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The creative shop.

The Creative Shop

Slick, modern square tiles cover the entrance to Resneck Stone Ward & Associates' offices on the fourth floor of the Heritage East Building in downtown Little Rock.

The new-age, funky foyer furniture - former bar chairs from the Capital Club now covered in striped leopard-skin print and situated next to a red leather couch - is more colorful than comfortable.

But it sends an immediate message.

RSW is the creative advertising agency in town.

"We work very hard to be the creative shop," says principal Larry Stone, 43. "If people call us that, then I'm proud."

That's not all people are calling RSW this year.

Stone and principal Millie Ward, 37, were named the Arkansas Advertising Federation's 1991 "Advertising Persons of the Year."

The 7-year-old agency won "Best of Show" and received 30 Addys and 49 merit awards in the 1991 Addy competition.

Adweek magazine profiled RSW as one of the top small shops in the country.

There are other reasons why RSW has received so much attention.

News leaked that the agency will be "disassociating" itself from its Memphis, Tenn., partner, Myron Resneck.

None of the principals will address the split yet. But Ward says an article on her agency might be more "timely" in about a month.

She says there will be "agency news" and more activity with RSW's Project 2000 account as Little Rock prepares for the special Oct. 8 sales tax election.

Still, there's plenty to write about.

The agency's capitalized billing has grown from $2.5 million in 1984 to $14.4 million in 1991.

It's a hefty gain, but Ward says, "One of the most important things about growth is that you don't outgrow the things that made you who you are."

The agency might have to hit another growth spurt once the split is official. The Little Rock office, with 18 employees, will lose the large Union Planters National Bank and Belz Enterprises accounts to the Memphis office.

Ward says, "We used to say our new business effort was [answering] the phone."

Now, Stone says, "We need to pay some attention to that."

The Little Rock office hasn't solicited many new accounts in recent years.

It has been busy with the accounts it has, having grown rather comfortable in its established position in the Little Rock market.

The Little Agency That Could

There's something very much like actress Mary Steenburgen in Millie Ward.

It's not exactly her looks or her voice. Instead, it's a sort of Southern feminism and grace underpinned by a sense of directness and strength.

Larry Stone might hate the analogy, but he could be compared to a lovable teddy bear that sits quietly and unnoticed until it's picked up.

That's until Stone speaks.

Stone is soft-spoken, but he has a businesslike edge to his voice when he needs it.

When Ward says the split from the Memphis office will mean more responsibility for the Little Rock office, Stone shakes his head and says "no."

When Ward adds that the Little Rock office now will have to add an accounting department, Stone leans forward and sternly says, "I think that's all we ought to say."

But Stone and Ward work well together. That's why they formed the agency.

They were at Combs Resneck Stone & Associates until Resneck and Stone split to form their own agency. They invited Ward, a copywriter, to join them and promised her a position as a principal if things worked out after a year.

"We always ... knew we could do really good advertising together," Ward says.

What they weren't sure about was if they had the proper business skills.

Some people are wondering the same thing now that Resneck, considered the most business-oriented of the trio, is leaving.

Will Stone and Ward have to struggle through on-the-job training in the business aspect of advertising?

Of course not, says Ward.

She notes that the two offices have operated independently for at least two years and that she and Stone had their baptism by fire when they began the agency.

They went across the state making cold calls, and that is what built their firm.

One cold call resulted in the business of Munro & Co. of Hot Springs, which operates footwear plants across the state.

When Munro wanted to license the Nickelodeon cable television network's logo for children's shoes, RSW made its presentation to Nickelodeon officials in New York and was awarded the account.

That has led to other advertising and marketing business with Nickelodeon, such as a billboard campaign along Interstate 95 and Interstate 75 in Florida.

"They understand the Nick attitude," says Pamela van der Lee, Nickelodeon's marketing director.

That understanding has led to one of the firm's biggest - if not the biggest - accounts.

