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Herbert D. ‘Herb’ Fried, an advertising CEO who drew comparisons to Roger Sterling of ‘Mad Men’ TV series, dies

Herbert D. “Herb” Fried was the CEO of the W.B. Doner & Co. advertising agency in Baltimore.
Herbert D. “Herb” Fried was the CEO of the W.B. Doner & Co. advertising agency in Baltimore. (handout)

One favorite vacation spot for the Fried family was Ocean City, where members enjoyed the ocean and local dining. One of Herbert D. “Herb” Fried’s go-to snack options was french fries, which he preferred well done and crispy.

“So there was a french fry stand on the boardwalk, and we’d go there every day, and he would try to teach them how to make it right,” recalled son Billy Fried (pronounced FREED). “So they invited him to get behind the counter and actually cook the french fries, and he loved that.”

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Mr. Fried, the chief executive officer of the W.B. Doner & Co. advertising agency in Baltimore whose clients ranged from local businesses such as the Baltimore Orioles and McCormick & Co. to international giants such as Coca-Cola and Mazda, died Sept. 30 at his home in Jupiter, Florida, of digestive problems. He was 93.

Mr. Fried was the face of the advertising company’s Baltimore branch and was renowned for his ability to meet representatives and successfully persuade them to sign with his group. Jim Dale, who was the creative director under Mr. Fried before being promoted to president at W.B. Doner, favorably compared Mr. Fried to Roger Sterling of AMC’s “Mad Men” TV series.

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“He was Roger Sterling with the silver hair and the smile and a drink in his hand and his finger on the pulse of his clients,” Mr. Dale said. “He had an intuitive sixth sense of what was going on. Herb was a fan of the show, and he once said, ‘I think they’re writing my life story.’”

Herbert D. "Herb" Fried is pictured at the W.B. Doner & Co. offices in Baltimore in June 2003. He was named chairman and CEO in 1973.
Herbert D. "Herb" Fried is pictured at the W.B. Doner & Co. offices in Baltimore in June 2003. He was named chairman and CEO in 1973. (Nanine Hartzenbusch)

Arnold J. “Arnie” Kleiner, former president and general manager of WMAR-TV who had known Mr. Fried since 1969, said his friend was a familiar sight in the black Cadillac convertible he drove around town.

“Everybody wanted to be Herb Fried — both men and women,” Mr. Kleiner said. “Everybody loved him. He was just a great guy.”

The older of two children raised by Herbert Fried Sr., an accountant, and the former Beatrice Frank, a homemaker, Mr. Fried grew up in Chicago where he became a champion swimmer. He left to attend the University of New Mexico, but returned during his freshman year after his father died.

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A year later, Mr. Fried began working as an intern at the Foote, Cone & Belding advertising agency in Chicago. He was encouraged to do so by his mother and inspired by Clark Gable’s role as a radio advertising executive in “The Hucksters.”

“When he saw that, he became enamored with the business,” his son said.

While working on the Jim Beam liquor account at Weiss and Geller, a 28-year-old Mr. Fried was hired away by Wilfred Broderick “Brod” Doner, the founder of W.B. Doner & Co. Although the firm was based in Detroit, Mr. Doner hired Mr. Fried to manage the National Brewing Co. account in Baltimore.

Herbert D. "Herb" Fried, right, chats with former Orioles executive Frank Cashen at an Oriole Advocates luncheon in August 1996 at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. The Orioles were one of W.B. Doner & Co.'s clients.
Herbert D. "Herb" Fried, right, chats with former Orioles executive Frank Cashen at an Oriole Advocates luncheon in August 1996 at the Sheraton Inner Harbor. The Orioles were one of W.B. Doner & Co.'s clients. (TIFFANY H. HOUSE / XX)

“At the time, when he said, ‘How would you like to move to Baltimore?’ my father’s answer was, ‘Where’s Baltimore?’” Billy Fried said. “Then he asked my mother, ‘How would you like to move to Baltimore?’ and she said, ‘Where’s Baltimore?’”

Although the National Brewing Co. and founder Jerry Hoffberger were Mr. Fried’s top priority, he expanded W.B. Doner’s reach in Baltimore to include clients such as the Orioles (of which Mr. Hoffberger was a part owner), McCormick & Co., Dutch Boy Paint, and The News American. After Mr. Fried was named chairman and CEO in 1973, the agency procured business from international conglomerates such as British Petroleum, Chiquita, Coca-Cola and Mazda.

