Direct marketing pioneer Lester Wunderman dies at 98

It’s one of those ironies of life that Lester Wunderman, who founded his direct marketing agency Wunderman Ricotta & Kline in 1958, has died aged 98 just when Wunderman (as it now is) is poised to absorb the even more venerable J. Walter Thompson into Wunderman Thompson within WPP.

For most of Wunderman’s career JWT was one of the aristocrats of the business while direct marketing was regarded as firmly below the salt. Now, of course, direct marketing rules the roost (although it’s disguised under a multitude of names), the more so since the likes of Google and Facebook claim to have discovered the secret of direct marketing at scale.

Wunderman Thompson CEO Mel Edwards says: “Lester possessed the curiosity of a scientist, an artist’s eye, the soul of an author and the heart of an entrepreneur.”

Wunderman was a great populariser of his calling, penning books and articles. He also advised Lyndon Johnson on the introduction of zip codes in the US and set up a noted school of photography with, among others, Jacqueline Kennedy.

No shrinking violet then, but even he might have been surprised at his creation’s enduring eminence, 60 years later.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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    Stephen, I doubt Lester would have been surprised at enduring eminence of his creation. Almost 50 years he predicted Direct Marketing to become “a marketing force so effective that it will become not just an alternative form of marketing but the predominant practice of the future.” A great man and mentor.
    Stewart Pearson
    Global Chief Client Officer, Wunderman with pride, 2000-2015