Herbert “Herb” Montalbano Sr., the advertising executive whose 47-year career include creating successful marketing campaigns and catchphrases for dozens of local businesses and clients, died Tuesday. He was 85.
Montalbano and his wife of 43 years, Cheryl, founded the advertising company, Herbert P. Montalbano Inc. Advertising and Public Relations, in 1970. "He started it in the trunk of his car," his wife said. “His motto was ‘Create advertising that sells’ and he did it. He just knew how to connect with his marketing skills and relate to his clients and their audience.”
Many of the ad slogans he created for clients in marketing campaigns over the years are still well-known. His television commercials for a local restaurant chain repeated the line: “Hungry? Ground Pat’i,” while his Dorignac’s supermarket commercials advertised that “The Best is Better.” Montalbano’s car dealership commercials included the slogans “We cut the prices to the Bohn” for Bohn Ford and “Shucks, who can do better than that?!” for Advantage Ford. Other commercials promoted “Your exterior decorators” at Pool and Patio Center and explained that “Edison would have bought it here,” at Lighting Inc.
Some of his other advertising clients over the years included Tulane University Athletics, Commander’s Palace, Andrea’s Restaurant and the Court of Two Sisters, WTIX and WSMB radio stations, local law firms, funeral homes and many more.
Prior to forming his own company, Montalbano served as advertising director of the Clarion Herald newspaper for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, where he worked from 1968 to 1970. He also spent five years in professional sales and as the sales manager for Addressograph-Multigraph-Varityper Corp.
While he created characters and ideas for commercials and advertising campaigns, friends and colleagues recalled that Montalbano himself was somewhat of a local character. The French Quarter native was well-connected to people from all walks of life.
He provided publicity for the St. Joseph’s Italian-American Marching Club Parade for more than 30 years, coordinating news coverage and publicity for their annual parade and pre-parade activities. In 1973, he and the late Joe Gemelli and Vince Caruso began the popular Italian Open golf tournament.
“Actually, the Open got started when I brought a pair of dirty pants over to Vince Caruso’s cleaning plant on Shrewsbury Road,” Montalbano told The Times-Picayune in 1982. “Somewhere along the line he brought up the idea of starting an Italian Open here in New Orleans, something that had been going on in other places.” The pair got Gemelli, a well-known downtown clothier and colorful promoter, involved and the event took off. “Here we were, an advertising person, a clothier and a cleaner trying to put on a show, at that time, that is now one of the biggest in New Orleans. It was something then and it’s even greater now.”
Although his vitality seemed to keep him working nearly all hours of the day, his after-hours pursuits also included playing basketball, for which he won awards well into his 80s. At age 72, he scored twelve 3-pointers and eight 2-pointers for a total score of 52 points in the Jefferson Parish Recreational Over-40 League against men many decades younger than him.
He was honored for his athletic and professional achievements as a Peoples Health Champion in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before a New Orleans Saints game on August 26, 2005, just three days prior to Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. In 2016, he was honored by the Louisiana American Italian Sports Hall of Fame with the American Italian Veteran Award.
Montalbano graduated from Holy Cross High School, where he was an outstanding basketball player. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard for four years, including two years of active duty during the Korean War aboard an air and rescue cutter. He then attended Southwest Business College under the G.I Bill. At the age of 78, he attended the University of New Orleans where he took computer science and consumer behavior courses.
Over the years, many non-profit organizations benefitted from his marketing acumen, including the Ray of Hope Foundation (in honor of former Holy Cross, Tulane and Saints linebacker Ray Hester who died at an early age of cancer). He also produced television commercials with Gayle and Tom Benson to help feed the hungry and homeless for the St. Jude Community Center.
In addition to his wife, survivors include five children: Susan Martiny, Anne Blackwood, Herbert P. Montalbano, Jr., Janice Delaune and Maria Field. He was preceded in death by a son Frank, who died in an auto accident at age 15. Montalbano also had seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a sister and two brothers.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated Tuesday, June 20 at noon at St. Clement of Rome Church, 4317 Richland Ave., Metairie. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Burial will take place at St. Louis No. 3 cemetery on Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans.