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Brooks-Pollard at the crossroads.

Brooks-Pollard At The Crossroads

Losing The $12-Million TCBY Account Sliced The Agency's Ad Base To The Bone, But Hugh Pollard Says The Future Never Looked Brighter

Sitting behind his expansive desk in his 29th floor office in the First Commercial building, Hugh Pollard is busy explaining why his ad agency, Brooks-Pollard isn't troubled.

Asked if he feels losing the $12-million TCBY advertising account this August was a failure, a loss that caused the already shrinking company to downsize to 13 workers, his reply is blunt.

"When you say failure...bull!," he says recounting the successes of the 1980s. "How could I be a failure?"

To understand what's really happening, Pollard says, you have to know three things about him: He has already "made it" in the ad business, awareness of his own mortality has set in, and he's a millionaire many times over.

Plus, Pollard is now embarking Brooks-Pollard on a project in the 1990s that he and his father envisioned as far back as 1975 when they formed a subsidiary, Al Pollard and Associates. In fact, Pollard says in typical promoter's fashion ("this is big-time"), this idea is so good, it's the wave of the future.

Ad agencies in the industry are fat and overstaffed right now and B-P's new approach -- forming a lean marketing-oriented company -- will emphasize freelancers and consultants and be the newest thing to hit the Arkansas advertising business.

That, he says, is the story of Brooks-Pollard today: new ideas, clever innovations, creative thinking -- not failure, lost accounts, wrong moves.

"At the age of 75 can you teach an old dog new tricks? You bet," he says with a flourish.

It's typical Hugh Pollard marketing talk, squeezing lemonade out of the sour lemons of two years of major client loses, as he repositions and repackages the current reality into a marketing plan that seems unbeatable and, to him, flawless.

His obsessive talking, his need to control those around him, his quirky, rapid-fire mind, which jumps from point to point often contradicting himself, and his constant stream of relentlessly optimistic ideas, all these are Hugh Pollard's trademark.

To his admirers he is an unstoppable marketing genius.

"I think that Hugh is always going to be ahead of the game and that nothing takes him by surprise," says Pat Torvestad, an ex-B-P employee who now works for Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods. "I know that he can do anything that he wants to."

To his detractors, he's a hard-driving perfectionist who won't delegate, wants to control everything because he truly thinks his way is best and pushes too hard all the time.

"I could solve every problem Arkansas Business has right now," he says with complete sincerity, not realizing how arrogant it might sound. "I've written marketing plans on barf bags. I'm good at what I do."

Regardless, this winter Pollard has the state's oldest ad agency to run, and most of Little Rock's ad community will be watching closely to see what Hugh Pollard does with it.

Three Things You've Got To Understand

To hear Pollard tell it, the pitfalls of the past few years are all part of a deliberate plan he conceived in the months following his father's stroke, the collapse of companies he couldn't control and successes of the |80s.

First, making it.

At the age of 49, Pollard has personally supervised national ad accounts, helped TCBY become a household name in the $1 billion frozen yogurt market and forced the greatest food-service marketer in the world, McDonald's, to respond to TCBY's phenomenal growth -- and by implication Hugh Pollard's marketing skills -- by adding a yogurt to its menu.

"What do you do when you've done it all?" Pollard asks rhetorically.

Second, his mortality.

Hugh's dad, Al Pollard, 77, -- an advertising icon, institution and ultimate hale-fellow-well-met -- was permanently disabled by a stroke in October 1986. His mother passed away in the mid-1980s, and Hugh ended his life of bachelorhood last year when he got married. Nearing the age of 50, Pollard may be more inclined to do what he wants -- whatever that is -- than anything anybody else thinks he should.

"I could sit here and manage people and keel over dead," he says. "It's the pace (that's killing)."

Third, striking it rich.

Hugh Pollard bet the ranch on TCBY stock in 1984 when he bought 30,000 shares of stock as the company first went public -- stock that has split seven times since then. Last summer, when the stock was trading at around $20 per share, Pollard's holdings would have fetched $9 million (as of last week he has sold all but 22 percent of his stock, cashing in millions over the past few years).

"I'm completely debt free. Don't owe a dime," he says of himself and the agency. "That is my statement for the |90s."

Pollard says his publicized split from TCBY this August and the devastating loss is not the failure it appears to the casual observer, even though news reports, including a September article in nationally distributed Business-Week, say Pollard's firm got booted from the account because disgruntled franchisees were unhappy with a spring ad campaign that produced few results.

Without skipping a beat, Pollard says his new TCBY frozen desserts project selling Yog-A-Bars, yogurt cakes and pies to restaurant and grocery stores is a marketing campaign that could set new standards in the franchisee business.

