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Spin control.

Spin Control

Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb Uses Its PR Savvy After The Loss Of A Principal And Seven Employees

If there is one thing that Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb is good at it's spin control.

Last fall, MRGH lost principal Craig Rains and laid off seven employees in one day in the midst of the tough advertising market rocking national and local ad agencies all across the country. Yet to hear the firm's principals talk, times have never been better.

"We have to redefine ourselves everyday," says principal Bob Ginnaven. If you don't, "you're not going to be around for 18 years."

A meeting last week with consummate spin doctors Ginnaven, Steve Mangan, Steve Holcomb and VP of Communications and Director of Public Relations Carrick Patterson was controlled from start to finish by the four savvy public relations executives.

(Individual interviews had been repeatedly requested, but a group interview was given, pitting four executives against one reporter.)

Throughout the interview, their shrewdness in public relations was detectable in the laid-back -- but practiced -- manner in which the three discussed Rains' departure, the October 1990 layoffs and current advertising accounts.

For example:

Asked about the recent loss of the Mexico Chiquito account to Combs and Heathcott, Holcomb turns the question to his advantage and lists the agency's newly acquired accounts.

Asked if the demise of the agency's client Moore Ford will hurt, Mangan begins to explain how any lost account hurts until Holcomb jumps in to say, "That account is not necessarily lost -- in media terms it's in hiatus." Holcomb has an appointment scheduled with the new owners.

How about the agency's largest account, Arkla, that supposedly only spent three-fourths of its over $1 million 1990 advertising budget?

Holcomb won't comment on his client's account, but he is happy to talk about Arkansas Exploration -- a drilling company that the agency received as side business from the Arkla account.

What about the agency's annual billings? Holcomb doesn't disclose that information but does say the most recent published figure of $16 million is extremely low.

For every negative question about the agency, the principals have a positive answer. They are as dexterous in handling the media as they are adept in producing work for clients. (Patterson has even been known to coach employees who are queried by the media -- while a reporter waits on the phone.)

The way the agency has skillfully sidestepped any negative publicity over Craig Rains' departure and the lay-offs would make any client proud. It's that talent that has enabled MRGH to thrive as one of the state's top advertising agencies.

From Struggle To Success

MRGH hasn't always been so slick.

When the agency started with four people as Mangan Rains in 1972, Steve Mangan and Craig Rains tried to solicit business with a letter to W.P. Gulley Jr. of Pulaski Federal Savings and Loan (today called Savers) but left the Jr. off of his name. When Gulley good-naturedly chided Rains for the oversight, Rains sent a letter of apology but addressed it to W.D. Gulley, not W.P.

After some more riding from Gulley, Rains and Mangan each correctly hand wrote Gulley's name 100 times and delivered it to him in person. They got the account.

To win other accounts, Mangan literally went door to door down Main Street on one occasion.

"We were so young we didn't even know how to go about it," says Rains. "We struck out on our own and opened with no business and no hope of any."

Today, it's not uncommon for businesses to come to MRGH without any solicitation. IBM recently approached the agency with a pilot project that will determine how effectively a local agency can conduct public relations for local IBM offices.

But Mangan says he can still be seen going door to door -- just not down Main Street.

The agency's success is due not only to creative work for clients but intelligent marketing of itself.

The raw hustling Mangan and Rains used to employ has transformed over the years into a polished presence evident in the remaining principals.

Truth And Consequences

So why did Rains leave? His departure Oct. 1 with no definite destination led to speculation he was forced out of the agency, but the principals say no.

"I guess that we should be flattered that people think we're so important to make up so much gossip," says Mangan.

Holcomb is slightly more emotional. It's preposterous to think he or the other principals would try to squeeze Rains out, he says. It sounds like malicious gossip to him.

Most theories center on newcomer Patterson's role at the agency and whether he was brought in to help handle Rains' administrative duties.

Patterson formerly carried the title vice president and director of communications, but now has Rains' title of director of public relations.

