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Agency adjustments.

CJRW's Billings Remain at $43 Million as Firm Goes Through Transition Under Hands-On CEO

THE BALANCE OF POWER has shifted at Little Rock advertising agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods.

It began six months ago when Wayne Cranford became chairman emeritus and turned over the reins to Ron Robinson, president and chief operating officer.

The tenuous balance when Cranford and Robinson shared the power is now gone, employees say.

Changes are obvious, particularly in styles of leadership.

Employees viewed Cranford, 60, as the laid-back type. The 50-year-old Robinson, now chairman and chief executive officer, is said to be part of almost everyone's daily work. Too much a part, some complain.

"Ron wants to make sure that every single detail is taken care of on every project," says Craig Douglass, a former agency vice president and director of client service and development. "Wayne is probably a little bit more of a delegator."

Eyebrows recently were raised in the advertising community when Douglass left CJRW, the state's largest agency with 104 employees and annual capitalized billings of $43 million.

Both Douglass and Robinson downplay his departure, emphasizing it was Douglass' choice. Douglass will work independently from his home, where he says he wants to spend more time.

Talk of any other departures by higher-ups or a mass exodus of key CJRW players is apparently just that -- talk.

Since Robinson has been chairman, 10 people have left the agency due to what he calls normal attrition. Douglass is the only member of senior management to leave.

"To have one leave in six months, it can hardly be termed a massive turnover," Robinson says.

CJRW is one of the more structured, if not the most bureaucratic, agencies in the state. But Robinson says CJRW experiences far less than the average 28 percent turnover for agencies nationwide.

He says the advertising business has always been a stressful one, but adds, "It is the edge you would want."

Robinson also says, "Our goal is not to drive our people into a nervous breakdown."

Robinson and partner Shelby Woods are used to grueling work weeks.

"Shelby and I can work 90 hours a week and can rebound," Robinson says.

Although a certain amount of overtime isn't demanded of employees each week, Woods says, "We expect results."

Douglass recalls a "certain amount of day-to-day pressure."

But he adds, "There aren't any horror stories or people jumping out of windows."

The First Intern

Cranford and Jim Johnson started the firm as Cranford Johnson Inc. in 1961. Robinson was its first intern.

Although he's not officially retired, Cranford is less active at the office as chairman emeritus. He is described as a diplomat who, although he can appear cold, is warm-hearted and actually somewhat shy.

He wasn't a part of most employees' daily lives, though. One employee said it was only months after working there that she knew who Cranford was.

Employees know Robinson.

Where Douglass saw him as detail-oriented, other past and current employees are less diplomatic.

"Micromanager" is a word often used to describe his style.

"I've always had somewhat of a hands-on orientation," Robinson says. It is a method he says he's had to put in check since taking on even more responsibility.

What comes naturally to Cranford often appears forced with Robinson, co-workers say.

"There are people and then there are PR people," says one employee.

Robinson lives a life of public relations.

His daily notes to employees are infamous for their PR tone with regular statements such as, "You're the best of the best."

Robinson makes an effort to be warm, but employees say he's rather aloof and has a way of letting employees know he's the boss.

"It's not what he does or says, but it's his presence," one employee says.

That doesn't mean he's not respected, however.

"Ron is the hardest working person," says Woods, the former executive vice president who became agency president when Robinson advanced.

The traits that can aggravate employees might also be Robinson's attributes.

Woods says Robinson's favorite saying is, "The quality is in the management of the details."

"Ron's philosophy permeates the agency," Woods says.

Repeat the 1980s

Robinson's ambition is to start growing the business similar to the prosperous 1980s.

Unlike the consistent 12 percent growth rate the agency experienced in the past decade, during which CJRW's size doubled, the recent rate has been more like 2 or 3 percent, he says.

Robinson is hoping for growth rates closer to 8-10 percent. Billings this year are expected to be $45-$46 million.

New clients include Acxiom Corp. in Conway, Arkansas' Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock and Schumpert Medical Center in Shreveport, La.

New project accounts include work with Cooper Communities Inc. of Bella Vista and Hudson Foods Inc. of Rogers.

CJRW attracted attention and at least $1.5 million in billings since October 1991 through work connected with President Clinton and his campaign.

In addition to organizing fund-raising and special events, the agency also produced the official program of the inauguration.

James L. "Skip" Rutherford, former Arkla Inc. vice president for public and governmental affairs who is close to Clinton and Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, joined the agency in February. As vice president and director of public policy, he serves as a type of government liaison and divides his time between Little Rock and Washington.

But the agency does not have a store-front in Washington, and Robinson says, "We've been very careful not to try to exert favorite-son, favorite-state muscle."

He adds, "We haven't proactively gone after federal accounts."

Instead, there is more focus on making CJRW an agency of the 1990s with database and in-house graphic expansions.

"It's a time of transition, not because of leadership changes," Robinson says, but because the agency is "preparing for the second half of the '90s."

And, Robinson says, he expects in eight to 10 years to take a role similar to Cranford's and let someone else work 90-hour weeks.

Until then, he's at the helm, checking on details daily.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Ron Robinson succeeds Wayne Cranford as chairman of Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods Inc.
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Jun 7, 1993
Previous Article:Sales up in NW Arkansas.
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