Herb Schmertz, the combative Mobil Oil PR exec who pioneered the use of “advertorials” to take on critics of Big Oil, died Jan. 17 from congestive heart failure. He was 87.
The former Army Intelligence Officer and organizer for John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign joined Mobil in 1966, taking a leave of absence in 1968 to work on Bobby Kennedy’s presidential run.
He returned to Mobil in 1969 to head its public affairs office, stepping away in 1979 to work on Ted Kennedy’s White House bid, before leaving in 1988 to head his own firm.
Schmertz, who advocated “creative confrontation” rather than working behind the scenes to gain influence, launched the advertorial in 1970, buying space on the op-ed page of the New York Times to express Mobil’s view of the oil industry and world. The advertorials spread to other newspapers and Schmertz became a fixture on TV news programs.
As Schmertz spearheaded Mobil’s attack on critics, he also softened the company’s abrasive image through sponsorship of the PBS series “Masterpiece Theater.” Viewers would hear that high-end programs such as “I, Claudius” and “The First Churchills” were “made possible by a grant from Mobil.”
The New York Times said Schmertz was “perhaps the most visible PR executive in the US during the 1970s and '80s,” while New York magazine profiled him as “Oil Slick.”