And employees say Patterson added depth to management and admit that while Rains is a PR guru, he isn't necessarily the best in management.

Also, Rains' heavy involvement with a bottler's association led some to view his interests as very narrow in the agency, thus fueling the idea that Holcomb, if not the other principals, wanted to force out Rains.

"Craig wasn't as good as Carrick in being head of the department and in delegating authority. He was from the old school and did everything himself," says one employee.

Some question Rains' efficiency, but others point to a simpler parting of the ways.

"I felt like there would be a time when Craig would be on his own," says Draxie Rogers who was an account executive for over 11 years before she was laid off in October. "He had accounts that really didn't seem to have much to do with the agency."

Moving On

Continuing the MRGH tradition of public relations, Rains has opened Craig Rains Communications as a PR firm, not as an advertising agency. Rains says he's not in competition with his former partners, and, in fact, "I would love to find a tremendous chunk of business to give to them."

The only account Rains took with him is the Arkansas Soft Drink Association which he represents as executive director. Rains also continues to represent Storer Cable at their request. He has become executive director for the Oklahoma Soft Drink Association and now lobbies for it and the Arkansas association.

Rains says he made the decision to leave MRGH in June of 1990. He wanted to donate time to church and charitable organizations, but didn't feel it would be fair to the agency because he'd have to give up part of his 60- to 80-hour work week.

Since leaving, Rains has been involved with all levels of public relations. He's negotiating to buy a business and is considering adding employees.

"That's a decision Steve Mangan and I had to make 18 years ago," says Rains. "We originally only wanted six accounts and 12 people because we were afraid we'd lose the intimacy and the free-spiritedness of the smaller group if we took on a more corporate structure."

At age 50, Rains isn't sure if he's ready to go through the hassles that accompany running an agency, hassles that MRGH is still going through -- like the tough job of laying off seven employees the day Rains left.

The PR Test

"It's not like one day we came in as hatchet men," Mangan says of the layoffs.

Beginning the morning of Oct. 1, different department heads went into the offices of people who were being laid off and closed the doors. The process continued until 5 p.m.

"I thought I had escaped it," says Jane Brubaker who was an account executive for over 11 years.

But at five minutes till five o'clock, Mangan told her the news. "The only thing I can guess is that Mangan needed my accounts to make himself productive," says Brubaker.

Brubaker remembers tough times in the past when there were salary freezes, but she and other employees never expected the layoffs.

Deborah Beard was with MRGH as a public relations account executive for 14 years and left this month for a job opportunity at St. Vincent's Infirmary. While Beard says she didn't think the cutbacks would be in people, she understands the decision. "In advertising, inventory is people, and that's where the cutbacks come."

Mangan doesn't attribute the current layoffs to a financial problem but describes them as a smart management decision. "The layoffs were partially because we were smart enough to realize the economy was going bad," says Mangan. "We were just prepared."

Unlike an MRGH close call Dec. 13, 1986, when the agency's biggest account -- $2-million First South S&L -- went under.

"That got my attention," says Mangan.

Account problems today pale in comparison, he says.

Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb has come a long way from the days when Steve Mangan and Craig Rains considered calling their agency The Daisy Hill Puppy Farm after the cartoon character Snoopy's home.

When Steve Holcomb says "We're poised perfectly to take on the |90s," you can bet the agency has positioned itself to provide clients with a product and media with a message. MRGH's own message. Premeditated, prepackaged and skillfully delivered.

PHOTO : PARTING OF THE WAYS: Craig Rains' Oct. 1, 1990, departure from MRGH raised speculation that he had been forced out of the agency.

PHOTO : SPIN DOCTORS: MRGH principals (left to right) Steve Mangan, Steve Holcomb, Bob Ginnaven and director of public relations Carrick Patterson convey the message that times have never been better at the agency despite the departure of principal Craig Rains, the layoffs of seven employees and a tough advertising market.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:how advertising firm Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb cope with economic crisis
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Feb 25, 1991
Words:1605
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