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A textbook case.


CJRW's Smooth Merger Will Help It Bill $41 Million In 1991

One of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods' biggest awards in 1990 didn't come at the Addys, the annual advertising awards banquet in February, and it wasn't for work the agency did for a specific client.

The information packet detailing the merger between Cranford Johnson Robinson Associates and the Woods Brothers Agency won a national award from the North American Advertising Network (NAAN) in the category of internal communications.

Media watchers back home are especially impressed by the merger because of the diverse corporate climates that meshed so well together to form the largest advertising agency the state has ever seen.

According to Shelby Woods, former president of the Woods Brothers Agency and now EVP/chairman of the executive committee at CJRW, the transition has gone particularly well since the official Feb. 1, 1990, merger because the union created the perfect relationship.

"It was somewhat like dating," says Woods of the merger. "We met; we courted; and we finally got married."

Woods and Ron Robinson, agency president/COO, were casually discussing philosophies on being agency presidents in the summer of 1989 when they first struck the idea of merging.

Next, they answered a "Why you should not merge" questionnaire designed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies that listed 200 angles agencies should consider before tying the knot. Questions such as "Are both agencies strong as separate entities?" and "Are there potential client conflicts?" revealed that a merger between the 72-employee CJRA and the 30-employee Woods Brothers Agency was possible.

In March of 1990, the final move was made from the Woods Brothers' offices on 1001 W. Markham Street to the offices of CJRA at 303 W. Capitol Ave. The agency formerly occupied the second floor and part of the third, but it traded its third floor space for all of the fourth floor which, including the second floor, totals 28,000 SF.

Merger plans were kept surprisingly covert almost until the official announcement in December of 1989. Competing agencies and employees at CJRA and Woods Brothers generally did not view the merger as a threat but as a smart business move. That didn't keep rumors from flying, though.

Brenda Scisson, VP and director of public relations for CJRA, fielded questions from the media such as, "Is it true 37 employees were laid off?". Scisson still laughs and wonders how anyone arrived at that number. No employees were fired at either agency, and the ones who have left in the past year account for the normal turnover rate at CJRW which is lower than the usual 22 percent at national agencies.

The only client conflict resulted in CJRA resigning its Continental Diamonds public relations account because the company seeks business from the tourism department.

There haven't been any complaints from clients who were with the agencies through the merger. Richard Davies, director of the state Department of Parks and Tourism -- the $3.5 million account Woods Brothers brought to the deal -- says, "I was really curious about how it was going to work, but in my opinion it was to our benefit." Davies says the added talent amounted to a massive resource pool of creativity and expertise.

Parks and Tourism received money from a special 2 percent tourism tax that went into effect roughly the same time as the merger so there were several organizational changes in "the business of who does what to whom when," says Davies.

The government agency had formerly been a $640,000 account, and Davies was glad to have additional guidance in spending the money generated from the tax increase. He says he now works with CJRA employees in addition to the former Woods Brothers team.

Other clients, however, do not view the agencies as totally integrated. "They're not exactly two separate agencies," says Grady Wooten, VP of Diversified Graphics, "but I'm still working with the same people from Woods Brothers on the tourism account."

Clashing of Corporate Cultures?

Since its beginning as Cranford Johnson Inc. in 1961, the agency has been known for a conservative stature and a traditional business style. Woods Brothers sported a much more laidback image since its conception in 1967. When the merger was announced, a frequent question heard was, "Won't there be a conflict of styles?"

Woods agreed that his agency, because of its smaller size and lack of large corporate accounts, was not as structured as CJRA, but he says that the work ethic was still the same. "That includes things like getting up early and staying late," Woods says.

Observers outside of CJRW may view two separate agencies coexisting under one roof, but management and employees contend that they are one team working together.

"We've really stopped talking about it now," says Scisson of the merger.

"The perception was that there was a big change, but it hasn't been that different for me," says Cindy Fribourgh who was traffic manager for Woods Brothers and now is publications manager at CJRW. Fribourgh says that the merger was a surprise to everyone but that the crossover has been gradual. "It would have been insane to merge and suddenly create a new team list," she says.

The Game Plan

Once the principals of the agencies decided the goals and worked out the logistics with accountants and lawyers, they set about on their biggest task: to fully integrate the employees of the two agencies. A plan called CJRW Team |90 resulted in the merger packet that won the agency the NAAN award.

The detailed plan included breakfasts and meetings to help the employees get to know one another. CJRA's daily newsletter, The Bulletin, was expanded to answer questions regarding the merger. Robinson even sent letters to employees' spouses to explain the change.

A "Team |90 Pep Rally and Mixing Time" was set to "kick-off" the merger, and "game dates" were made to familiarize the "team players" with the plans. The "team" lingo was utilized to help everyone adapt as quickly as possible to becoming the largest advertising agency in Arkansas history. The merger handbook was extremely detailed and even included plans for day care so there would be 100 percent attendance at the mixer.

Clients were also contacted about the merger and plans were made for open houses to familiarize everyone with the expanded offices. Rolodex cards were sent out with the address change, and news releases were timed to be mailed to the media after both agencies' clients were contacted.

Textbook Model

Upon reading the merger handbook, there doesn't appear to be another detail the agency could have added to help the transition. But not everything has happened that media observers thought would take place.

Speculators thought that clients such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Dillard Department Stores would come back to the state since CJRW would be sizable enough to compete with national agencies that larger Arkansas companies employed. While no major corporations have come back to the state, CJRA's $26.5 million in annual billing has combined with Woods Brothers' $11 million to generate the kind of numbers that attract larger corporations.

With a projected billing of $41 million in 1991, CJRW is looking to become more regional -- it's already working in seven states with accounts such as the Entergy Corporation in Louisiana.

Media watchers predicted other mergers to come after CJRA and Woods Brothers united, but no other agencies have made any moves.

It's not something you just jump into, says Wayne Cranford, chairman/CEO at the agency. Cranford says he's been approached numerous times for possible mergers in his 30 years of business, but it wasn't until last year that he felt the chemistry was right.

Cranford's agency has worked with over 200 clients in the last year -- including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arkansas, the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, and McDonald's of Arkansas -- and he reads the list like a proud papa.

Although Cranford and Woods say they have no regrets about the merger proceedings, Woods quickly corrects himself and says, "I wish we would have done it five years earlier."

PHOTO : MERGING PHILOSOPHIES: CJRW Principals Wayne Woods, Ron Robinson, Shelby Woods, Jim Johnson and Wayne Cranford are generating the kind of numbers that attract larger corporations, but so far they haven't tried to bring big clients like Tyson Foods and Dillard's back to the state.
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:Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods' merger
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 7, 1991
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