Let Me Tell You How To Put It

Sitting behind a black-marbled desk, Hugh Pollard has been talking for over two hours about himself and his ad agency. It's past 8 p.m. on a cold and rainy Tuesday night, but he shows no signs of letting up.

He's working hard on conducting what appears to be more a sales presentation than an interview for a news story. Pollard is reading from six to eight pages of typewritten notes he prepared the day before. He has timelines, pertinent dates, proposal packages, and news clippings, and each page and point gets carefully covered before he goes on to the next one.

"We had to make a major commitment," Pollard says about the winter of 1987-88 when Brooks-Pollard developed a national marketing plan for TCBY. "We had an incredible success, but it liked to killed me."

Pollard pushes a September 1988 news clipping from the Arkansas Gazette trumpeting the campaign which boosted same-store sales 5.2 percent, after several quarters of decline.

Talking nonstop, Pollard rapidly explains how the past two years of major account losses at B-P -- Riverside Furniture, Riceland Foods, Delta Pride, Kroger -- came from focusing on the ever-growing TCBY account and a need to slow down after his father's stroke. Without his dad's help, Pollard found he was swamped with an agency that had nearly doubled in size from 1984 and that had accumulated 15-18 major clients, nearly triple its normal load.

"If you're not going to do what you and your dad thought about, what are you going to do about TCBY?" he would ask himself repeatedly as TCBY continued to expand and other accounts clamored for attention.

Pollard tried to delegate his responsibilities after his father's stroke by bringing on Al Kohler from Midas of Canada as president in January 1987, but Kohler lasted just six months. When he left in June, a wave of up to 10 employees left, and there were rumors of disgruntlement and stresses and strains at the agency -- especially of Pollard's perfectionism, unwillingness to delegate and seven-day work habits.

Pollard admits he is a perfectionist, but he says it's because he's got to challenge others to produce work up to the standards Brooks-Pollard clients expect.

A Touch Of Big-Time Madison Avenue

In October 1987, Pollard moved to new offices occupying the entire 29th floor of the First Commercial building and expansively predicted that the extra space -- 55 percent larger -- would allow the firm plenty of growing room. The new headquarters was equipped with the latest in audio-visual equipment, graphics production facilities and four conference rooms.

"A lifetime ambition of my father and myself to bring under one roof a little touch of big-time Madison Avenue marketing," he called it.

But soon the firm began losing major clients in a steady rhythm and, significantly, not replacing them.

In 1988, Riverside Furniture left after ABF trucking went private, and Riceland Foods canceled its contract in February.

In 1989, Delta Pride, the Mississippi catfish farming company, switched to a new firm. Brooks-Pollard didn't complete for the account.

In June 1990, Kroger quit its 32-year relationship with B-P when it moved its advertising in-house. And then three months ago TCBY pulled its $12-million account.

"In retrospect, we have not done any new business in a year and a-half," Pollard says. "If I stop there, then you are saying why are you not a nut? Why are you not being carried out?"

And that's what some Pollard observers are saying, that he focused too intently on one client, letting his entire client base slip away.

But as Pollard tells the story today, his achievements, his father's illness, his marriage and his wealth changed him. The world looks different than it did in 1980 when he was just 39 and going "full-throttle" into what he describes as the greatest decade he and the company ever had.

"What happens if I have a stroke?" he asks himself today of his future. "I've got to slow down!"

Selling All The Way To The Close

But is a Brooks-Pollard firm of less than 10 people still a major player with giants like 98-employee Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods?

"Hugh Pollard is the CEO of that firm, and the foundation and basic strength of that firm lies in his talents and capabilities," says Ron Robinson. "Hugh Pollard is a unique talent, and I wish him the best."

Pollard says in the next few weeks, or months, he will begin unveiling details of his new marketing company. As he walks to the elevators at the end of the interview, taking long quick strides past the walls of Addys the firm first began winning in 1984, he still is trying hard to put the proper spin on the story.

Despite having declared himself independently wealthy, despite having gotten national recognition for his marketing efforts that includes little perks like personal letters from the president of NBC news, despite having already in his words having "made it," he's still hustling to look good in print.

As the elevator doors close, he's still talking holding the doors open to get in that one last word, still shaping the facts into just the right form, still selling Hugh Pollard and Brooks-Pollard just like he has for his entire career.

PHOTO : UNFLAGGINGLY OPTIMISTIC: Despite losing the $12-million TCBY ad account in August, Brooks-Pollard CEO Hugh Pollard says it's all part of his plan to build a new, slimmed-down innovative marketing company suited for the 1990s.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:loss of $12 million TCBY Enterprises Inc. account
Author:Walker, Wythe, Jr.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Dec 3, 1990
Previous Article:Development in the baking.
Next Article:Coming, going, gone.

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