Public relations exec Martin Janis repped top-tier clients in Chicago

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Public relations executive Martin Janis operated his namesake firm from 1950 until he retired in 2014. | Provided photo

What did the Nixon White House, Jovan musk oil and the “Super Bowl Shuffle” all have in common?

They were promoted by public relations strategist Martin Janis, whose namesake agency worked assiduously to get favorable news stories and airtime for them and hundreds of other corporate, financial and political clients.

When he worked with the Modern Poetry Association, Robert Frost wound up reading poems in his Astor Street living room. And a “greasy-looking” guy who showed up to sing at the Black Orchid when Mr. Janis represented the Chicago nightclub, got kicked out by management for “gyrating all over the place, moving his hips, throwing his legs around, singing up a storm and bouncing all over.”

It turned out to be Elvis Presley, Mr. Janis wrote in a memoir filled with photos of him shaking hands with clients, including at least four U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan, Richard M. Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also worked on promotions with World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, an elderly J.C. Penney and boxer Joe Louis.

President Richard Nixon with Chicago public relations strategist Martin Janis. | Provided photo

President Richard Nixon with Chicago public relations strategist Martin Janis. | Provided photo

“He was a public relations giant, he really was,” said John McDonough, president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks. “I learned a great deal from him” when Mr. Janis represented Florsheim shoes, a sponsor of the Cubs in the 1990s when McDonough was that team’s vice president of marketing. “He was a sophisticated, dignified man.”

“A very able public relations executive and a classy Chicago guy,” said former Gov. Jim Thompson.

Mr. Janis, 91, died on Oct. 25 at his Lake Shore Drive home.

Generations of Chicago public relations executives worked at Martin E. Janis & Co. at some point in their careers. The firm operated from when he founded it in 1950 to his 2014 retirement.

Boxing great Joe Louis with Martin Janis. | Provided photo

Boxing great Joe Louis with Martin Janis. | Provided photo

Young Martin grew up in Buffalo. After his parents moved to Chicago for his father’s job, he graduated from Sullivan High School. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and earned a journalism degree from Washington University in St. Louis.

His first big client was real estate magnate Arthur Rubloff.

“It was Arthur who opened doors to a lot of Chicagoans,” said Beverly L. Jedynak, a former president of his firm. Soon he began working for Patrick O’Malley, who headed Canteen Corp. Other big clients followed, including Dean Foods, Weight Watchers and the Kennedy Center. The firm expanded with locations in Toronto, Los Angeles and New York.

A job with U.S. Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) led to Mr. Janis handling publicity for what was arguably Illinois’ Wedding of the Year in 1967, the nuptials of his daughter, Sharon Percy, and oil heir Jay Rockefeller, who went on to be a Democratic governor and senator from West Virginia.

Martin Janis (left) handled public relations for the 1967 wedding of Sharon Percy and Jay Rockefeller. | Provided photo

Martin Janis (left) handled public relations for the 1967 wedding of Sharon Percy and Jay Rockefeller. | Provided photo

Mr. Janis is survived by his daughters Elizabeth Rambach and Mercedes Janis; sons Jim, Marty and Bill; five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

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