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Ad agencies pull out all the stops for AIDC.

Review Shows How Four Agencies Competed for $750,000 Account

After two days of sound and fury, dogs and ponies and backslapping and handshaking from spooning advertising agencies, the state commission charged with bringing factories to Arkansas has chosen "The Idea Factory."

With a presentation that was thorough, upbeat, dynamic and downright gimmick-filled, Stone & Ward Inc. - calling itself "The Idea Factory" - won the $750,000 account to be the agency of record for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission.

The commission made the decision at a meeting Feb. 16 after its Advertising Agency Review Committee considered nine agencies that submitted proposals. The committee saw formal presentations Feb. 14-15 by four finalists, all from Little Rock, which also included The Communications Group, Frank J. Wills and Combs & Co.

The finalists pulled out all the stops in their efforts to get the account with videos blaring, slide projectors whirring and principals' palms sweating.

The commission's choice was unanimous, but Kay Stebbins, AIDC director of communications, says members "felt any of the finalist agencies could have handled our account. They just felt Stone & Ward could meet them better."

"Obviously we're excited," says Millie Ward, a partner in the firm with Larry Stone. "We think that what the AIDC and the selection committee saw was a genuine desire to work with them as a team and to further the goals they have established. They also saw that we have the ability to create ideas - and that was our whole point."

Arkansas Business was the only media representative that followed the six-person review committee through each of the presentations. The process provided a unique opportunity to see how local agencies compete for major accounts, and the following is what we observed.

Stone & Ward

Committee members and staffers were given hard hats when they entered the Stone & Ward offices because, as Stone said, "a lot of ideas are flying around in here."

In fact, the agency followed the "Idea Factory" theme on welcoming placards, more hard hats on employees' desks, and blue tape on the carpeted floors to mark the tour's path through the offices much like lines showing directions in a factory or hospital.

Through the course of the tour, commissioners were shown how an advertisement is "manufactured," with an ad touting Stone & Ward going through the creative and placement stages finally appearing on the inside cover of an information booklet.

The gimmicks were upbeat to the point of being cutesy.

After the tour, Ward ran a presentation that seemed to wow the commissioners and AIDC staff with its bright, bold images.

For example, television commercials the agency has produced - including the locally famous Worthen dancing banker - were shown on a large video screen at near-maximum volume for full effect.

For the most part, Ward bubbled and Stone slipped in occasional deadpan comments.

Ward noted that her agency is the state's second largest with 35 employees, $16 million in capitalized billings and "the most diverse client list" including TCBY, Wendy's of Little Rock Inc., Holiday Inn of West Little Rock, Acxiom, Stephen's Inc., the Nickelodeon cable network and Columbia Doctors Hospital.

"We sell it all; we do it all," Ward said.

Testimonials came from Mike Flynn of Alltel Corp., Dwain Newman of National Home Centers Inc. and the late Jerry Hamra, owner of Wendy's of Little Rock.

Curt Bradbury, outgoing chairman and chief executive officer of Worthen Banking Corp., said on videotape that he "never liked bank advertising, but [Stone & Ward] has the creativity and the guts to break through the clutter."

Stone gave case studies he said showed work similar to what the AIDC would want, including the "I'm Big on Little Rock" campaign for the Little Rock Convention Center & Visitors Bureau.

Estimating that the AIDC would spend about $500,000 on advertising, Rita Henry of the agency's media department suggested targeting business and industrial leaders - shown by research to be middle-aged men with mid- to upper-incomes - in publications they tend to read, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Forbes and in-flight magazines, and on television they watch, including CNN, The Weather Channel and sports.

Ward also touted her firm's membership in the Advertising and Marketing International Network, which links Stone & Ward with agencies around the world.

"We believe in the goals we can accomplish together," Ward said. "We think we're a perfect match ... Our ideas work for our clients, and they can work for you."

The Communications Group

The Communications Group gave a highly polished presentation in a darkened conference room - spotlights illuminated firm President Dan Cowling as he spoke and dramatic black-and-white photos of industrial sites - on the 16th floor of the First Commercial Bank Building, three floors above the firm's offices.

