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Promoting Arkansas; Shelby Woods' latest move - merging with Cranford Johnson Robinson - widens his tourism net.

Promoting Arkansas Shelby Woods' Latest Move - Merging With Cranford Johnson Robinson - Widens His Tourism Net

Two days after announcing the largest merger in Arkansas advertising history, Shelby Woods sits in his quiet office away from the hustle and bustle of his soon-to-be merged agency.

Growth at the 22-year-old firm has pushed its president to the back of the restored office at 1001 W. Markham St. To get to the front of the office, he must brave the cold, and wind his way through several sections of the building.

But he's not cut off from the firm, on the contrary. "Although I am isolated - by not having a door - from the account team, through the internal communications I can reach people or groups of people quickly."

The Dec. 19 merger announcement came quickly, too. Word first leaked out Dec. 13 after stockholders in both agencies approved the deal, but principals took a silent stance.

By the 19th, when icy streets had paralyzed much of the business community, both agencies held staff meetings, then impromptu press briefings on various aspects of the merger.

The merger between Cranford Johnson Robinson Associates ($26.5 million in capitalized billings) and Woods Brothers Agency ($11 million) bucks the trend in the advertising business and widens the net for scooping up tourism and economic development accounts in Arkansas and outside the state.

Many advertising agencies in Arkansas have their genesis when rebel executives spin off from existing firms. Agency account conflicts and ego problems which precipitate spin-offs usually preclude reunification.

None of that appears to be a problem in this merger, as CJR has targeted major corporations, financial institutions and retail accounts and Woods Brothers' business chiefly has been tourism-related.

As for the ego problems, "The chemistry's good," exclaims Jim Johnson, a founder of CJR, echoing Woods. "I think the reason this happened so easily is simply because of the chemistry of the people."

Woods, the day of the announcement, himself sounded a consistent merger theme. "These are two strong organizations getting together with a strong vision of the economic development of Arkansas," he tells his KARK-TV (Ch. 4) interviewer.

THAT EMPHASIS ON economic development is due to the Woods agency having handled the state Parks & Tourism advertising account for the past nine years, and CJR holding the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission for the past seven. Both agencies have collaborated on projects overlapping each other's account, including the "Prestige" book that combined those two accounts and three others.

After a summer review, Woods Brothers won the tourism account for another three-year period at a time when the budget has been increased significantly through the recently-enacted tourism tax. The agency had staffed up to 30 employees, while CJR has 72, with merged operations to be housed in the latter's offices at 303 W. Capitol Ave.

The merger also combines four shareholders from Woods Brothers and 11 from Cranford Johnson Robinson Associates. Equity interests in Woods Brothers will be matched with equity interests in CJR to establish ownership in the new entity.

Although the principals declined to discuss the new ownership structure, "Mr. Cranford still will vote a majority of the stock," reveals Ron Robinson, president and chief operating officer.

Because Woods Brothers has been involved almost exclusively in tourism-related advertising and direct-response marketing, its 46-year-old president doesn't have quite the visibility of his new partners at CJR.

Yet, within the tourism industry, Shelby Woods carries the weight of 22 years of tourism marketing, cajoling legislatures and sounding his theme of a unified tourism marketing plan.

His involvement in the two-year effort that led to the two-percent tourism tax had him stumping the state and changes his oft-repeated metaphor of Arkansas as a street-fighter in tourism marketing. "Now, we're street-fighters with money - and that makes us awfully dangerous."

At Woods Brothers, Shelby split his time evenly on two matters: running the agency and the marketing of Arkansas to tourists through the Parks & Tourism account.

"My role in the management of the company is I am totally consumed by one account - it takes one-half of my time. The other time is spent in the financial management and administration of the agency."

(In the merged operations, Woods carries the title chairman of the executive committee and EVP, but that is only one of many details left to be settled. "I don't even know where my office is," he quips.)

WOODS IS OLDER BY FIVE years than his brother Wayne, also a principal in the merged Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods operation, and seemingly much more intense. While Shelby devotes time to work, his wife, Jan, and two children, Wayne is more the free-spirit, hot-air ballooning across Arkansas and arranging such pranks as tying goats to the front door of a client's business. "Wayne likes to get all the gusto," says older brother.

"I enjoy my work and my hobby is my work," Shelby Woods says in his quiet Woods Brothers office, desk and credenza stacked with papers and books and advertising brochures, some dating back to the 1960s.

The agency got its start after Woods graduated from the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville in 1967 and he embarked on a career selling advertising for the Ozark Frontier Trail, skipping an opportunity to work in the marketing department of Foley's in Houston.

The guide, and others to follow, helped sell small, out-of-the-way tourist spots. Ozark was sanctioned by the tourism department and produced by Morgan Publishing Co. of Fayetteville. (Woods bought into the company, then later bought out his partner.)

Other guides followed and, by 1968, there was a husband-wife publishing business set up in Little Rock, which also worked with small tourism accounts all across the state.

"I think it was blind luck, but we made the decision early on and came to the conclusion there was going to be a tremendous future in the travel and tourism business in the state."

Even today, the publishing end of Woods Brothers Agency numbers 17 magazines and is a large component of Woods' philosophy that small, diverse tourism operators should band together to sell the state, not individual operations.

"They just couldn't do it alone, individually," says Woods of his thenfledgling charges. "We convinced them their competition wasn't themselves, but other states...we convinced them if we were going to be able to compete, we were going to have to stick together."

Having the Parks & Tourism business wasn't seen as a growth account for the agency, since the annual budget was $200,000 in the late 1970s and had been flat during the 1980s at about $500,000.

Woods Brothers had a lock on many tourism accounts, like Eureka Springs - "We grew up with Eureka Springs. We have represented Eureka Springs ever since we've been in business" - and there was the occasional non-tourism accounts like a bank. Yet some saw Woods Brothers' focus on tourism limiting its growth. Not so Shelby.

"I've never considered it a risk simply because I think people have to get away. A lot of people out there think tourism is fun and games.... Nowadays, corporations mandate, you don't have an option, to take a vacation. I don't think it was a risk - on on the contrary it was a safe route....

"To me, it was a much greater risk to work in the financial industry or the ball-bearing industry because when it's tough and automobiles aren't selling, it's hard to sell ball-bearings."

Whatever the strategy, with the new tourism tax in effect, Woods Brothers is taking the Parks & Tourism account in larger quantities to surrounding states. Depending upon estimates, the account will balloon to $4 million to $5 million annually in the coming years.

Woods sees that dovetailing nicely with CJR's overall size and experience in marketing the state through AIDC. The merger propels the agency to a size of $37 million in capitalized billings and 103 employees, 12th on Adweek's list of regional advertising agencies.

As a combined operation, CJRW will have the production and creative strength to pursue regional tourism accounts.

"We have not even scratched the surface in terms of reaching our potential," says Woods.

"I am absolutely convinced we are going to change the future of this state."
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Title Annotation:Who's News
Author:Honeycutt, Tom
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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