ANALYSIS: Profile - Dahllof: making PR a more creative place/A creative guy at the helm of a dollars 20 million PR operation? Unthinkable, you would say. Well the unthinkable has happened, as David Ogilvy disciple Steve Dahllof has made the transition fro

When the Society of American Florists realized that it lacked the resources for a national advertising campaign this year, it became concerned. Could PR adequately convey the society’s message?

When the Society of American Florists realized that it lacked the resources for a national advertising campaign this year, it became concerned. Could PR adequately convey the society’s message?

When the Society of American Florists realized that it lacked the

resources for a national advertising campaign this year, it became

concerned. Could PR adequately convey the society’s message?

Then, after meeting with its PR agency, it left feeling much more


One big reason will become public next fall, when the results of

research conducted by a psychology professor are released proving that

an emotional boost comes from receiving a gift of flowers. ’We expect

this will be a trademark program for years to come’ says Jennifer

Sparks, the florist group’s director of consumer marketing.

Behind the wheel

So who’s the inspired thinker behind the idea? Well, someone once said

that his mind was like a roulette wheel - you never know where the ball

will drop.

The ball must have landed on the right number more often than not over

the past 13 years because Steve Dahllof was recently promoted from

corporate creative director at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to

managing director of the DC office.

Dahllof’s work as creative director has helped power long-standing work

by Ogilvy PR for the American Forest and Paper Association, Chemical

Manufacturers Association, Pfizer and the International Sleep Products


It’s Dahllof’s belief that ’creative thinking has to go on all the

time.’ Forty years ago a statement like that may have made some

tradition-bound PR execs think what a gamble it would be to put a

creative guy at the helm of a 150-person, dollars 21.5 million


But when the time came to choose a successor to Marcia Silverman,

president of the Ogilvy DC office for nearly eight years and a constant

presence since its start as a six-person office nearly two decades ago,

Dahllof was the consensus choice. ’We wanted to leave it in the hands of

someone who reflected what we built,’ Silverman, now Ogilvy’s president

of the Americas, explains. Adds Ogilvy prexy Bob Seltzer, ’He’s been

able to integrate the creative department into everything that office


Watching the amiable but low-key Dahllof eat his oatmeal during

breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel one morning, he appears to be anything

but the stereotypical wild, ruffled inventive thinker.

Dahllof himself concedes, ’My promotion is really an acknowledgment that

a creative individual doesn’t think solely execution because if I was

just going to execute great creative product then I couldn’t have this

job. It’s because creative is really about the entire communications

process, from research to strategy to execution.’

Maybe that’s not so surprising because in the mid-1980s Dahllof was the

marketing guy at the National Restaurant Association when Ogilvy on

Advertising, written by the founder of Ogilvy PR’s big sister agency,

became his lunchtime reading. He soon learned Ogilvy PR was looking for

creative help. He got the job and his assignment was to build a creative

department for Ogilvy.

Dahllof started developing strategy at a time when the agency was

stepping up activity on a big AIDS campaign for the Centers for Disease


His role evolved into that of chief strategist, and the once-fledgling

department now has almost 40 people dealing with writing, graphics,

interactive and video.

That in itself is unusual, and David MacKay, senior counselor at Hill &

Knowlton in Washington, credits Ogilvy with having ’defined the standard

for in-house creative in a major DC PR firm. Now, PR firms are starting

to realize that it’s very profitable to do all the collateral


’Whatever vehicle we need to get that specific message across to that

specific client, we’ll do,’ Dahllof insists.

Beth Ruoff, a trusted Dahllof co-worker and now his successor at the

creative department, and Ogilvy VP Michael Briggs demonstrated that

creativity in a campaign for the Washington Department of Health that

won a PRWeek Marketing to Minorities award. Condoms with information

about AIDS and an 800 number in a beauty case were distributed to women

who were patrons of beauty salons with a primarily African-American

clientele. Results showed more 800 calls were made from African

Americans in the targeted area. Advertising has also been produced, and

one interesting campaign, called ’DC Does It,’ used ads on subways and

bus stops showing everyday kind of people urging the use of condoms.

Dahllof contends there even are more creative PR pros than he at Ogilvy,

and one of his roles has been to make account managers think more

imaginatively about how to meet the client’s goals. Briggs notes that

under Dahllof, and now Ruoff, there has been no wall of separation

between the creative and account teams. ’Good ideas are welcomed

regardless of where they come from,’ he says.

Dahllof eventually became part of the network’s senior management


While other firms have chief creative strategists, they may not always

perform the hands-on role that Dahllof did in linking the strategic with

the creative execution.

Dahllof’s been able to do that. He admits that his original thinking

comes from being able to examine problems from many perspectives, which

stems in part from his exposure to different languages and cultures

while growing up. Exposure to new phrases and ideas in Japanese, French

and Dutch taught him that simply knowing one language can be


Playing his hand

Right now, Dahllof is concentrating on making the transition from

creative director to managing the office’s rapid growth. Seltzer credits

Dahllof with being a ’consensus builder,’ and Dahllof cites Silverman as

having influenced his own understanding of how to manage. Many of the

office’s senior members have been there as long as he has been, and the

DC market has been hot, factors that should work in his favor as the DC

office strives to post 20% revenue growth this year.

Dahllof’s primary concern right now is helping the office deal with its

growth in a smooth manner. Then, the tests will really start. Wherever

the ball lands, odds are Dahllof will do the job with his characteristic

creative flair.

Steve Dahllof

GM, Ogilvy DC


Food Marketing Institute Manager of communications


National Restaurant Association Manager and communications editor


Joins Ogilvy, rises to worldwide creative director 2000

Managing director of Washington, DC office

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