3 Branding Tips From the Man Who Helped Create Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No’ Campaign

March 8, 2016, 8:12 PM UTC
Indiana Pacers "Just Say No" Campaign
Andrew D. Bernstein NBAE/Getty Images

One of the things Nancy Reagan will be most remembered for is her national anti-drug campaign and its simple, catchy slogan: “Just Say No.”

The campaign was created in 1981 by a team of University of South Florida students who entered a contest held by the National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]. Jordan Zimmerman, who would go on to build one of the largest ad agencies in the world, was the leader of that winning team.

While the campaign was a huge personal win for Zimmerman — he and his team were invited to the White House to present to the First Lady, the vice president and the head of the NIDA — he still had trouble landing a job out of school. But he loved the ad world and believed in himself too much to quit.

So instead he found space in a strip mall, hung up his own shingle and figured out how to brand himself.


Today, Zimmerman Advertising is one of the largest ad agencies in the world with billings in excess of $3 billion. Its clients include Papa John’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, AutoNation, Michaels Craft Store and Nissan. Though Zimmerman sold the company to Omnicom in 1999, he continues to serve as its chairman.

Here are Zimmerman’s three quick tips for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in their company or industry.

  1. Brand yourself as a product. Think of yourself as a walking endorsement for your own brand. How do you want others to view you? “Find your passion and then be insanely committed to it, no matter what,” Zimmerman says.
  2. Brand yourself as a leader. “Be someone who always delivers a solution to every problem,” says Zimmerman. Brand yourself as the person that is going to do whatever it takes to get the job done. And that includes dropping the ego. True leaders understand that it takes teams to execute good ideas. So if you need to hire more people to better service your clients, do it. You can’t do it all.
  3. Brand yourself as a student. Zimmerman says the best leaders are always learning and willing to listen to clients and customers. The world is dynamic. “You need to create strategies that address each and every part of the customer journey and adjust them when necessary,” he says.

So commit to these things. And spend as much time as necessary. “You sleep when you die,” Zimmerman says. So get up and do this.