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Remembering Roy Powers
by Harry Spencer
Jun 16, 2012 | 822 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I first met Roy Powers some 60 years ago.  The occasion was a program called Internship at the University of Nevada.  It had been created by Professor Al Higgenbotham of the Journalism Department. It consisted of J-students in their senior year doing what was similar to a lab course in newspaper, radio or advertising. Since I had chosen advertising, I was sent to the Thomas C. Wilson Advertising Agency, which was the largest in town at that time. For two days a week I was to report to Advertising Executive Roy Powers and he would give me my assignment and grade me on it.

Most of my work was on radio copy but occasionally Roy would take me on a tour of the town as he called upon some of Wilson’s smaller clients. The most amusing story he recounted to me one time was his arrival in Reno on V-E Day when he was hit over the head with a beer bottle and ended up in the hospital.

After graduation from the university, I didn’t see Roy for several years. Since Wilson had the Mapes Hotel account they were precluded from handling another hotel. So when the Riverside account became available, Roy made his first independent move. He had many successes there. The top was probably bringing the first televised World Series to Reno. In 1958 Tom Wilson dropped Harold’s Cub and took the Harrah’s Club account. Roy, who had handled Harold’s for Wilson while he was there, opted to form Great Western Advertising and leave the Riverside. With the Riverside account up for grabs, my partners and I were able to secure it.

Sometime in 1959 the Reno Chamber of Commerce hired one Jud Allen who had been a Hollywood PR man. Soon after his arrival here Allen found out that the principals of the major properties would not meet with one another under any circumstance. Consequently he contacted the various advertising or publicity men of the aforesaid properties and formed what he called the Promotion Committee. His strategy was to have us meet once a week in the downtown chalet that had been built for the 1960 Winter Olympics. During these meetings we would brainstorm promotional ideas and then return to our bosses to sell them on the projects by telling them that everyone else was participating. I remember that Roy represented Harold’s Club, Mark Curtis represented Harrah’s Club, Fred Davis represented John Ascuaga’s Nugget, Max Dodge represented the Holiday Hotel, Nick Bourne represented the Riverside, and I represented the Mapes. On the Chamber side along with Allen was Vern Baker, the Chamber’s publicity man and Don Burke who managed the Chamber office in San Francisco. One of the highlight promotions that was hatched was the creation of the Reno Fun Train, which operated for many years.

Since Harold’s Club was the engine that pulled Reno along promotionally, Roy was very important in these meetings. He had almost an unlimited advertising budget and a nationwide sign campaign. Those signs were all over the world and said, “Harold’s Club Only ____ Miles.” Powers had the idea of asking NASA to place one of these signs on the moon. Unfortunately NASA declined however Roy got a great deal of publicity for his client.

Also at one point in time there was a Harold’s Club-Reno float in Pasadena’s famous Rose Parade, another of Roy’s coups.

During his career Roy was asked by the RSCVA to create and manage the Reno Press Bureau. It was a great idea because the bureau could be a gathering place and an information center for everything that was happening in Reno at that time. It also provided a central point for inquiries about the Biggest Little City and hosted many writers from the Bay Area press when they came to town. Unfortunately it is one of the best ideas in Reno that was allowed to perish.

In Reno during the late 50s and all of the 60s there was a cadre of publicity men who were responsible for gaining reams and reams of news stories from papers all over the world. Their efforts were documented by a company called Allen’s Press Clipping Service. This was a company that once a week would supply you with clippings of actual news stories that had been generated in Reno and carried in papers as far away as Singapore and Berlin. Attached to each clipping would be the circulation of that paper. It was equal to spending thousands and thousands of dollars to promote Reno. As I recall the cost was $10.00 per month. I don’t believe it is used locally today.

Over the ensuing next two decades Roy and I worked on many projects to promote Reno. Chief among them were the Reno Air Races, the Portland Rose Parade, the Palm Springs Desert Parade, and manning a booth at the New York World’s Fair. After his advertising career Roy became a premiere local artist and the publisher of several art tomes.

In 2010 Roy and I were co-grand marshals for the Virginia City Camel Races. The reason was that Charles Mapes had bankrolled the first races in 1960 and I had publicized them.  Later on in subsequent races Harold’s Club was the main participant and Roy had riders dressed as aviators, French Foreign Legionnaires, and even a fellow in an ape costume representing Harold’s Club. 

The last time I saw Roy was several months ago, and he seemed full of energy and looking forward to his next project.

Now another light in the Reno firmament has been extinguished, and the town will never be as bright and shining as it used to be.

Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.
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