Advertising exec Bob Dale leaves legacy of business acumen and service

Advertising exec Bob Dale leaves legacy of business acumen and service

THE R.J. DALE Advertising Agency was a full-service advertising agency that received many awards for reaching the Black community through the media. Clients included the Illinois State Lottery, Luster Products, Illinois Bell and many more. Robert J. Dale (fourth from left) is pictured at an awards event in 1989. (Photo by Powell Studio

Bob Dale

Robert “Bob” Dale was a big fish in the pond of Chicago advertising, adept at navigating his way through the muddy waters of politics, business practices and relationships. Dale, retired owner of the pioneering R.J. Dale Advertising and Public Relations firm, died Saturday, March 30, following a struggle with dementia, leaving a legacy of business acumen and service. He was 81.

Dale grew up in Chicago and graduated from Chicago Vocational High School in 1961. He received his B.S. in business from Arizona State University and pursued his MBA at Stanford University in California. Hired as a local account executive at Kaiser Broadcasting in Chicago, he honed his business and advertising skills there in the 70s, becoming a national account executive.

A gregarious man, Dale parlayed his outgoing persona into valuable business relationships. Those relationships and advisers encouraged him to create his advertising and public relations practice. He did so, focusing on general market, and segment specific programs.

In 1979, with the founding of R.J. Dale Advertising and Public Relations, Dale dived into deep waters. He treaded slowly in the early years, gradually acquiring clients and making a name in the advertising business. By the 90s he was swimming for Gold and boasting a roster of big name clients, pulling in the big dollars when he secured a multi-million-dollar contract with the state lottery program.

1ROBERT J. DALE (third from left) was the president and CEO of an award-winning advertising agency, R.J. Dale Advertising, Inc. for many decades. Dale is pictured in a Jewel-Osco and DuSable Museum of African American History press conference photo during Black History Month on February 10, 2000. (Crusader archive photo)

Sandra Jones-Gonzalez was VP of Finance at the agency for 15 years. Jones-Gonzalez says of Dale, “He never turned down a financial request from business associates needing help. He was active in politics and threw fundraisers for Gus Savage and Bobby Rush, to name a few. He contributed to Dorothy Brown’s campaign when she first ran for Circuit Court Clerk. He was a generous man. I know, I signed the checks.”

Publisher Dorothy Leavell was a long-time business associate of Dale’s.

“Bob and I didn’t always agree,” she says. “In fact we had heated exchanges more than once. He was downtown and I was in the neighborhood, but both fighting for our businesses, and we learned to get along. Bob was as serious about his business as I was about mine. Over the years we became friends.”

Leavell says Dale visited her office as recently as last fall with his wife, Cathy. “He looked good, tall and strong. Cathy was taking good care of him.”

Known for its multi-cultural advertising initiatives, the Dale agency operated from a swanky lakefront-facing suite of offices at 500 N. Michigan, staffed by a cadre of accountants, advertising and public relations executives, and graphic designers. His Michigan Avenue agency staffed 20 people. A lucky few college interns, eager to learn the profession, came and went every year, excited that not only were they working in the sacred halls, Dale paid them, too.

From its inception, the Dale agency had its finger on the pulse of the African American community. “We speak the language” was the agency’s tagline and clients believed him, entrusting their accounts to Bob Dale and his street-smart knowledge of African American culture. Under Dale’s direction his clients’ companies built solid relationships within the Black community.

Dale’s agency created popular radio and print ads that cemented community relationships. One advertising campaign for Jewel-Osco featured a cast of family members that shopped at the local Jewel grocery stores and talked with one another by phone weekly, discussing sales items at Jewel. For the agency’s ComEd account, Dale’s copywriters created a likeable radio character named Jack Hammer, a construction worker who advised listeners of ongoing construction projects.

2DR. PEPPER AND Kemmerer Botting Group, Inc. named R.J. Dale Advertising as one of its new advertising agencies. Pictured, l-r: Kemmerer Vice President Jack Patterson congratulates Robert J. Dale. (Garland Hale Photography)

R.J. Dale was the first African American agency to be awarded the Illinois Lottery’s primary ad contract, saying it chose Dale “for its creative capabilities and presentation of ideas.” A feature of the Lottery brand was a lively character who was on hand and engaged with consumers at Lottery events, parades, and fairs statewide.

The State of Illinois came to Dale with its organ donation program, seeking his counsel on how to approach the delicate subject of organ donation with the Black community. Dale’s staff, sensitive to the cultural nuances of the community, created “Believe in Second Chances,” a resounding success resulting in increased donations.

Hair care giant Luster Products, and global brands Coca Cola and Nike, were among clients serviced by Dale’s firm.

Black Enterprise magazine consistently ranked R.J. Dale Advertising and Public Relations among the leading Black-owned agencies.

A relationship-savvy man, Dale directed staff to create the agency’s annual “The Holidays Begin With Us” event, to be hosted by his agency early each November. The holiday media reception invited print and broadcast media from all over the city and suburbs to enjoy the holiday spirit and meet clients’ representatives. Those cocktail hour greetings frequently led to an exchange of business cards and promises of future contact. Both general market and segment market media viewed the reception as the hottest holiday invitation in town.

Bob Dale always described himself as “a regular guy.” And he was. As successful as he became, there was no pretense about him. He led a socially active life, much of which was required by the nature of his business. On a personal level he enjoyed the company of friends some called the “Rat Pack,” a group that traveled and golfed together, and regularly enjoyed cocktail hours at neighborhood pubs.

Many organizations benefitted from Dale’s participation on their Boards, including the March of Dimes, Chicago State University College of Business, the Black Public Relations Society, and the Black Ensemble Theatre. Dale was Chairman Emeritus of the Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Larry Ivory worked closely with Dale. “Bob was the best of the best,” he says. “He was a proponent of fairness and equity and he never strayed from that.”

The Chamber president recalled a meeting where an Illinois Department of Transportation representative remarked it was going to take time to resolve issues within IDOT. “Bob went from 0 to 100! He told him, ‘Black people ain’t got time to wait, we’re always waiting!’ Things started moving after Bob blew up,” says Ivory.

Noting there have been many fine chairmen of the Chamber, Ivory said emphatically, “but Bob was the best. He was a fierce advocate and supporter of the Chamber.”

Ivory said discussion is underway to honor Dale’s commitment to the Chamber. He said the organization will create a new award to be named “The Bob Dale Outstanding Leadership Award.” The first Dale Award will be presented this August at the Chamber’s annual convention.

“Bob didn’t talk, he did,” Ivory said.

Dale is survived by his wife, Cathy, and sons Kondo, Yusef and Kareem.

Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday, April 18, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St.

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