any serious obstacles until I launched LM&O. To have an ad agency in D.C. with basically one account, it was about convincing people that you are not a one-trick pony ... We would do small projects to get experience in certain areas, then ... leverage those into experience when the next big opportunity came along. We pitched and got Virginia Railway Express and did a good job of it, which caught the eye of Metro because both were in the public transportation sphere. The next time Metro was up ... we bid and won."

First job: "On the line at Frontier Steel Manufacturing. They made those metal shelves for warehouses and storage rooms. Basically, they were fabricated at this place, and I was on the line where after they got painted, we'd take them off-line and put them in boxes and warehouse them. It was 110 degrees and the greatest bunch of guys I ever met in my life. I must have been 16 or 17. That job taught me discipline."

Smartest move: "Taking a real hard look at what lay ahead when I was 48-49 years old and said, I'm not sure I want to continue this and having the guts to say, 'I'm going to do something different' ... It would have been easy to keep plodding along in the known and something that I was comfortable in, but I stepped out of my comfort zone and went in a different direction."

Biggest misstep: "When I got out of the Army, I sent out a number of resumes and got a number of job offers. One was from Procter & Gamble, which in those days was the [ultimate] in advertising and marketing. I turned it down. I think looking back that I was a little afraid. My confidence failed me."

What's next: "It's sort of the end of road for me. I'm 68. I've already conducted a transition for the boys to take over the agency and lead it into the future. I've given some thought to writing a book. I started out as a writer in public relations. I think there is probably something else in me, but I don't know yet what that is. My wife and I both love traveling, not Paris or Rome, but the byways of America. We've always enjoyed the open road, so there could be some substantial travel, maybe in a trailer. Of course, we'd pull it up to a Marriott at night."


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  October 27, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  |  Category:  success stories Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Lets see now,,this REMF was drafted most likely during the Vietnam war,,in stead of joining us there he was in "Public relations" in europe,,then rather re enlist in the army he cared about so much he leaves,,I wonder if his two sons also served the army he loves. Now he works to persuade others to join the new army and serve in some afghan mudpit with all it brings,,he needs to spend a bit of time at the VA hospitals and view the results of his work,,,Volunteer Vietnam not Public relations,,most likely his resume lists himself as a "Vietnam era Veteran"

Posted by: gonville1 | October 28, 2010 11:29 AM
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I was draft meat too and sent to Vietnam. It was pivotal in my life. What I learned first was that poop rolled downhill and secondly I learned from the officer corps on down that you look out for #1 first.
Determined and strongly motivated to build a life where I was not at the bottom of the hill and with a reasonable expectation that hard work would take care of #1 I built a pretty successful career.
So I was happy to get the hell out of the Army so I could "be all I could be".

Posted by: canty1 | October 28, 2010 8:25 AM
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I could have sworn George Orwell came up with the "Be All You Can Be" recruiting slogan. It sounds just like something he would say.

So what's the latest in huckstaspeak for convincing potential cannon fodder that forty virgins and a mule are awaiting them if they only sign on the dotted line?

Posted by: politbureau | October 28, 2010 5:41 AM
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Having been with Army recruiting in advertising and public affairs since January 1981, when the Be All You Can Be campaign was launched, I read this article with great interest. But I was dismayed to see N.W. Ayer and Procter & Gamble spelled incorrectly. Does anyone fact check or proofread these articles? Douglas Smith

Posted by: samueldoug | October 28, 2010 4:46 AM
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