San Antonio and New York seem worlds apart in, well, just about everything, but when it comes to branding methods and innovation in marketing several San Antonio entrepreneurs seem to have taken inspiration from one of New York’s original and most successful 1960s ad men, the late Rosser Reeves (1910-1984), at least according to Bill Schley, president of Connecticut-based branding and marketing firm Brand Team Six.

As a former writer for a legendary New York ad agency, one he finds not unlike those featured in the hit television series Mad MenSchley regards certain “principles” – modeled and advocated for by Reeves – as necessary for a business to attain true success. And in modern advertising and marketing approaches, those principles seem to get forgotten at times.

But in San Antonio, a city with a blossoming startup ecosystem in a range of industries, there’s hope.

“I think there is so much substance in this city – people believe in truth, they believe in the real principles, and this is the city of those principles and real, deep, profound greatness,” Schley told The Rivard Report on Wednesday at a discussion regarding best practices in branding methods and advertising.

“(San Antonio) is a city that has more to teach other cities across America than it knows.”

The discussion was focused around Reality in Advertisinga 1961 book written by Reeves that was referred to as the guidebook for advertising and marketing in 1960s New York. Reeves has been oft been regarded as an inspiration for Don Draper, the lead character in Mad Men which chronicles the personal and professional lives of 1960s ad men on Madison Avenue.

After spending 25 years off the shelves, the book was finally rereleased again last year and has since had widespread success bringing Reeve’s wisdom and experiences as a branding expert to millions, priceless knowledge in the modern advertising world.

Rackspace Hosting Chairman/Co-Founder Graham Weston speaks about how he and Bill Schley got permission to put the book Reality in Advertising back in circulation. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Rackspace Hosting Chairman/Co-Founder Graham Weston speaks about how he and Bill Schley got permission to put the book Reality in Advertising back in circulation. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

“(Reality in Advertising) was the greatest book ever written in marketing and advertising,” Schley said, since it breaks down the importance of old-school concepts like a unique selling proposition (USP), a specific idea that defines a company’s unique position in the marketplace.

In advertising, fitting in does not typically lead to success. Instead, having a USP is key since it differentiates a product or idea from its competition, especially in highly saturated markets like insurance or car sales.

“Reeves wouldn’t call it a science, but based on research of all the campaigns that work and sell millions of products, we found that when they’re made this way (with a USP) they tend to sell,” he said.

Graham Weston, co-founder of Rackspace and Geekdom, also joined the discussion to impart entrepreneurial wisdom on the both seasoned and newer professionals gathered at the Geekdom Event Center on Wednesday.

Weston, who also is a member of the Brand Team Six board of advisors, has experienced highs and lows in business ventures over his career, but Rackspace’s widespread success, he said, is closely linked to the company’s marketing efforts.

“Any time we’ve failed is when we took (marketing) from the front and center,” Weston said.

He, too, championed the USP, or what he calls the thing “you want to be famous for,” which in the case of Rackspace is providing “fanatical support.”

“(Fanatical support) is more than just a slogan, it’s our entire strategy,” he said. In the tech realm that Rackspace inhabits, services like web hosting are common. Rackspace’s emphasis on providing “fanatical support” along with offering hosting expertise, a wise marketing strategy, is just one of several examples of a company utilizing a USP to clearly demonstrate how their product or idea is offering consumers something different than all the rest.

Clearly there are a lot of ideas in marketing that are spun out of that idea,” Weston said. Entrepreneurs should “try and establish whether there’s an extreme form of differentiation you can create (about your product or idea) through carving out a category. That’s the thing we should all look for first.”

Weston cited USAA, an insurance company that offers financial services to people or families who have served or are serving in the U.S. military, as another prime, local example of recognizing “exactly what it is” and using that to more specifically categorize itself in the marketplace with its USP: “We know what it means to serve.”

Director of Geekdom Lorenzo Gomez speaks about the importance marketing plays. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Director of Geekdom Lorenzo Gomez speaks about the importance marketing plays. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

But good business isn’t just about smart advertising, said Lorenzo Gomez III, moderator of Wednesdays discussion and director of Geekdom and the Weston’s 80/20 Foundation. A popular belief in modern marketing is that good advertisements can sell bad products.

“It comes down to when you make your bold claim … the customer should say ‘Prove it’,” he said. If a business, like Rackspace for example, claims to provide “fanatical support” then they should be able to do just that. “Nothing kills your brand faster than a false claim,” Gomez said, paraphrasing an idea from Reeve’s book.

San Antonio, often referred to as a “city on the rise,” has seen an uptick in the number of small businesses and startups over the past few years, especially in the tech field. Business incubators like Geekdom, Café Commerce, and the San Antonio Entrepreneur Center not only provide work spaces and resources, but also valuable networking opportunities for entrepreneurs.

But more than that, the city’s business leaders foster relationships between each other, something not especially common in the competitive world of entrepreneurism.

“San Antonio is a collaboration city. The startup scene is so vibrant, but the amazing thing is … everyone helps each other,” said Schley, who has consulted with businesses all over the country. “I get to work with a lot of business leaders here and if I meet with one, then invariably I meet with many others. Everybody works together and I’ve never seen it that way.”

Top image: President and Co-Founder of BrandTeamSix Bill Schley reads from the book Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves, the adman whom Mad Men’s Donald Draper was inspired by. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Related Stories:

San Antonio Entrepreneurs to Rediscover The ‘Real’ Don Draper

Smithsonian Inducts San Antonio’s Latino Mad Men Alongside TV’s ‘Mad Men’

Bromley Ad Agency Closing its Doors in San Antonio

The UnStoppables: New Book Serves Up The Entrepreneur’s Gospel

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is