Like virtually every other city in the country, St. Louis had serious problems in this era. Jobs, wealth, and residents had long been migrating to the suburbs, leaving the central city increasingly poor and crime-ridden. Still, its overall economy was diverse and vibrant. Per-capita income in the St. Louis metro area was 82 percent as high as in the New York metro area in 1969; by 1979 it was 89 percent.
One of the things St. Louis had going for it, as always, was its central location. The city sought to capitalize on that advantage, and attract more commerce downtown, by building a convention center, which opened in 1977. While such structures often proved white elephants for other cities, St. Louis’s was an immediate hit. The convention center, booked in advance for 10 years straight, played host to 461,450 visitors from across the globe in its first year alone.
St. Louis also profited from some of the best airline connectivity in the nation. That too was due to its central location, as well as its rich aviation history. The city famously had sponsored Charles Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight, and the military and civilian aircraft maker McDonnell Douglas was headquartered at Lambert Field, northwest of the city.
St. Louis also benefited from healthy competition between two local air carriers. One was TWA. The globe-spanning giant had long presided over Lambert, and in 1982, the company moved its headquarters to St. Louis from Kansas City. The other was the homegrown Ozark Airlines. Ozark started out as a “local service” airline licensed by the federal government’s Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to provide air service to small communities in the Midwest. But by the mid-1970s, having won permission from CAB to compete with major carriers on more profitable routes between major cities, the upstart airliner boomed. Flights extended deep into the Southwest, Mountain West, South, and East.
Claggett experienced the ascent of Ozark firsthand when he handled the company as a young account executive. In 1977, he stood on the tarmac at Lambert Airport and stared down a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jet. At one of his first major shoots, Claggett worked with “hundreds of extras,” a Dutch director, and a crew from the local Technisonic Studios production company to increase the brand’s visibility. Ozark adopted a new slogan, “We’re up there with the biggest,” an assertion of the company’s growth and a playful jab at rival TWA. And as the St. Louis-based company sought to refresh its heartland brand for younger and more urbane audiences, the agency used the comedian George Carlin to proclaim, “Go-getters go Ozark.”
The rich connectivity was great, of course, for the city’s booming convention business. But it also was valuable to St. Louis’s corporate community. In 1985, Lambert’s 1,170 daily takeoffs and landings made doing business nationally or even internationally easy. It kept St. Louis competitive and at the center of the action, figuratively and geographically. That was equally true of its advertising sector. For instance, in 1980, a 19-member delegation of advertising executives from 15 foreign countries held seminars with D’Arcy’s staff to gain insight into the company’s creative process. “People came to St. Louis not as a stepping stone,” says the former D’Arcy and Gardner copywriter Gerry Mandel, but as their destination. They wanted to work, Mandel says, “on the Southwestern Bell account, or even, if they were lucky, for Budweiser.”