Klues family photoJack Klues, 1977 Advertising

On a beautiful late-September day, more than 200 golfers played in a fundraiser for the Off the Street Club. The women-only outing, Swing for the Kids, is the brainchild of Beth and Jack Klues. The funds raised are used to support programming for girls who attend the club.

Off The Street Club, the oldest Boys & Girls Club in Chicago, is located in the Garfield Park neighborhood and provides, in the words of its executive director, a place where kids can just be kids. Jack has been involved with the club for 25 years and has acted as vice president of fundraising for the past 17 years. It is one of his passions.

Jack Klues grew up in Quincy, Illinois. As a kid, Jack knew he didn’t want to work in insurance like his dad had for 30 years, or be an accountant and work with numbers. His sister had the science and math brain, he said. During his junior year of high school, he took a communications class in which he read “The Medium is the Message.” Jack remembers being fascinated by the book. “The idea of manipulating the mass consumer marketplace into buying things they don’t need — you can also make them do things for good,” Jack said. “You can elect officials, raise money for good causes, get volunteers — all through the power of media and advertising.”

Jack started visiting colleges with advertising programs and met Professor Arnold Barban and Professor Kim Rotzell at Illinois. “They were welcoming because of their warmth and humanity and obvious interest in students,” Jack recalled. “The faculty saw their success in preparing students for entry into the industry.”

While at Illinois, Jack was a member of Alpha Tau Omega and served as internal vice president with the Interfraternity Council. He was active with the group and worked to resurrect the festivities surrounding homecoming, which had waned prior to that time. He may have been a bit too active, Jack admitted. “I spent so much time in the Student Services Center that I didn’t spend enough time in class. I had to really buckle down to complete my classes.”

Jack’s most vivid memories of his time at Illinois revolve around his professors. “Barban made a tremendous impression on me,” Jack said. “Gorden White, with his black turtleneck and sport coat. Learning the basics of PR — they tried so hard to draw a line between paid advertising and publicity. The line looks blurry to me — and I’m OK with that! I am glad the blur is not only acknowledged, but effectively leveraged today.”

Ethics in advertising was also a memorable class. “It didn’t feel black and white,” Jack said. “I found it to be so philosophical, so gray. I didn’t want to sit in a class and hear ‘it depends.’ I found out later that every day I was running into ethical challenges. Between formal education and how I was raised by my folks — I think that’s what got me through a successful career. My folks always taught me to respect the 'Golden Rule' of treating and dealing with others as you want to be treated. It is a rule that has never let me down.”

After graduation, Jack went to work for Leo Burnett, the legendary ad agency in Chicago. He began his career as a client services trainee in the media department. In 1996, he was part of the management team that created Starcom, a distinct, dedicated media services agency. Jack became the global CEO for Starcom MediaVest Group in 2000, making it the one of the largest of its type in the world. In 2003, following the acquisition by Publicis Groupe, he served as global CEO for Publicis Groupe Media (SMG and ZenithOptimedia). From 2007 until his retirement in 2012, he served as global CEO and Directoire member with oversight of media agencies, as well as Digitas and Razorfish under Publicis’ holding company’s digital and media agency, Vivaki.

Jack’s involvement with the College began shortly after graduation. “We were successful recruiters of Illinois talent,” Jack recalled. “When you were allowed to go recruit, you wanted to go back to where you came from. You fish where you knew the best fishing spot was.”

In the mid-1980s, when an instructor left unexpectedly, Jack taught an advanced media strategy class. It strengthened his ties to the College. Today, he serves on the James Webb Young board, offering guidance to the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising.

Through his work on the media side of the industry, Jack has seen the entire business model of advertising change. “Media sees it first because we are most directly impacted by those consumer trends in terms of choice and control,” Jack said. “It helped us be ready for the breakneck speed of change.”

“My greatest naiveté,” said Jack, “you can’t find a business that doesn’t have numbers in it. The power of math — automation, computerization, algorithms — is increasingly encroaching on what was a very human industry. I think they are going to take over. I do worry that evil robots will see everything as a math problem to be solved. Hopefully, future generations of ad people will remember to also use the right side of their brains.”

These changes tie closely with Jack’s advice for today’s students. “It would be good to have a dual major, in part for career protection and in the other part for career growth and enhancement over time,” Jack said. “An ability to navigate and manage data — you don’t have to write code, but be able to manage and manipulate and aggregate data. It’s as important as any human communication or learning you can have about human behavior as it relates to marketing communication.” 

The Jack and Elizabeth Klues Family Foundation recently made a gift to the College for scholarships in the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising. The gift includes funds for current use and a bequest. The proceeds will provide scholarship support to underrepresented students in advertising who have significant financial need. The scholarships will be for both internships and experiential learning opportunities. Funds will also be used to provide high school students with financial need scholarships to attend a College of Media summer camp on the Urbana-Champaign campus. High school students who are involved in Off the Street Club will be one source of students considered for summer camp scholarships.

“There wouldn’t be a charity foundation if I didn’t have an equal partner — co-pilot — not sure where I would be,” Jack said. “My wife is tremendously supportive, works hard, gave up her own professional career, raising children, becoming a partner, understanding what I do for a living, becoming a fan of the Fighting Illini even though she didn’t graduate from here. There wouldn’t be money for a foundation without her.”