Founded in 1911, the Houston Advertising Federation (HAF) is one of the oldest service organizations in Houston. The story begins in 1906 when there were really only two “professional” advertising men in Houston – men who devoted their entire time to the preparation of advertising. In some instances, clerks were delegated to “get up the ads,” while some merchants did the job themselves. So it’s not surprising that an attempt to form an “Advertising Club” at the time was met with little interest. In 1908, although advertising as an industry had progressed considerably, another attempt made to organize was still greeted with lukewarm enthusiasm.
By 1910, the community had become more advertising conscious and more interested in advertising as a business or profession. The activities of the “Associated Advertising Clubs of America” – as the national organization was then called – had also come to the attention of many business men. The third time was the charm and the following year, the Advertising Association of Houston, Houston’s first luncheon service club, was born.
On Tuesday evening, April 11, 1911, a group of Houston business leaders – seventy-eight men and one woman – met at the Chamber of Commerce with representatives of the Dallas Ad Men’s League to sign the petition to become charter members of the Advertising Association of Houston. Four of these charter members were named Honorary Life Members of the Houston Advertising Club: M.L.O. Andrews, John H. Freeman, P.L. Michael and Simon Sakowitz.
Instead of electing an advertising professional to head the new club, a banker was chosen as president to lend dignity and give the club prestige. Interestingly enough, it was written into the by-laws that no member of a newspaper staff could hold office. This archaic provision was soon amended as newspaper professionals have since played important roles in the club’s history and accomplishments.
The first elected officers of the Advertising Association of Houston were: Oscar Wells, cashier of the Commercial National Bank, President; S.E. Sims, member of the firm of Sims and Laevenenz, Clothiers, Vice-President; and C.L. Sykes, Galveston-Houston Railway Company, Secretary, Treasurer.
By 1912, the club had so progressed and gained the confidence of the business community, it had no trouble gaining financial support to send a delegation to the National Convention, held in Dallas that year. While there, club members extended an invitation to delegates to visit Houston while they were in the state. The “Circle Tour” was organized and about 800 out-of-state delegates spent a day in Houston, where they were royally entertained. This was the first of many such tours that have contributed to the remarkable growth of Houston.
A decade later, the Better Business Bureau of Houston was organized and sponsored by the Advertising Association of Houston. The following year, Houston delegates attended the 1923 convention of the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World in Atlantic City. Those Houston delegates, headed by Wm. S. Patton, then Vice-President of the Houston club and today an Honorary Life Member, decided to come home and sell the idea of Houston hosting the worldwide convention in 1925. The 1924 convention was to be held in London, England, and the problem of financing a delegation was not simple. These advertising leaders didn’t think small, however, so they chartered a ship, the S.S. De LaSalle of the French Lines, paid $5,000.00 as a guarantee and persuaded ten prominent Houstonians to underwrite the balance. The De LaSalle sailed and became the only ship ever to leave this port under charter with every cabin booked. The approximately 200 delegates included Houston’s long-time mayor, Oscar Holcombe, and many other important Houston businessmen and women. Their bid for the 1925 convention was presented to and accepted by an impressed assemblage of international advertising men and women in the world’s largest capital city.
Now that the world convention for Houston in 1925 was assured, the club set about securing an entertainment fund. The fund was so generously subscribed that even after lavish entertainment, $30,000.00 was pro-rated back to the subscribers. The most important result was that Houston had taken its rank among the cosmopolitan cities of the world – and it was the Advertising Club that engineered such international recognition.
The club also had a significant impact on America’s role in both World Wars. Upon the country’s entry into World War I, the nation’s first War Advertising Committee was organized within the club to handle every phase of publicity relating to the war effort. The Treasury Department had heretofore handled the publicity, sending advertising mats directly to newspapers. The club’s War Advertising Committee solicited and established a War Advertising Fund and appointed an advisory committee to handle the fund for war effort advertising. The results were so satisfactory that when additional funds were needed, the quota was quickly oversubscribed. The United States Treasury commended the club for the “very clever, efficient and economical plan of handling the publicity.”
So outstanding was the success of the War Advertising Committee in World War I that the same plan was used successfully during World War II and was also adopted by a number of other cities. The Advertising Club, in competition with the larger cities of the country, received three national awards for “Club Achievement” during the second war as a result of this work.
Another fascinating historical note is that although one woman, Mrs. O.C. Miller, an “advertising writer,” is listed among the charter members, there were no other women members until 1945 when, by floor vote at a regular luncheon meeting, it was decided to admit them. Within two weeks, five women had become members. Bess Scott was one of the five. In 1947 Virginia Hurlbert was elected second Vice-President and became the Club’s first woman officer. Three women have been awarded Honorary Life Memberships in the club – Oveta Culp Hobby, Ruth McClain Graham and June Cerrato.
In later years, the Advertising Association of Houston changed its name to the Houston Advertising Club and eventually, the Houston Advertising Federation, in alliance with other members of the AAF Tenth District.
From its beginning, the Advertising Club has also been dedicated to education in advertising, sponsoring courses at the University of Texas early on. It was not too long before full-time seats of professorship in advertising were established.
Through the years, the club has worked with schools and colleges, contributing to scholarships, sponsoring essay contests, furnishing guidance in and sponsorship of, courses in advertising for the University of Houston, working with the administrative officials, guiding the curriculum, and furnishing instructors when necessary. Now that the University of Houston has its own advertising professors the club works with them and their student advertising club to give whatever support necessary. Through student conferences and competition, professor and student internships, and educational programs for the general membership, education is still a top priority for the orgainzation.
The Houston Advertising Club’s name was officially changed to American Advertising Federation – Houston (AAF-Houston) in 2007 to coordinate with the national organization’s branding.
Today, AAF-Houston is one of the stronger clubs in the AAF, consistently placing high in the district and national “Club Achievement” competitions. The organization remains as a living tribute to those whose courage of conviction led to its establishment and to those whose work has kept alive the spirit and commitment to further education in advertising, to foster integrity in advertising and to use the talents and influences of advertising men and women to make our community a better place to work and live. Since its inception, this organization has championed its one-word slogan . . . “Truth.”
Compiled by Alice Rogers and other archives, edited by Brett Elliott
Updated by Kay Krenek
I appreciate being part of the national organization through our membership in AAF-Houston. There are a lot of opportunities available at every level.