The effects gave the presentation a serious, "we want your business" tone.

In the AIDC's request for bids, search committee Chairman Wallace Fowler said the decision to review its advertising support was "based to a great extent on our commitment to Total Quality [Management] principles."

The Communications Group picked up the TQM ball and ran with it. The firm's presentation emphasized its dedication to the TQM philosophy and frequently quoted the philosophy's guru, W. Edwards Deming.

Video presentations included testimonials from clients Orbit Valve Co., Overhead Door Co., Jacuzzi Brothers Inc. and the Communications Group employees explaining why they wanted the AIDC account. Most centered on their Arkansas ties and desire to help bring industry to the state.

AIDC Executive Director Del Boyette noted that The Communications Group's presentation used Klipsch loudspeakers from the Arkansas-based company.

Unlike the other three candidates, The Communications Group did not give any specifics of how they would handle the AIDC account.

The firm did extensive research, however. Cowling said the firm polled other advertising agencies active in industrial development and conducted a national opinion poll on Arkansas' image, faxing out 1,000 questionnaires. Of those, 400 were returned.

Asked their first impressions of Arkansas, respondents replied: Bill Clinton, the Razorbacks, "rural" and "country."

"The same tired things we've heard for years," Cowling said.

Respondents described Arkansans as "hillbillies," "rednecks" and "hicks" - as well as some "inflammatory remarks" that Cowling declined to share.

Clinton's impact on the state's image, Cowling said, has been a polarizing one: "People either love him or they hate him."

Positive impressions of Arkansas lauded the state's low labor and real estate costs.

Perhaps worst of all, 73 percent of respondents said they didn't think they could locate Arkansas on a map.

"Based on the comments we got," Cowling said, "most people think we're a third-world country."

A primary part of The Communication Group's presentation was the suggestion for a "right-brain approach" to research. (Psychologists say the left side of the brain deals with logical, analytical thought while the right side deals with feelings.)

Dr. Charles Kenny, a Memphis, Tenn.-based consumer psychologist who has worked with the firm, said the research would "provide an understanding of why people feel the way they do," why they make decisions that aren't based on logic.

Kenny has worked for McDonald's Corp., Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Motors Corp. and Saturn Corp. - but he said a right-brain approach to research "would be an absolutely unique dynamic" in industrial development.

Cowling said it would give Arkansas "a deeper insight and an absolute advantage over other states."

Cowling said research would give advertising programs "a solid foundation. And then creative would come in and


Denny's work, Cowling said, would account for less than 10 percent of the AIDC advertising budget and would take about 90 days - preferably beginning before the new contract starts July 1.

Commissioner Harriet Phillips noted that the firm had "a pretty lean staff," and Cowling countered: "I hope we're always lean, otherwise you'd have to pay higher rates."

Cowling added, however, that if the firm got the account it would add two employees in production.

Frank J. Wills

Signs throughout the Morgan Keegan Building touted "The Joint Venture - Frank J. Wills and the AIDC" and references to the Wills agency's nickname as "The Source."

Even the doors on the elevator for commissioners going to Wills' third-floor office read "Arkansas' future is going up." (The elevator they rode down after the presentation had the sign "The AIDC's cost of doing business is going down.")

Agency President Watty Wills, the only staffer in shirt sleeves during the presentation, stressed his firm's combination of technology and talent.

When Wills took over the agency after his father's death, "we had four people, four typewriters and one copying machine."

On a tour of the offices, commissioners saw a digitalized photo studio, a series of Macintosh computers linked by Ethernet and production facility that allows all preprint production to be done in-house electronically.

"It's a huge advantage," Wills said. "We're not sending work out to other producers. You can challenge us to produce perfection."

Wills said the agency "has built a rocket ship, and we're real proud of it. No other agency in the state is positioned for the 21st century like we are. But more important, we're putting out great work because we've got the people to do it. We are the tool for the AIDC to use to complete its mission."

The group began its tour in Wills' electronic photo lab, where photos are taken and - without ever using film or a darkroom - put on a computer screen for immediate use by the creative department.

