The Real Don Draper' Celebrates 50 Years in Ad Biz

Matt Burnam | March 10, 2015

Imagine an ad guy with more than three decades of experience still hitting home runs. How about four decades? Five decades? Howie Cohen is the last of the Madison Avenue legends still practicing today and still going strong.

March 15 will mark 50 years to the day that Cohen — one of the industry’s original Mad Men — walked into Doyle Dane Bernbach as a copy trainee, beginning an advertising career that is twice enshrined in the Clio Hall of Fame. His Alka Seltzer lines that landed there? “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” and “Try it, you’ll like it.”

But this original Mad Man — whom the Los Angeles Times calls “The real Don Draper” — has jumped the digital chasm, featured with four other icons in Google’s Project Re: Brief in 2012.

Today, as chief creative officer at Phelps, he’s still creating results-driven, award-winning integrated campaigns, engaging on social media for clients and writing his Mad Mensch blog read by thousands.

“50 years have gone by in the blink of an eye,” said Cohen. “I consider myself one of the luckiest guys on the planet to still be shooting for the stars in a young, creative business. I’ve learned from the best of them, from Bill Bernbach to Mary Wells to Joe Phelps.”

Not one to keep his wisdom to himself, Cohen continues to mentor the best and brightest creatives at Phelps, ensuring a culture of creative leadership for years to come. To carry on that leadership torch, Phelps courted creative director Brad Gantt from Dentsu to continue to push the discipline forward with Cohen, and eventually, beyond him.

One millennial at the agency, copywriter Chloe Cotoulas, is grateful to learn from a legend, and even teaches him a thing or two about social media and popular trends.“While I’m always learning from Howie, it’s our exchange of ideas and experiences that binds our relationship,” said Cotoulas. “There’s 50 years between us, so we often come at a problem from different directions to feed our creativity and unearth better solutions.”

“I get a real kick out of collaborating with everyone from our writers and art directors to brand strategists, PR, media and social media specialists,” said Cohen. “People ask me when I plan to retire. I tell them to ask me again in another 50 years.