History of advertising: No 143: A 1991 Clio statuette

Over almost four decades, the Clio Awards had evolved to become the Oscars of the US advertising industry.

History of advertising: No 143: A 1991 Clio statuette

Until one night in June 1991, when an awards show that started as a farce and descended into a near riot brought the name to the brink of extinction.

It was one of the most bizarre industry awards ceremonies ever, in which the man organising the catering was pressed into service as the show’s co-host. 

It ended with audience members, angry that the winners’ list was incomplete, storming the stage to help themselves to the coveted Clio statuettes being awarded for the best print and radio work.

The writer Trip Gabriel called it "advertising’s own Day Of The Locust".

Press speculation on what had gone wrong linked it to the lurid personal life of the awards president, Bill Evans. 

Evans, a one-time Yellow Pages art director, had bought the Clios in 1972 for $150,000 and built the awards into a money-making machine worth an estimated 50 times that figure.

But as the 1991 show approached, stories emerged of financial trouble within the organisation.

They suggested Evans had used Clio money to put up a group of male prostitutes and crack addicts at his New York brownstone. And, in the month before the disastrous show, police arrested three men at Evans’ home for possession of cocaine residue and drug paraphernalia.

As his problems mounted, Evans reportedly isolated himself from Clio staff. Mass resignations are said to have followed Evans’ confrontation with his daughter, the awards’ radio co-ordinator. It ended when she floored him with a right hook.

New York Post later reported how one of its columnists had tried to visit the Clio offices, only to be greeted by a man who "threatened him with brass knuckles".

Things you need to know

  • The 1991 Clio TV Awards, scheduled to run a few days later at the Lincoln Center, had to be abandoned because Evans was unable to borrow the deposit money.
  • Clio Enterprises filed for bankruptcy in March 1992. The Chicago publisher Ruth Ratny bought the Clio name but quickly sold it on to James Smyth, a former film editor, who relocated the awards to San Francisco. They were sold to VNU Media in 1997.
  • E5 Global Media acquired the Clios in 2009.