For Creative Sake

When presenting Stone and Ward with their "Advertising Persons of the Year" awards, Worthen Banking Corp. Chief Executive Officer Curt Bradbury said he had never seen an agency work harder for a client.

He should know.

Bradbury chose RSW from among the numerous agencies bidding for the Worthen account in 1987.

He made it clear he didn't want traditional bank advertising, but some agencies went overboard with their wild ideas.

RSW is undeniably creative, but some competitors say the agency's marketing skills are weak.

Stone wonders how that's possible.

"I think creative should be founded on solid marketing principles," he says. "Advertising is a function of marketing. Marketing is not a function of advertising."

RSW's creativity led to bankers dancing on desks in television commercials, but there was a point to it.

"You don't do creative advertising for creative sake," Stone says.

Bradbury wanted to establish a solid banking reputation with a unique approach. Worthen got that, along with a reputation for having hip television ads.

RSW has looked specifically for clients with which it might make a good partner.

Jerry Hamra, chief executive officer of Wendy's of Little Rock, had to struggle at first with that idea.

Hamra operated an in-house ad agency for his restaurants until he hired RSW last year. At first, he wasn't ready to yield total control to the agency.

"I said to myself, |I hired you all to do things like this, so why am I thinking about vetoing it?'"

But Hamra went along with RSW's ideas, and they've worked.

"They've done a hell of a job," Hamra says. "My numbers speak for themselves."

When Bob Goff and Wally Allen wanted to establish the Forrest City Holiday Inn as the best place for business people to stop between Memphis and Little Rock, RSW said it was not going to work.

Following the advertising campaign, Goff came back and said, "You were right. It didn't work."

He did, though, hire RSW to work with him at every level of opening Little Rock's Holiday Inn West, from designing the building to testing the food.

Stone says, "That's a good example of how we like to work."

But such a partnership can lead to problems.

If it fails, Ward says, "We can't say, |You made us do that ad.'"

No Prima Donnas, Please

When interviewed about RSW, Jerry Hamra asked that the article be a positive one.

Employees made the same request.

The closest thing to a negative statement employees offered was that they wished there were more hours in the day.

Their positive comments could guarantee them all jobs in the agency's public relations department.

Past employees even had kind remarks about Stone and Ward as individuals.

But they also had a strange unwillingness to speak about the agency, even off the record.

"It's not out of loyalty," says a past employee.

The former employee has loyalty to certain individuals, but not to the agency as a whole.

"It's a very political agency. You have to be of a certain mind set or you're dead."

And what is that mind set?

"Obviously, I don't know because I'm not there anymore."

Some competitors say RSW has a reputation for hiring young, eager employees and working them 10 to 12 hours per day.

The result is burnout and a high turnover rate.

As one might expect, past employees are much quicker to agree with that statement than current employees.

"Nobody here is asked to stay late," says Mary Laurie, the agency's public relations director.

Former senior art director Robyn Steves, who left to start Studio B, says, "Advertising has a built-in weakness - [the need] to please clients on a constant basis. Naturally, it's going to affect everyone in the agency. Ad people have to walk a tightrope."

Ward says the advertising business is filled with young people who start in low-level positions at agencies, gain experience and then progress.

Stone is more direct.

"We have a couple of rules," he says. "Prima donnas don't exist. A good idea doesn't care who had it. And we set our standards very high."

Stone adds, "If somebody has a chip on their shoulder or is not a team player, they will probably be frustrated."

But it doesn't sound like anyone is frustrated at RSW.

Especially not Stone or Ward.

The Little Rock and Memphis offices will become competitors, making a name change inevitable.

The Little Rock market most likely will see Stone Ward & Associates - or an agency with a similar name - continuing to create.

And continuing to grow.

PHOTO : THE CREATIVE COUPLE: Millie Ward and Larry Stone have built Resneck Stone Ward & Associates into what some believe to be the creative shop in town. They have the awards to prove it.
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.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article; Resneck Stone Ward & Associates, advertising agency
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Aug 26, 1991
Words:1581
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