Candid & Controversial

Adman extraordinaire Jordan Zimmerman may inspire a lot of adjectives, but his ultra-successful campaigns inspire clients to keep coming back for more.

Jordan Zimmerman modestly calls his nearly $3 billion advertising agency business a “fun ride.” With more than 1,500 employees in 22 offices, it should not be surprising that he arises each morning at 2:30 a.m. to start his day with exercise. As founder and chairman of Zimmerman Advertising based in Fort Lauderdale, the workhorse needs the extra hours to stay in shape for brainstorming and communicating regularly with his eclectic array of national clients.

“My work is my hobby, so I only allow myself four hours of sleep a night because we have a reputation for producing for our clients,” says Zimmerman, 54. “Exercise gives me energy. I can sleep when I’m dead.”

Zimmerman’s clients expect no less from this dedicated professional, who has built a successful reputation on his meticulous attention to detail. His agency handles such American giants as AutoNation, the number-one car retailer in the U.S.; Ashley Furniture, a top national furniture brand; Party City, with more than 700 stores; Papa John’s Pizza, which has more than 3,300 locations in 30 countries; White Castle hamburgers; Captain D’s; Boston Market, for which Zimmerman recently spearheaded an upgrade in food and service; Nissan; Friendly’s, the restaurant chain for which Zimmerman boosted lagging sales by promoting ice cream products to kids; and Lane Bryant, the plus-size woman’s retailer where he recently ignited a big breasted media controversy. His agency submitted two ads featuring a buxom beauty in her bra and panties to ABC and Fox TV networks, with the intention of having them run during hot shows—Dancing With the Stars and American Idol, respectively. The ads were all ready to launch when both networks said no. “They claimed we showed too much cleavage,” says Zimmerman. “But we didn’t feel this was right. We thought the networks were being arrogant and ridiculous. So we did a comparison and distributed it on You Tube for three million viewers.”

I always thought ad agencies were missing the boat and should think more about the client making money

Zimmerman, the father of four children ranging in age from 5 to 21, promoted the issue by writing in his blog: “Do curvy women have less right to feel beautiful and look their best than anybody else out there? Absolutely not. And if you think otherwise, you’re the one with the real issue!” Fox relented, allowing the ad to air on American Idol, and Zimmerman made it to ABC’s Nightline program to discuss the issue, garnering major exposure rewards for Lane Bryant by fighting back. “America wears a size 14,” he believes. “Our model was beautiful. I wanted my daughters to know they can eat.” Since 1984, when he started Zimmerman in a 400-square-foot space of a middle-of- the-road Fort Lauderdale strip mall with only $10,000 in his pocket, the entrepreneur has continued to build on an unusual agency concept called “Brandtailing™”, which bridges the gap between brand and retail marketing. The strategy consists of widespread communications through advertising mediums, including interactive ideas. This ignites the brands and allows the entire team to keep an eye on the client’s bottom line, creating a “we grow as you grow” symbiotic relationship.

“I always thought ad agencies were missing the boat and should think more about the client making money,” says Zimmerman, who has a home in Boca Raton and a 12,000-square-foot vacation retreat on 2.5 oceanfront acres in the Hamptons on Long Island. “They need to think of more than the creative side. With brandtailing, we build a brand over time with instant sales to make our clients trust us.” Now the Zimmerman Agency is like a business consulting firm that happens to do advertising. While advertising used to be a science of the arts, it is now a science of business. It’s all about return on investment, something Zimmerman knows from way back. Born in Newark, NJ, he was the eldest of four children and knew from his grade school days that he was not interested in the family business of manufacturing colas and cherry syrups. After several summers of working for his family, he was ready to pursue his own interests. At age 8, he began selling greeting cards door to door and also maintained a paper route. Four years later, he fell in love with advertising after hearing a friend describe the excitement of the business. “I wanted to find a passion,” he recalls. “I remember my parents’ friends complaining of how unhappy and stymied they felt in their careers. When this man described his love for advertising, I started researching its avenues of creativity, and I knew that is what I wanted to pursue.”

During high school, he studied and played sports, mostly football and track. His family eventually moved to Fort Lauderdale, so after graduation, he enrolled at the University of South Florida in Tampa. One of his award-winning, college advertising assignments became the “Just Say No” campaign later utilized by former First Lady Nancy Reagan to discourage young people from using drugs.

However, after graduating in 1978 with a BA in Advertising, Zimmerman learned the real meaning of the word no. He was turned down by every Madison Avenue advertising agency with which he interviewed for a position. It was tough, but turned out to be a positive learning experience that has served him well. “I went zero for 10,” he remembers vividly. “They all told me to go back to college and get an MBA, plus some real work experience. So I enrolled at USF and conceived the Brandtailing™ concept as part of my thesis.” While studying, he worked as an industrial copywriter for a small agency in Tampa and also wrote business plans. By the time he earned his MBA, the aggressive entrepreneur was ready to roll, returning to Fort Lauderdale to open his agency, focusing on the automotive industry. He worked around the clock, building, branding and expanding.

In 1999, he joined the Omnicom Group, a top global marketing and corporate communications and holding company for advertising giants like BBDO and DDB. The following year, Zimmerman bought The Ad Team and Ad Productions, merging the pair of local companies with the rest of the team. He then added Beacon Worldwide, which markets auto products to dealerships, and in 2004, the Zimmerman Agency (no relation), a public relations and hospitality firm in Tallahassee.

He now spends his days in meetings, calling clients, and flying around the country via private plane to meet with them. But he always makes time for his family. Together with third wife, Denise, whom he met at work, he is involved with charities like the Palm Beach Jewish Federation, Take Stock In Children, and the Florence Fuller Child Development Center.

“Jordan lives his life the way we all aspire to,” believes his client Gerry Rittenberg, CEO of Party City. “His dedication to living a balanced life has been crucial to his success. Since I became one of his clients two years ago, my life has changed dramatically for the better. I owe much of my recent personal and professional improvement to Jordan.”

Weekends and most work nights, Zimmerman has dinner with his kids, then they read to him before falling asleep. At that point, he retreats to his home desk for another two hours of work before retiring. “The family value system in this country is not good,” he says. “I make myself stay healthy while my kids sleep so I can spend time with them when they are awake.” Such dedication to living a balanced life is why Zimmerman has become a major American success story.