In fact, Boyette stuck his business card in front of a display being photographed and by the time the commissioners left Wills' office, the staff had produced an ad using the card and logos from the four ad agencies seeking the account.

Wills also noted that the agency is the state's oldest and has maintained clients, with Roller Funeral Homes on board 25 years, Harvest Foods Inc. (and predecessor Safeway Stores) 44 years and J.A. Riggs Tractor Co. marking 47 years with Wills.

John Earl, public relations director at Wills, said that when client Harvest Foods was going through bankruptcy, the agency was "able to take a potentially negative story and keep it positive. We can tell your story in a positive way."

Testimonials for Wills included Harry Janson, president of Harvest Foods, who said, "Trust is the basis of our partnership." Ralph Patterson of the creative division told the commission that the agency uses research to target the market and determine the message that needs to get across: "We fish where the fish are, and we know what bait to use."

In a campaign for St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center, for example, research showed that people are most interested in personal care at a hospital than in the facility's technological abilities. That led to the "Where Caring Is a Way of Life" ads that featured, among other things, a testimonial from cancer patient Charlotte Price about the care she received at St. Vincent. (Price's cancer is in remission.)

A series of speculative ads that Wills developed for the AIDC are based on playing with business catch phrases.

For example, one with a photo of a barge on the Arkansas River in Little Rock has the words "CASH FLOW" in huge type and in smaller type the words "in on our" between them. The result: "Cash in on our flow."

Or the big words, "PROFIT TAKING" with "is here for the" between. (You put them together.)

Another features Herb Kelleher, chief executive officer of Southwest Airlines, combining mention of the reservation facility recently built in Little Rock and the airline's motto. Kelleher says, "Choosing Arkansas is JUST PLANE SMART."

"If we can do these things out of the blue," Wills told the commissioners, "imagine what we can do as a partnership."

Wills said his agency has been "low-profile in the past, but we've lifted the lid off."

Phillips noted that the AIDC account would be "a drop in the bucket" compared to Harvest Foods. But Wills countered: "We don't go into any account based on its size. This is a very meaningful account for us ... We're willing to throw everything we've got into it."

Fowler said he was "overwhelmed by the equipment and talent" he'd seen.

And on their way out the Morgan Keegan building, they saw a sign reading, "May the Source Be With You" and large type of Wills' phone number.

Combs & Co.

"We've waited for this moment for seven years," Ben Combs told commissioners to begin his agency's presentation.

The statement alluded to the AIDC's choice of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods as its ad agency seven years ago. Insiders at the time said Combs was the commission's choice before then-Gov. Bill Clinton lobbied for CJRW.

The Combs agency touted itself as "The Right Place at the Right Time" and pointed to its experience with strategic marketing and planning, business-to-business expertise, experience with economic development and accountability.

As case studies, Combs noted his agency's work with Systematics Information Services Inc., which that same day officially became Alltel Information Systems; ENSCO, the $100 million waste management company; the Hot Springs Convention and Tourism Commission; and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives.

Carl Whillock, head of the electric cooperative, said in a testimonial that Combs "is the best ad company in the world. And the next best is only half as good."

Whereas other presentations were high-tech and polished, Combs' seemed a little out of date. Other agencies, for example, used rear projection devices for slide presentations; Combs used a front projector that beamed across the conference room, and staffers often stood in the multicolored beam to talk to commissioners.

Other video presentations started on cue; Combs' began with scratches across the TV monitor.

Combs emphasized money-saving techniques such as updating material developed by CJRW rather than starting from scratch, as many agencies wanting to "put their own mark on a campaign" might do.

Combs also suggested using heads of well-known Arkansas businesses as free and effective spokesmen for the state.

"Fifty percent of all advertising is wasted," said David Martin of Combs' marketing and research department. "We know which half. An attractive, cut ad may not be effective. We can track our effectiveness. We offer accountability based on marketing research."

Combs also offered to put a computer in the AIDC office - at no cost to the commission - to facilitate immediate communication ability.

