DALLAS — Stan Richards is exiting his namesake Dallas advertising and marketing agency after a week of internal turmoil and severed business partnerships over his racially insensitive comments about a proposed Motel 6 ad campaign idea.

Richards, who’ll turn 88 on Nov. 8, announced the move Thursday afternoon to the company’s 650 employees via Zoom, hoping to stop the bleeding that saw Motel 6, Home Depot, Keurig Dr Pepper and H-E-B sever ties with The Richards Group over the last two days. Motel 6’s iconic “We’ll leave the light on for you” slogan in 1986 is what propelled Richards’ company into the largest independently owned agency in the country.

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Richards said the exodus is understandable. He said if The Richards Group had been a public company, he would have been fired by now.

“I am leaving the agency,” he said.

The controversy erupted this week over Richards’ description of a Motel 6 campaign concept as being “too Black” for the Carrollton-based motel chain’s “white supremacist constituents.” His remarks came during an internal meeting at the agency over an idea to celebrate black artists in a Motel 6 campaign. The motel operator promptly cut ties with Richards’ firm after his comments were publicized.

On Wednesday, he apologized for “using words I greatly regret, including three I never should have said: ‘It’s too black.’ “

Motel 6’s exit was soon followed by home improvement giant Home Depot, beverage company Keurig Dr Pepper and grocery store chain H-E-B, all of whom dropped The Richards Group in the last two days. The Richards Group’s revenue was about $200 million in 2019.

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Richards turned over his ownership of the company about eight months ago to a nonprofit that he wouldn’t identify. He said the nonprofit is contractually bound not to interfere in the agency’s operations. He first discussed the idea in 2015 as his exit strategy.

Richards ran the company with what’s been described as a “fiercely independent” mindset.

But in December 2019, Richards turned over day-to-day control to his handpicked successor, Glenn Dady, a 40-year veteran of the company. But Richards said he planned to remain involved and never saw himself retiring.

Despite his age, Richards had once famously said he’d keep doing the job “till I croak.”

His list of honors is as long as his tenure. In 2017, he was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Advertising Hall of Fame. In 2014, the University of Texas bestowed its advertising and public relations school with his name – Richards called it “the greatest honor that I’ve received in a long, working life.”

This week, the university said it planned to speak directly with Richards about his remarks and listen to concerns raised by faculty, staff and students before deciding “how best to respond consistent with our values.”

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Richards moved to Dallas in the early 1950s after graduating from Pratt Institute in New York. He worked for an agency briefly, then freelanced graphic design work and eventually grew his business into a full-fledged marketing agency.

In 2016, when Chick-fil-A dropped his agency after a 22-year run, Richards described it as more of an emotional blow than financial toll. His team dreamed up the “Eat Mor Chikin” cow campaign in 1995 and it’s considered one of the most iconic in fast-food history.

Richards Group has also created campaigns for hundreds of brands over the decades, including Go RVing, Biltmore Estate, NatureSweet Tomatoes, Sub-Zero, Wolf, Jeep, Ram and Alfa Romeo.

©2020 The Dallas Morning News