By Chuck Ross
In the business of media buying, a handful of people can be called legendary. One of those handful died last week. He was Bill Croasdale, who passed away in San Diego of a heart attack at age 77.
When I started covering media many years ago Bill was clearly a mentor. There was never a question from this then young reporter that was too insignificant for him to patiently answer. What made his mentoring so remarkable is that I have no idea why he bothered. He was someone at the top of his game, one of the busiest and most respected people in media. But he did bother, and he did it with great warmth and humor. That was Bill.
In my 25-year stint in the covering media, I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have the highest regard for Bill. As a tribute to Bill, we proudly reprint an edited version of the following article, which I wrote in September 1999, when I was media editor of our sibling publication, Advertising Age. The occasion was our naming him Advertising Age’s Media Maven Lifetime Achievement honoree, only the second time the publication had ever given someone that honor.
If there was a hall of fame for network TV buyers, Bill Croasdale would have to be the first inductee.
That’s high praise indeed, and it comes from Mr. Croasdale’s boss, Western International Media founder and Chairman Dennis Holt.
“He’s the total package. He nourishes people, he’s a workaholic, he’s a personality, a character and he’s a very smart, fair negotiator. He understands that it’s a relationship business,” Mr. Holt says.
But his real love is programming. Back in the early 1980s Mr. Croasdale worked closely with client General Electric to produce a limited number of specials.
“One of the best programs we did was ‘Bill’ with Mickey Rooney [who won an Emmy for his performance as the title character, a retarded man trying to make his way in the world],” Mr. Croasdale said. “We agonized over the script, because we didn’t know how people would react. But GE said, ‘This we have to do. This is important.’ They wanted their TV movie specials to be just that: special.”
The show aired Dec. 22, 1981, on CBS, and the next morning, Mr. Croasdale says, GE was inundated with calls thanking the company for airing the program.
We did six shows over the three years I was with them. They all won their time periods and did over 30 shares. It was the best time of my life.”
“Because of ‘GE Theater,’ Bill and I discovered Hollywood,” says Arnie Semsky, who was then Mr. Croasdale’s boss at BBDO and is now an independent media consultant. “The ‘GE Theater’ was where you could have a targeted message to a targeted audience in a beautiful and potent environment. It was the best a media buyer could ever do.”
Today Mr. Croasdale resides in the office of the president at Western Initiative Media Worldwide in West Hollywood, Calif.
“I take a lot of ribbing for it,” he says, “but that’s my title. Not president. Office of the president. Do I look like an office? I do a little of everything. Trouble-shooting and such.”
In fact, Mr. Croasdale doesn’t resemble an office at all. Around Western he’s called TP, a nickname Mr. Holt saddled him with years ago.
“It stands for tall person,” says Mr. Holt, a reference to the lanky Mr. Croasdale’s 6 foot 3 frame.
So who is this media giant?
He’s someone who can be trusted: “Bill’s the kind of guy that if I was in a foxhole, and I could only have one guy watching my back, it would be him,” says Mr. Semsky.
He’s thrifty: “When Bill buys a suit,” says Tim Spengler, Western’s senior VP and general manager for national TV, “he puts a tag in it with the date he bought it. If it wears out before seven years, he takes it back.
He’s got a great sense of humor: “We love Bill,” Mr. Spengler continues. “He keeps telling us that he’s not worried about any Y2K problems because he was around for Y1K and there weren’t any problems then.”
He’s loyal: “He still calls me on my birthday,” says Mr. Semsky.
And he gives back: “I love the fact he’s a great teacher of young people,” notes Mr. Semsky. “He’s always been a mentor, and when he was at BBDO we were that much better for it.”
Mr. Spengler knows what it’s like to have Mr. Croasdale as mentor. Last year, Mr. Spengler took over Mr. Croasdale’s long-time duties as Western’s chief buyer of national TV time.
“He’s easy to talk to, and a good problem solver,” says Mr. Spengler. “He’s got a great disposition and temperament.”
Mr. Croasdale developed his program-development expertise during his 12 years at McCann-Erickson Worldwide. Then he moved on to BBDO, where he had the time of his life working with GE in Hollywood, and after that to Backer Spielvogel Bates, all based in New York.
But he spent so much time in Los Angeles that he began to consider someday living in Southern California.
He finally made the move after Mr. Holt conducted a two-year campaign to recruit him to Western (which was later sold to Initiative Media).
Sipping on an iced tea poolside during lunch recently at the Sunset Marquis Hotel and Villas around the block from Western’s West Hollywood headquarters, Mr. Croasdale talked enthusiastically about his two sons, Bill Jr. and Bob. Bill Jr., appropriately enough, also works for Western, in New York. A media life has served Mr. Croasdale well, but he offered one regret. “If I had it to do over again, I’d go into programming exclusively. That really is my first love.”