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William G. "Bill" Evans, advertising executive who came up with 'Charm City' slogan, dies

ObituariesMaryland Zoo BaltimoreHarborplaceWilliam Donald Schaefer

William G. "Bill" Evans, an award-winning Baltimore advertising executive who was the creative force behind the enduring "Charm City" advertising campaign of the early 1970s, died June 20 of cancer at the Hospice of Queen Anne's in Centreville. He was 83.

"Bill certainly came out of the 'Mad Men' world. He was one of the first new breed of intellectual advertising writers. And he was definitely a character. There is no question about that. He was a very unique guy and writer," recalled ad executive Allan Charles, who began working with Mr. Evans in the early 1970s.

"In the old days of advertising, the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s, advertising was basically a collection of hokey slogans, but Bill was a thinking man's advertising writer, and one of the first in Baltimore," said Mr. Charles, who later became a founding partner of Trahan, Burden & Charles.

The son of Glenn "Dutch" Evans, a telephone company worker, and Marjorie Evans, a homemaker, William Glenn Evans was born in Rome, N.Y., and raised in Hamilton, N.Y., where he graduated from high school.

Mr. Evans began his advertising career in New York City and came to Baltimore in 1961 when he went to work for W.B. Doner & Co. as a writer, eventually becoming the agency's creative director.

During his years at Doner, he created a long-running advertising campaign for Colt 45 malt liquors, which was produced by National Brewing Co.

Mr. Evans employed Billy Van in the ads that featured the veteran comedian in a number of hysterical situations though he never batted an eyelash until he was given a can of Colt 45.

An ad showing Mr. Van quietly relaxing on a sun-splashed beach as Marines stormed ashore earned Mr. Evans a Clio award, which in advertising is akin to winning an Oscar.

Bill Hooper, who also worked with Mr. Evans and later became chairman of Trahan, Burden & Charles, described him as a "fabulous, intuitive and strategic thinker."

"I often worked with Bill and sometimes wondered how he arrived at some of his conclusions. I didn't always understand the journey but he was very, very smart," Mr. Hooper said with a laugh.

"He had a great sense of production and production values. He worked not only on Colt 45, but back when Jerry Hoffberger owned the National Brewing Co., he also worked on ads for National Premium and National Boh," said Mr. Hooper. "We worked together on McCormick Spices, Noxell, and such financial institutions as Commercial Credit. He was clearly a talented guy."

For Ozite indoor-outdoor carpets, Mr. Evans came up with the idea of carpeting the Baltimore Zoo to show the product's durability.

"We had tigers pawing at it. We ran it down the steps into a hippopotamus pit," Mr. Evans told The Baltimore Sun in a 1992 interview. The campaign earned him two more Clios.

Mr. Evans later became creative director at Richardson Myers & Donofrio, and then in 1984, he and partner Don Schnably founded their own agency. Renamed Evans/McLaughlin, it later merged with Smith Burke & Azzam, and finally with Gray Kirk & Evans.

In the early 1970s, when the city was reeling from garbage and police strikes and Harborplace was nothing more than a concept, Mr. Evans came up with the idea of "Charm City" as a slogan to attract more tourists to Baltimore.

It also found favor and support from then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer and is still used as a nickname nearly 40 years later.

"To be useful, a theme must be also believable. When I wrote 'Charm City" for a Baltimore tourism campaign, I knew it would become part of the language because it was true and it was believable," wrote Mr. Evans in a 2001 letter to The Baltimore Sun.

"It gave Baltimore a sense of pride in being characterized as something as simple (and powerful) as being 'nice.' This theme would be just as appropriate for the city today as it was then," he wrote.

Another equally memorable ad that was nearly career-ending occurred during the 1987 campaign for the City Fair. His partner, Mr. Schnably, created an intricately drawn cartoon on the cover of the fair guide that was titled "Suddenly It's All Fun and Games Under the JFX."

It showed a carousel and a couple having sex. Readers began calling The Evening Sun after the first edition, and the guide was pulled from the paper.

While Mr. Evans had nothing to do with the ad, he took responsibility and made apologies that saved his agency from ruin.

"He handled it extremely well," said Mr. Schnably, who was forced to resign in the wake of the incident.

Mr. Evans kept a copy of the cartoon hanging on the wall of his home.

Mr. Evans, who earned four Clios during his 37-year career, retired in 1992 as chairman emeritus from Gray Kirk/Van Sant.

Mr. Evans moved to Grasonville, where he wrote a column, "Bill Evans — Two Cents Worth," for the Bay Times. He enjoyed taking photographs and volunteering at an animal shelter.

His wife of many years, the former Jeanette Frances Clark, who had been a secretary at Doner, died in 2005.

Services are private.

Mr. Evans is survived by a son, Glenn Evans of Ridgely; three daughters, Tracy Connell of Lutherville, Brooke Evans of Monroe, N.Y., and Melanie Wilson of Key West, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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