Howard Bomstein is a native Washingtonian. Listen in to Howard talk to Andy O about his immigrant parents, school, his family, the Army, his early career choices, opening and closing the doors of his advertising agency, and landing on his feet at the Washington Post.
Howard also shares personal stories such as how he fell in love with, and married, Polly, and how it was that he and Andy ended up in a feud that lasted many years until a mutual friend interceded. One thing for sure, you will come to understand Howard’s staying power in the market: connections, connections, connections.
Howard Bomstein was born in Washington DC in 1948 to immigrant parents. His Dad immigrated to Baltimore in 1920, and graduated from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1935. When he found he could earn $5 a week more in DC, he and Howard’s Mom moved there, and ran the Pharmacy at Union Station. Howard never knew his Dad. He died 12 days after Howard was born. His Mom raised him as a “single Mom”. She didn’t remarry until Howard was in his early 20s.
Howard began his life with his Mom and Dad on Roxanna Road NW just south of the 16th Street Circle. In 1961, his Mom moved the family to Montgomery County where he went to school. Howard attended Blair High School in Silver Spring, and went on to the University of Maryland where he graduated with a degree in Information Systems Management. He says “Unfortunately it was not something I was very good at . . . I was terrible at it. . . to this day I’m terrible with computers.”
Andy asks Howard about his family and how he and his wife Polly met. Polly worked as a receptionist for Howard’s advertising agency, The Bomstein Agency, and they were moving offices. “I remember the day I was smitten with Polly. We were moving the office . . . literally across the street . . . basically carting things from one office to the other. The [new] office had hardwood floors and I remember as we were moving things in Polly caught my eye because she was wearing blue jeans and Nike tennis shoes and a sweatshirt and I just thought she was beautiful.” Howard and Polly have three beautiful daughters all of whom are college grads. Andy chuckles and tells Howard that he looks a “little heavier now” now that he’s finished paying tuition. A conversation ensues between Andy and Howard about college in today’s world and we learn that Howard is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland. He teaches marketing and branding.
Andy asks Howard what led him into advertising and starting his own agency. Howard Bomstein takes us through life after college and some of the jobs he had before creating The Bomstein Agency. In 1970, before graduation from the University of Maryland, Howard knew he was going to be drafted so he enlisted in the Army and “rose to the enormous rank of specialist fourth class and my military occupational specialty MOS was a 76B20 I was a clerk typist. . . in a supply unit and what you learn to do in is to count blankets. “ He became very good at counting blankets before leaving the Army and coming home to go to grad school.
Howard Bomstein graduated with a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Penn State, but instead of working in public administration he took an offer to work for his cousin in the home building business. He became an assistant in the marketing department at US Homes for $8000.00 a year doing statistical analysis. “In the Fall of 1974, we had a recession. It was pretty severe. . .” and was due to price control of gasoline. “So, Herman came to me and said I’m sorry I’ve got some bad news but I have to lay you off because we’re not selling any houses and the markets terrible.” All was not lost, however, because Howard had gotten to know Bill Regardie. Bill and his wife, Renay, had Housing Data Reports to which US Homes subscribed.
Howard continues to tell Andy, that “Bill called me and said ‘I would like to have lunch with you let’s have a chat’ and I was really appreciative because I was looking for a job. . . .Bill and I talked and he handed me something called the home buyers guide which was from California and it was given to him by a gentleman the late Mike Rose . . .a builder developer in . . . Prince George’s County. . . Bill said ‘I’m going to start something here . . .like this and will you help me? I’ll pay you to be a consultant and if it’s successful then you have a job.’” Over forty years ago, in January 1975, Howard helped Bill launch the New Homes Guides and the rest they say “is history”.
During the 20 months Howard worked at New Homes Guide, he was the managing editor and advertising director. New Homes Guide was published six times a year so every other month and during his tenure he dealt with a lot of agencies and met a lot of people in advertising. He made sure to visit them just to collect the artwork and got the opportunity to meet a lot of people. It was then that Howard knew what he wanted to do “I just woke up and it hit me. . .advertising is something I want to do. I’m enamored by it.”
Howard Bomstein followed his gut and went to work for the late John Govatos and his partner Brad Dunn. During his 6 months there he brought in a very large account, Ryan Homes. Howard ended up losing his job to Rick Barrow, a creative guy that the agency wanted to hire, and because they couldn’t afford both Howard and Rick, they had to let Howard go. He left with a couple of accounts – Savage Fogarty and Guardian Construction.
