Thank You, Howard Rockett

“We are not in the business of creating beautiful ads. We’re in the business of solving business problems.” –  Howard Rockett, founder of Rockett Burkhead & Winslow.

This little nugget of wisdom was drilled into my psyche years ago, and it stuck with me. It convinced me to go back to business school and it later motivated me to start Eckel & Vaughan. I quote it often.

It was Howard’s belief that unless an advertising team truly understood the business problem they were trying to solve, the work – tag lines, ads, collateral pieces, whatever – would be nothing more than a creative product. It wouldn’t solve our client’s problem.

Howard was an influential mentor to me. He was tough. He insisted on excellence. He demanded the best from everyone on the team. And when the work wasn’t the best, he let everyone know it. He took his work seriously—and expected everyone else to do the same. He gave clients confidence that he would find a way. And so many times, he did.

While he was tough, he also had a wonderful sense of humor. It was a smart humor, usually filled with a dose of charming wisdom in the end. And I loved to watch him delight in explaining to a client a strategy that he stumbled upon. He would call me into his office. With a half-filled cup of black coffee, he’d rummage through a pile of handwritten notes and drawings. And somewhere in the pile he’d unearth a tagline, a positioning statement or a loose concept. And so often, it was spot on.

Howard passed away not too long ago. Upon hearing the news, I recalled fondly the first and only time Howard came to visit Eckel & Vaughan. Out of the blue, a few years ago he called to say he was in town and wanted to stop by. I was honored and readily agreed to host him. During that visit I was able to show him our office and introduce some members of our team. I walked him through our mission, vision, and values. It was a point of professional pride for me.

I thank Howard Rockett for his intellect, his sense of humor, and the influence he had on my career. We’ve all had those important mentors in our life. It’s such an important part of advancing a career and maturing as an adult. I can only hope and pray my three children find good mentors along the way.


Photo Source: Triangle Business Journal/Mark Rockett