"It would be cost-effective for us," Combs said, noting a savings in time and travel.

Combs also said his agency wouldn't charge the AIDC for meeting time. The fee clock would start ticking only after a task has been determined and assigned.

To pitch its ideas on how it would market the AIDC, Jim Clemons, Combs' assistant creative director, dimmed the lights and told commissioners they were going forward in time exactly a year.

"It's now Feb. 15, 1996," Clemons said as he brought the lights back up.

"I'm just glad to be here," quipped committee chairman Wallace Fowler.

Imagine, Clemons said, that research has identified an Ohio steel company looking to build a new mill. The AIDC runs an ad in the Cleveland edition of Crain's Business Journal and a direct mailing to the company president that features Dan DiMicco, the head of the Nucor Corp. steel mill in Armorel (Mississippi County) touting Arkansas as "the right place at the right time."

The Ohio company would also be sent a CD-ROM package showing all the available plant sites in the state as well as more testimonials from other business people.

A company rep visits Arkansas for a first-hand look, Clemons said, but he almost misses his flight home because of a broken watch. A thank-you follow-up note is sent and a watch with the AIDC logo is included.

"We can make the package whatever fits," Clemons said.

RELATED ARTICLE: The AIDC Chooses an Ad Agency: A Chronology

1988 - The AIDC account is won by Cranford Johnson Robinson in a process clouded by controversy. After presentations by the finalist agencies, commissioners were reportedly ready to give the account to another firm - reportedly Combs & Co. - but then-Gov. Bill Clinton, who was represented by CJR, persuaded them to back his firm. Clinton later publicly apologized for his meddling, but CJR kept the account.

1990 - Cranford Johnson Robinson merges with the Woods Brothers Agency, which already held the Parks and Tourism account, one that does not require competitive bidding. Control of the state's two largest accounts fuels more controversy.

Early December 1994 - The AIDC decides to hold a formal review of its advertising account. The commission says the move is not a reflection of a lack of trust in CJRW, but a process that should be taken periodically.

Dec. 22, 1994 - The AIDC sends letters to numerous advertising agencies requesting proposals for the account. The requests include a five-page questionnaire asking probing details about the agencies.

Early January 1995 - CJRW decides not to pursue the AIDC account.

Jan. 13, 1995 - By the deadline for returning the questionnaires, nine agencies have applied.

Jan. 19, 1995 - The review committee narrows the field to four finalists to give formal presentations: Combs & Co., The Communications Group, Frank J. Wills and Stone & Ward Inc. Failing to make the cut are: Sells & Associates, The Alan Rothman Co., Martin & Martin, a coalition of small shops known as The Co-Op and Mangan/Holcomb & Partners.

Feb. 14-15, 1995 - The finalist agencies make their presentations.

Feb. 16, 1995 - The review committee makes its recommendation to the full AIDC commission, which names Stone & Ward as its advertising agency of record.

July 1, 1995 - The contract between the AIDC and Stone & Ward is officially to take effect.

RELATED ARTICLE: Goodies Are Part of the Package

Abilities in research, marketing, ad building and public relations aside, maybe it was those "lovely parting gifts" that gave Stone & Ward Inc. the edge.

Members of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission's ad agency selection committee got to keep the "Idea Factory" hard hats and ID tags that Stone & Ward gave them as the tour of the agency began.

And at the end of the presentation - and in note of the fact that it was Feb. 14 - members were given heart-shaped boxes of candy inscribed with the words "Say Yes."

Frank J. Wills showered the commissioners with goodies as well. They got to keep the coasters emblazoned with "The Joint Venture: AIDC and Frank J. Wills" that were on the conference room table and were given similarly decorated six-pack coolers and coffee mugs.

Combs & Co. used wristwatches to woo commissioners in much the same way the agency planned to court industrialists. Members were given watches with "The Right Place at the Right Time" and the AIDC and Combs logos.

The Communications Group never had a chance: The agency didn't dole out any freebies.
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Title Annotation:advertising agencies; Arkansas Industrial Development Commission
Author:Treadway, Tyler
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Feb 20, 1995
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