Mr. Dale said Mr. Fried had a knack for retaining clients despite changes in ownership. He pointed out that National Brewing was sold five times but continued to send its business to Mr. Fried and W.B. Doner.

Mr. Dale said Mr. Fried and his wife persuaded him and his wife to leave Detroit for Baltimore in 1983. He said Mr. Fried knew his boundaries as the head of the agency.

“He wanted to have an agency that offered the best creative product possible,” Mr. Dale said. “So he said to me essentially, ‘Be my partner. I trust you. Your judgment goes.’ And that was remarkable because that was something that was said initially, but he absolutely stuck to it. He placed enormous faith in me, and it made for not only a very good working relationship, but we had a strong personal relationship.”

Billy Fried recalled working for his father for two years in his late 20s. On his first day, he went to the company mailroom and met several employees.

Bean Sibel and Herbert D. "Herb" Fried attended the Maryland Zoo's "Zootini" in June 2011.
Bean Sibel and Herbert D. "Herb" Fried attended the Maryland Zoo's "Zootini" in June 2011. (Photo by Colby Ware, Special to The Baltimore Sun)

“There were some guys that had been there for 25 years, and they said, ‘The only reason we’re here is because of your dad. He’s such a nice guy,’” he said. “He would make an effort to walk the floor of the agency and pop his head into every single office and thank them.”

Before leaving Chicago, Mr. Fried spied the former Ninon Connart sunbathing by a pool at a country club in 1952. Lacking the courage to approach her, he sent his younger sister to arrange an introduction and pledged to marry her.

But the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual for Ms. Connart. On their first date, Mr. Fried showed up in a floral shirt and muttering to himself about receiving a ticket for speeding.

“She thought, ‘Oh, this guy is not for me. He’s freaking out about a speeding ticket, and he wears ugly shirts,’” their son said. “But gradually he wore her down.”

On that same date, they visited a bar, and Mr. Fried told her she was on her own while he went to socialize.

“So she sat at the bar and was suddenly surrounded by three or four guys that were all hitting on her,” their son said. “So when my dad saw that, he wheeled around and didn’t leave her sight for the rest of the night.”

Herbert D. "Herb" Fried is shown in June 2003 at the W.B. Doner & Co. offices. “Everybody wanted to be Herb Fried — both men and women,” Mr. Kleiner said. “Everybody loved him. He was just a great guy," said Arnold J. “Arnie” Kleiner, former president and general manager of WMAR-TV.
Herbert D. "Herb" Fried is shown in June 2003 at the W.B. Doner & Co. offices. “Everybody wanted to be Herb Fried — both men and women,” Mr. Kleiner said. “Everybody loved him. He was just a great guy," said Arnold J. “Arnie” Kleiner, former president and general manager of WMAR-TV. (Nanine Hartzenbusch / XX)

In his 30s, Mr. Fried was introduced to scuba diving by friend and longtime Baltimore investment banker A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard. But Mr. Fried’s willingness to challenge himself had its limits.

“I took him on a trip to dive with great white sharks, but he wouldn’t go,” Mr. Krongard said with a laugh. “He was a decent diver, and he just loved life on the boat, having some drinks and cigars, and shooting the breeze.”

In his 60s, Mr. Fried took up skiing thanks to his friendship with Mr. Kleiner, the former WMAR-TV executive. The pair and other friends frequently traveled to Vail, Colorado, and Park City, Utah.

During one trip in Vail, Mr. Fried left early to return to Baltimore. Mr. Kleiner said he impersonated his friend and gave a local restaurant Mr. Fried’s credit card number to pay for a dinner for the seven friends who had remained.

When Mr. Kleiner returned to Baltimore, he was confronted by Mr. Fried, who had a copy of the receipt.

“He said, ‘What’s this?’ and I said, ‘Hey, thanks for dinner. You’re terrific.’ He didn’t get angry or anything,” Mr. Kleiner said. “He loved it. He thought it was so creative and so good. I never heard another word about it. He was terrific.”

A private online memorial is scheduled for Sunday.

In addition to his son who lives in Laguna Beach, California, Mr. Fried is survived by his wife in Jupiter, Florida, another son, Bruce, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and three grandchildren.

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