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How a PR man became a giant of children’s literature

3 March 2017

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Two decades before The Cat ever donned a hat, Theodor Seuss Geisel was an oil industry ad man who was also the architect of a wacky navy, named for himself – a sort of PokemonGo of the late 1930s.

On March 2nd, fans will celebrate the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, as Geisel is now known, but precious few will recall the Seuss Navy, Geisel’s biggest success as an ad man and the tipping point of his life as he moved from illustrator to children’s author.

It was all about drumming up publicity for a client. “Back in 1935, while working in the ad department of the Standard Oil Company, Geisel was tasked with creating a campaign to launch Esso Marine Lube for the New York International Boat Show that was coming up in 1936,” Bruce Wells, curator for the Oil and Gas Historical Society in Washington, D.C., said in an interview, ” Esso (which still exists in Europe today) was part of Standard Oil which today is part of Exxon Mobil.

Geisel and his colleagues created an interactive campaign that engaged adults in boat races, games, contests, and an annual “Seuss Navy Luncheon and Frolic.” All manner of merchandise and prizes were created by Esso, some of which still haunt eBay today.

. . . .

The pivotal point of Geisel’s PR career came with his decision to generate three, 30-page, Seuss Navy story booklets with rhyming text and his crew of characters, says collector and Seuss expert Gregg Philipson of Austin, Texas, in a phone interview. Geisel later said his experience working at Standard Oil “taught me conciseness and how to marry pictures with words.”

. . . .

So how did Seuss move from doing PR for an oil company to becoming an icon in the field of children’s books? “I would like to say I went into children’s-book work because of my great understanding of children,” Seuss quipped in the Dartmouth interview. But actually, he continued, “I went in because it wasn’t excluded by my Standard Oil contract.”

Link to the rest at The Christian Science Monitor

PG says that far too many of today’s employment contracts would have precluded Geisel from writing or publishing anything derived from his work as an employee.

Children's Books, Contracts

3 Comments to “How a PR man became a giant of children’s literature”

  1. PR men can move in surprising directions from their early careers. Consider Bill Fries, who began his career by rapping (only they didn’t call it that back then) out a commercial jingle on a bread commercial. He later turned that jingle into a full-length song, “The Old Home Fill ‘Er Up and Keep On A-Trucking Cafe,” under the more familiar name of C.W. McCall, and went right on rapping about country stuff from there. Including a lot of trucker stories, though the man had never actually sat behind the wheel of a big rig.

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