Howard worked out of his apartment. He ran his business with a partner for about two and a half years. In March of 1977, Howard created The Bomstein Agency. Andy remarks that Howard’s “timing was impeccable.” Howard continued to work out of his condo. He only had a mortgage. Wasn’t married. So there was no fear of failure. Howard Bomstein tells Andy “it took me probably about five (5) years before I had any idea what I was really doing . . . promise me you won’t tell any of my early clients because I went to school on their dollar.” Andy response describes how it was with many others like Howard “how many guys can repeat that story a lot in Our Town.” The Bomstein Agency went strong for most of its 32 years with, at one time, 59 employees. Andy calls it “the largest advertising agency in the city of Washington” in his estimation.
Howard Bomstein goes on to talk about a period of time when he and Andy were at odds with each other, and how it came to be that way. Howard had experience servicing the broadcast industry and when WRC 988AM was sold by NBC, he lost the account. Howard recalls what happened next that resulted in their falling out. Listen in to the details starting at 15:37. You will hear how pride interrupted a friendship for over a year only to be mended by a mutual friend Drew Mills. You will also hear how grateful they both are for the great relationship they have today.
Howard and Andy move on to talk about what happened to cause The Bomstein Agency to close its doors and what transpired in the process. When the economy hit the wall in 2007, 2008, The Bomstein Agency’s major clients included homebuilders, condominium developers and automotive – the industries that were hurt the most. This caused Howard to have to look for an exit strategy. Howard found one in his friend Rob Whittle of William and Whittle. They were also feeling the strain of the failing markets. Rob and Howard merged firms and Howard took his remaining 9 employees and clients to Virginia. For the next three years, they weathered the storm. Howard tells Andy “I was able to continue my career in advertising and . . .close The Bomstein Agency properly and . . . give my clients an opportunity to have continuity . . . a smooth transition. Andy credits Howard with doing what quite a few agencies failed to do. Andy says he was on “the outside looking in . . . there’s a lot of people in your position, took the same route, at the time, but they left a lot of bad checks around . . .you didn’t do it and that’s to your eternal credit.”
After the expiration of his 3 year agreement with Rob Whittle, Howard came back to work in advertising in Washington DC. He landed at The Washington Times through a former client contact “a gentleman by the name of Tom Culligan” who was the Chief Revenue Officer there. Howard became the Times marketing department, the “inside guy”, an advertising agency liaison. Howard worked for the Washington Times for only about nine (9) months. He saw “the writing on the wall” for his position when Tom’s role changed to consultancy.
Howard reached out to a dear friend, Ethan Selzer at the Washington Post. Selzer offered Howard a position in real estate division of the Post. It made perfect sense. During his career, Howard “guesstimates” his clients sold 100,000 homes and he worked on 181 condominium projects. Major developers and home builders such as Pulte and Ryan Homes were his clients at one time or another and Howard had a lot of contacts and knew a lot of folks. Howard chuckles and tells Andy “I think I set the world’s record for getting into the Washington Post . . . a little than six weeks.”
Howard goes on “When I arrived the real estate [section] was in freefall” builders were not buying print. The Washington Post only had one home builder consistently advertising at that time, Toll Brothers. Today, Howard has close to “thirty-five active homebuilder advertisers in the real estate section and primarily because we determined what builders were willing to pay for our audience and create a good section.” Two recent Saturday edition was 44-pages with 35 advertisers.
Howard Bomstein winds up telling another story – a cute story – “This past August 29th was my first class this semester . . . all my classes [are] only offered in the Fall. I teach seniors and the class is called Design Applications in Marketing and Branding.” So “. . . a few weeks back when I started class it was coincidental with my 50th anniversary of starting at the University of Maryland as a freshman. So, standing in front of my class of 27 very bright seniors – they’re design fellows in the fellows program at the Robert H Smith School of Business. I said you know I’m pleased to tell you that I began my academic career here at the University of Maryland 50 years ago, this month and you’re all probably looking at me and thinking of yourselves how could he possibly still be alive!” Howard continues to describe their class projects for the Orioles, WTOP, Cort Furniture, the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and the Washington Post.
Andy asks Howard Bomstein if he misses the advertising agency business. Howard says that there’s some aspects of it he misses – the new business aspect of it he misses and “the challenges and competing for new business”. Andy recognizes the help Howard has been to his wife, Janice, and her company, Best Bark Communications. Howard compliments Janice saying that she “instinctually understands marketing and advertising and that goes a long way to figuring out how to help clients sell their products and services.”
We hope you have enjoyed this all new episode of Our Town with Andy Ockershausen and Howard Bomstein. We invite you to listen to each new episode of Our Town as they roll out over the next several months. You can subscribe to the Our Town podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or if you complete the subscription form in the sidebar to the right, you will be notified by email when the next episode appears here on the website.