On June 4th, 1917, at City Hall in St. Louis, Missouri, prominent advertising executives came together from all over the U.S. and established the American Association of Advertising Agencies with 111 charter member agencies. Its mission: to advocate for, improve, and strengthen the ad business through legal counsel, education, and cooperation with federal, state, and local governments.
The first chairman of the board was William H. Johns of George Batten Company. James O’Shaughnessy, once described by TIME magazine as “the best in the business of advertising,” was selected to be the first president of the new association. By the time O’Shaughnessy retired in 1928, he was widely credited with taking the ad industry from a not-so-highly-regarded corner of business to a crucial part of the economic ecosystem that earned the praises of even the president. When he died in 1950, he was described as a man with “…the engaging Irish personality ideally suited to the job of making the important advertising agents of the early part of the century sit down and talk things over,” by the ad trade magazine Printer’s Ink.
Today, the 4A’s produces eighty percent of the total advertising volume placed by agencies nationwide, issues an annual award for the best agencies across categories, and hosts the 4A’s Transformation Conference every year.