Spiker Communications of Missoula receives five a week plus about two phone inquiries.
In Billings, Exclamation Point Advertising has gotten "hundreds of executive-level resumes" from Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta.
Never mind that the combined billings of these Montana shops add up to less than $15 million. Fed up with urban blight, long commutes and the high cost of living, ad executives are sending out resumes in droves to ad boutiques throughout the northern Rocky Mountain West. Lured by the promise of beautiful vistas, a low cost of living and a high quality of life, they're willing to take substantial pay cuts and a drop down the corporate lad der just to escape. It's a movement that began even before January's devastating earthquake in Los Angeles.
"Two years ago, I never would have gotten a resume from a creative director or senior account person," said Ed Riddell, owner of Riddell Advertising & Design, Jackson, Wyo. In the past six months though, he has had two dozen from heavy hitters at the likes of O&M and Grey Advertising.
Exclamation Point owner John Wilcox said the new wave features "more form letters that you just know are making the rounds," as opposed to the casual inquiries of the past.
Ken Stoltz, president of Steele, Stoltz & Associates of Boise, Idaho, said "not a day goes by that I don't get a resume. And the cover letter is always the same: `We traveled through Boise, like the quality of life and want to raise our children in this type of environment.'*"
Restructurings, layoffs and salary declines in the industry are a large factor in the urge to migrate.
But for Mike Heiser, a Los Angeles native and a product of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, BBDO Worldwide, O&M and others, family considerations drove the decision.
Until 11/2 years ago, Mr. Heiser, 39, lived with his wife and two children in Simi Valley, Calif., where he was partner in a small agency. They lived through the Rodney King beating trial and "the threats to come shoot up the town," not to mention the traffic, taxes and fear of earthquakes. The last straw was the day "my boys, then 6 and 8, came home and told us about the gang specialist at their school assembly. He talked to them about what to do-not if but when-gangs started cruising around campus."
As much as the family wanted to relocate, Mr. Heiser was determined to stay in advertising. Using every available resource, he researched markets west of the Mississippi that offered the right combination of positively rated factors: lack of crime, convenient transportation, good schools and reasonable weather.
In two years, Mr. Heiser sent out more than 300 resumes. "The cover letters changed. Instead of saying, `I think I'm leaving,' by the end they said, `I'm leaving in 60 days. If you're interested in talking with me .*.*.'*"
In October, Mr. Heiser joined the Spokane, Wash., office of Wendt Advertising as account services director.
Though Spokane (population 187,429 in 1992, up 5.8% from 1990) has been growing rapidly, it remains a neighborly place where many people have known each other their entire lives. Mr. Heiser's accounts have changed: He now oversees two agricultural products, a utility and a regional bank. Instead of network placement, the ads are spot and regional.
"But, the issues I faced in a $15 million account are no different than those of a $15,000 account," he said. "It's just a question of scope."
What about the trade-off? Mr. Heiser took a 50% pay cut, pretty much the standard. Moreover, "the cost of living is not as low as I'd expected."
While the cost of services in the area are much less than they would be in Los Angeles or New York, goods are about the same. Housing prices are on the rise since the large influx of people from higher-cost, higher-wage markets during the past two years. The median monthly mortgage paymentin Idaho in 1990, $561, was up 69% from a decade earlier; in Spokane, the median payment was $538, up 71% from 1980.
K.C. Hayes, Spiker's newest copywriter, found himself spending more time traveling from Los Angeles to pursue fly fishing, camping and skiing than actually doing them. This 45-year-old veteran of Hakuhodo Advertising America, Los Angeles, and O&M, where he wrote Microsoft Corp. and Korean Air Lines Co. ads, had no family to worry about. Since his college days in Boulder, Colo., he had "always had it in mind to move back to the Rockies. L.A. is a great city, but all the elements of living there got to me."
Mr. Hayes began networking about a year ago, starting his search in the Denver area. That's when he got a call from Wes Spiker, president of the 15-person Missoula, Mont., shop that specializes in outdoor products-exactly Mr. Hayes' ideal in a small agency.
