At the podium, Michael Lesser recalls his involvement in Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign. He was a member of The November Group, which created advertisements for the campaign. Photo by Monique Vitche.
On Sept. 25, Politics on the PublicMind held its first lecture titled, “An FDU Mad Man Goes to Washington: Stories from the Nixon Re-Election Campaign,” in Lenfell Hall.
The program began with an introduction by Maria Webb. Webb brought Dan Cassino, an associate professor of political science and PublicMind’s Director for Experimental Research, to the stage. Cassino went on to introduce the guest speaker, FDU alumnus Michael Lesser.
Colleen Di Gregorio, public relations and marketing coordinator of the University Library, coordinated the event, with help from Campus Provost Peter Woolley, who was responsible for helping bring Lesser back to FDU.
“I always want to hear what our alumni have done and this guy has had a fascinating life,” he said.
Lesser attended the College at Florham. He worked in advertising under the re-election campaign for President Richard Nixon. Lesser grew up in a world that was not widely associated with politics. He personally never knew a Republican until he entered college.
Lesser started the Liberal Club. At the time there was already a Conservative Club on campus. The two clubs used to debate important political and global issues.
Lesser was a marketing major with a minor in psychology. Right before he graduated, he started to really care about political issues.
Before he graduated, Lesser was given an opportunity to interview with Vicks Chemical Company. After three interviews, he obtained a job. It was a chance interview and it was an opportunity that changed everything.
While working at the company, Lesser became the mastermind behind resurrecting the idea of Vicks NyQuil, which has become a lead seller in cold and sinus medication. Being modest, Lesser views himself as a small celebrity and with his status, he was able to change jobs. His next career endeavor was advertising. According to Lesser, these were the “Mad Men years.”
Lesser was a senior executive at an advertising firm. Within this role, he was given the opportunity to join The November Group where he worked in New York with a committee that was designed to help re-elect Nixon.
When Lesser was going to work for the president, he was excited to tell his grandfather. All his grandfather could say was, “Nixon? You’re going to work for Nixon?” His grandfather didn’t approve of Nixon.
“Nixon evokes emotion even now,” Lesser said. “Nixon hatred passed from generation to generation.”
Lesser, along with his group, created the first Nixon campaign advertisement. It was a cartoon that depicted a hippie getting kicked out of the White House.
According to the FDU website, Lesser never served as a marketing and advertising advisor on another campaign, even though he had a passion for politics. He currently serves as CEO of Revive Personal Products.
Lesser’s lecture was one in a three-part series at the College at Florham.
“The lectures were Peter Woolley’s idea,” Lesser said. He noted there was a big generation gap in the audience - older and younger. “There was a lot of positive feedback from the older crowd because they remember this time. At least we can go over other elections and see how they compare to Obama.”
A majority of the audience was older; about a few dozen were students attending for fun or to get class credit.
Black-and-white videos were presented and light refreshments were served. The presentation was followed by a short question-and-answer session.
Di Gregorio said, “The series will be well received. It’s interesting for everyone to be a part of… I’m hoping that they (students) are going to be exposed to the things they haven’t been exposed to before.”
The next Lesser lecture will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 9. It will cover advertising from 1952 to present.
The final Lesser lecture will take place on Oct. 23. The topic is “Obama vs. Romney on TV: Who’s winning the advertising war?”
Both events will be held in Lenfell Hall from 3:30 to 5 p.m.