Fred Campbell Jr. '55

Still "mad" after all these years
January 31, 2010

Fred Campbell Jr. may be living proof that when Mad Men retire, they don't necessarily become less so.

A successful Duke athlete and a U.S. Marine, Campbell made his professional career on New York's Madison Avenue as an ad man. But he retired to the coast of Savannah, Georgia, where he can often be found trolling in his airboat—and occasionally chasing down suspected criminals.

Fred Campbell Jr. '55

 Credit: John Carrington

Physical adventure has always been Campbell's trademark, even in college. He may be one of Duke's most decorated athletes, eventually collecting nine letters in football, wrestling, and track and field (shot and discus). He was part of the 1955 Orange Bowl championship team as an interior lineman and was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals, a football franchise now based in Arizona.

But another draft caught him before he could join the National Football League. The Marine Corps put him to work—and ended his gridiron aspirations. While playing football at Quantico, Campbell blew out his knee. Unfortunately, "that injury was career-ending" where football was concerned, he says.

Campbell spent more than three years as an officer in the Marines, then took his Duke dean's list education to New York, where he landed a job with an advertising agency. He attended night school to earn his M.B.A, ending up as the new products director for Sterling Drug and doubling his salary.

But it was when he entered the sports world again that he really felt at home. In 1972, he became marketing vice president for the National Basketball Association, where he began converting his own brand of slam dunks. "I got the All-Star balloting program going and started a whole new merchandising program," Campbell says. He also launched a successful weekly NBA highlights show, This Week in the NBA, which brought more viewers to the games.

Campbell's accomplishments got the attention of the American Athletic Union (AAU), the organization charged with supporting the nation's Olympic athletes. Notwithstanding the success of Bruce Jenner and others in Montreal in 1976, the U.S. was topped by both the Soviet Union and East Germany in number of medals.

The AAU wanted Campbell to strengthen U.S. medal chances against the Communist juggernaut. But instead of working directly for the AAU, Campbell formed his own advertising agency and hired himself out to them. His first goal: lobbying to change the International Olympic Committee's rule against corporate sponsorship.

Eliminating Rule 26 "opened up the doors for me to approach corporations." Campbell pitched giving to the AAU not as charity, but as strategic PR that increased a company's sales. Funding for Olympic athletes went higher than Jenner's javelin, and Campbell felt vindicated by the 1980 win of the U.S. hockey team, which had become a client of Campbell Associates on its own.

Campbell continued to specialize in marketing sporting organizations, including the America's Cup, until his retirement in 1995. The grandson of a naval officer in the Spanish-American War, Campbell would only consider locations near water and settled near the tidal marshes in Savannah with his wife, Barbara.

In 2004 he bought a marsh adventure craft, a 640-horsepower Recon Ranger airboat built to military specs. "The only difference between mine and the ones they use in Iraq is they've got a fifty-caliber machine gun," Campbell says.

In April 2008, local police asked Campbell for help in catching a thief hiding out near Tybee Island. Though a storm made navigating the waters treacherous, Campbell successfully steered his boat to help Savannah police capture and arrest the suspect. Campbell was honored for his daring involvement with an article in the September/October 2008 issue of Airboating Magazine.

"Looking back I guess I'm glad I did it, but I wouldn't do it again," reflects Campbell. "My wife was ready to take me to a shrink after that."