Two recent vacations introduced him to the pleasant university town of 43,000-the state's cultural and literary hub-and its beautiful mountain surroundings. Mr. Hayes moved in October, shipping his belongings and taking a week to drive to his new home, "fishing trout streams all the way up."
His friends were surprised-some admitted being jealous; others questioned the change in lifestyle. "Many L.A. people have no idea what Montana is like," he said. "They think it's full of cowboys."
Others felt the move could be career suicide.
But Mr. Hayes quickly pointed out he has a greater opportunity to work on more different accounts at Spiker than he did at larger agencies. Besides the variety-he handles a Utah ski resort, a local credit union and a non-profit-he enjoys the "direct process" with the client. "It's not just a lifestyle decision."
"As an individual, you can probably do more national magazine color work here than anywhere else," Mr. Spiker noted. And he speaks from experience: Twelve years in Los Angeles convinced the Young & Rubicam veteran he didn't want to do "vitamins and Gallo wine for the rest of my life."
With a wife and two small children, he spurned the three job offers in Seattle to take the one in Montana.
"The agency was a dump, but, God, Missoula was cool," Mr. Spiker said. Shortly thereafter, he quit to form his own agency, whose clients include outdoor products manufacturers like MSR, a division of REI; Northface; Rocky Mountain Log Homes; and Big Mountain and Brighton ski resorts. He boasts a number of his creative people have gone on to BBDO Worldwide, Chiat/Day, Bozell Worldwide and Goldberg Moser O'Neill.
While building book may be alluring for unchallenged creatives, it's difficult for a senior-level person to make such a move, argued Steele's Mr. Stoltz. Boise and its counterparts are too small to be considered advertising centers. (Indeed, there are scarcely more than 1 million people in all of Idaho.)
"The real issue," Mr. Riddell said, "is what people are prepared to deal with salarywise. We're paying literally a fraction of what they'd get in a big market."
New West's Mr. Cook advises inquirers "you're used to being paid $75 an hour, but here there are people who do logos for $50, and the local TV station gets $25 to $100 for a TV commercial."
For agencies, it's tough to do business here, said Exclamation Point's Mr. Wilcox. "Despite the media hype about the West as land of opportunity, it doesn't happen overnight ... It's one thing to come up to Montana and buy a cabin. It's another to come up to buy a business." Another aspect people overlook is the distances: "I drive 200 miles just to go to a meeting."
"It was really hard in the early years," admitted Mr. Riddell, a San Francisco area native. Even now, as the agency wins awards from Communication Arts and the New York Art Directors Club, he still fights Jackson's "small-town parochialism ... It's hard for newcomers to be accepted." After almost 20 years, "I'm still a newcomer."
Still, the area's attractions to the outdoorsman are hard to beat. Mr. Riddell's creative team is a case in point. Jim Hagar, 33, head copywriter and a Boston import, is an outdoor "maniac" who infuses his passion for mountain biking into his work, client Mongoose Mountain Bikes. Recently he and art director Jim Bonner spent part of a week outdoors riding a bike made by their client. When not mountain biking, Mr. Hagar is fly fishing or skiing. For his wife, a New York area native who landed a marketing position with a small area manufacturer, the adjustment hasn't been easy. "We left all our friends and family, and a lot of the culture and diversity. But we go back to visit once in a while," Mr. Hagar said.
What would make these Rocky Mountain immigrants return to the big time? No one has a quick reply. If it's true that "clients are viewing geography as transparent," as Patricia Fiske, president of Affiliated Advertising Agencies International, Denver, maintained, it might take even greater incentives over time. Generally lower salaries, noted Wendt's Ms. Tietjen, mean agencies like hers are now "more competitive than we used to be."
With low overhead, improved technology and the ability to attract high-quality talent, these backwater agencies are poised to give their big-market counterparts a run for the money-certainly for niche advertising.
Of course, no matter how squarely they land on the advertising map, Spiker Communications will probably still get the familiar call-it was the agency's very first-asking if they sell pocket pagers.