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The American dream: competition doesn't keep Arkansas' advertising entrepreneurs from starting their own shops.

"When I made the decision, it was the equivalent of jumping off a 20-story building headfirst."

That's how Carol Davis describes going into business for herself after working at other advertising and public relations firms for 17 years.

Davis and a longtime friend, Joe Holmes, who had been free-lancing in public relations, created the Little Rock agency Holmes/Davis & Associates in March 1991.

Holmes says the free-fall feeling might never end.

"I don't know if you ever get over the insecurity," he says.

Then, he adds, "I would have a lot of trouble going back to work for someone."

He's not the only one.

There is a growing list of Arkansans who are forming their own advertising and public relations firms.

Jim Hunt has been on his own since leaving Cranford Johnson Hunt in 1984.

That same year, Chester Storthz left his position as creative director at the Brooks-Pollard Co. to start his own agency.

One of the disadvantages Storthz found in operating a small shop was the ego problem. Simply put, the larger agencies get the recognition.

Storthz, whose Little Rock agency operates under the name Chester Storthz Advertising Inc., will introduce himself to people and they'll ask, "What's the name of your agency?"

His response?

"Well, I named it after myself. Cranford Johnson was taken."

Storthz and Hunt have taken no more than four consecutive days of vacation since starting their businesses.

Still, the agency owners say they wouldn't trade their positions.

After almost 30 years at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., Bob Sells left his job as district manager for public relations. At age 59, he began a public relations agency in July 1990.

Sells encounters problems every time the phone rings or someone steps into his office.

But just last week, a friend told Sells, "I have never seen you happier, and I have known you for 30 years."

Sells says it's true.

"I had always wanted to do that," Sells says of starting a business. "But I was scared -- scared of financial failure."

It's the pursuit of the American dream.

Yet Sells and others at small firms will tell you it is not money they're after.

They say a small agency won't make them rich.

Instead, it's all about owning their own businesses. It's all about having their names on the door.

"I don't have a partnership mentality," Storthz says. "I want to do things the way I want to do them."

Selfish To Practical

The reasons people form agencies range from selfish to practical.

When Tim Irby left Frazer Irby Snyder Inc. of Little Rock in 1988, there were two main reasons.

First, Irby expected a decline in the number of midsize agencies, who too often lose when competing against larger agencies for major accounts.

Irby's plan was to go after small accounts while keeping his overhead low.

"I could foresee the need for smaller shops," he says.

Second, there were disagreements with his partners.

"I just said, 'I'll go off and do my own thing,'" Irby says.

With 20 active clients and more than $600,000 in capitalized billings, Irby claims he has earned more money since going out on his own than he would have earned with his previous partners.

His A. Tim Irby Advertising Inc. has three employees.

He says the only disadvantage is "you don't have as many people to rely on when you go on vacation."

The main advantage, though, is "you can react quickly because you have everything in your grasp."

Small shop owners talk constantly about avoiding the bureaucracy of large agencies.

"What our important clients were telling us was, 'We want contact with the principals of the agency,'" Carrick Patterson says. "We made a conscious decision to downscale."

Patterson and Bob Ginnaven left the Little Rock agency Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb last year to form their own shop. At its peak, MRGH had 43 employees. Ginnaven and Patterson don't want more than six.

"I had been with a big company," Hunt says. "Obviously, the larger you are, the more difficult it is to do things. I felt I didn't need all of those people to do a particular job."

Hunt has one employee.

"There are a lot of people who do not want to go to the large agencies and pay for somebody's fancy overhead," says Marion Kahn, the former communications director at Heifer Project International Inc. of Little Rock.

Kahn left Heifer Project to form Marion Kahn Communications Inc. in November 1990.

"I thought there was a real need for a company like mine," she says.

She has a range of goals, such as her desire to write books, that are broader than most employers would like.

Kahn says that when clients call, they're calling for her and not an employee.

"They're not going to get shuffled off to someone else," she says.

Storthz wouldn't mind his agency growing larger than its current five employees, but he understands the advantages of a smaller shop.

For instance, he doesn't have to fire employees in recessionary times and then hire them back when the work starts coming in again.

Storthz says smaller agencies are positioned to handle rough times better than large companies.

Storthz bills almost $800,000 annually. When he started, he worked for free for his first five clients. All were non-profit organizations. Now, Storthz has some large clients. He markets gas grills for Arkansas Louisiana Gas Co. to retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. He has the account for Sidney Moncrief Pontiac-Buick-GMC Truck at Sherwood.

Storthz says it is nice when his ads are recognized and remembered, even if his name isn't.

Biding His Time

Bob Sells waited 30 years to start his company.

He enjoyed his work at Southwestern Bell. It offered security and good retirement benefits.

Sells began his agency the day after leaving the phone company. The contacts he had made during his lengthy career allowed him to land several accounts almost immediately.

Sells' first client was a national corporation, which he declines to name. He had become acquainted with corporation officials through his work at Southwestern Bell and his involvement in the Public Relations Society of America.

Since then, Sells says it has been "too much, too fast."

He had to buy additional equipment and move into new offices. He doubled his overhead almost overnight.

Sells added longtime Arkansas Gazette writer Jerry Dean in November. He since has hired John Roberts, who at one time operated his own Little Rock agency.

"I feel everything is in good shape again," Sells says.

He had feared he would be unable to handle the work load in December, January and February.

There is plenty to worry about in both large and small agencies.

"Obviously, with a small number of clients, if you lose one, you're dead," Patterson says.

For Ginnaven and Patterson, Twin City Bank of North Little Rock is the key account. It represents 80 percent of the agency's business.

Patterson isn't worried about losing it. His confidence comes from "the personal service we feel we can give by being small."

Sells has created a niche through his dealings with agencies that work with older Arkansans. His efforts on behalf of the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging led to work for the Coalition for a Healthier Arkansas and other organizations.

And Sells' contract with the Arkansas Federation of Water & Air Users Inc., an industry organization, led to work for environmental companies such as SpilTech Inc. of Little Rock.

Sells has personal interests in both the environment and issues affecting the elderly.

When it's your agency, you can do what you want.

But Bernard Frazer, who has operated a one-man shop since leaving Frazer Irby Snyder in 1977, says if things go wrong, the agency's owner has nobody to blame "but the guy you shave in the morning."

Feeling The Pressure

"I already feel the pressure," Holmes says of his 1-year-old firm. "If you don't grow, you start going backward."

"Controlling growth is probably scarier than getting the business," Davis says.

She says small firms must strive to maintain a balance.

"I don't know what that equation is," says Holmes, her partner.

The agency is being careful "not to become a self-contained bureaucracy if we can help it," Holmes says.

He and Davis are adding employees, however.

Garry Hoffmann, a former state editor at the Gazette and former assistant managing editor at the Arkansas Democrat, was hired in September.

Hoffmann writes and edits most of the copy.

Davis is in charge of new business development.

Meanwhile, Holmes handles most of the paperwork.

"He wrings his hands more than I do," Davis says of Holmes, who must deal with accounting details daily. "It is kind of like taking out the garbage. But it is critical that you keep up with every minute of your time and every penny you spend."

She now has more appreciation for the headaches faced by former bosses.

"When you own your business, you think about it all your waking hours," Davis says. "It is always rolling around in the back of your mind."

She quickly adds, "What's the worst thing that could happen? The worst that could happen is that we could get a job."

She means, of course, employment elsewhere.

That's a job.

And owning your own agency isn't a job?

Davis says, "It's just shooting for your dream."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Apr 6, 1992
Words:1562
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