When Frank majored in advertising at the University of Georgia, he had a passion for the business. But his agency-Sawyer Compton Riley in Atlanta-had gotten into the rut of doing nice, safe work that left clients content but unchallenged.
Frank talked to his two partners, Richard Riley and Louis Sawyer, about how he felt. He told them he wanted to change the agency and make ads that won awards the driving focus. Richard and Louis agreed, and gave Frank the green light..
He talked with GSD&M in Dallas, Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, Leo Burnett Co. in Chicago. Harold Levine, the retired New York agency executive, told Frank to have "a passion for good work and a passion for making it better." One agency man told him to hire the best creative director he could find because Frank himself didn't have the "credibility" to be his own creative chief.
Tough words. But he knew what he was told was right and he went out to find his creative director. He found him in Atlanta. Bob Warren had been a key creative at Campbell-Mithun in Minneapolis and was running his own creative service when Frank called. They got together over lunch, and, as Frank recalls, Bob asked him if his account execs were up to the challenge of going to the mat with clients over provocative ads. When Frank answered he didn't think so, Bob said: "Then you've got a problem."
But Bob signed on, and then things got much worse before they began to get better. Two of the agency's three biggest accounts, representing 20% of billings, left. One said: "Anybody can do advertising. Do what we tell you to do." The other said pretty much the same thing: "We'll tell you what we want; you do the layouts."
Under Bob Warren, however, the agency began telling clients what they should do, not necessarily what they wanted to do. He was also spending a lot of time mentoring the young account execs on how to tell clients what they might not want to hear.
The hard lesson that Frank and his partners eventually learned was to understand what they really believed about advertising. "It's not enough to be creative-you've got to be creative at something, and our something turned out to be brand building for business-to-business advertising," Frank told me. They started rebuilding on that base.
Frank went after clients that shared the agency's beliefs. Unlike former clients, the agency's current lineup want to have discussions about strategy and the creative output. Frank says the agency is a partner with such clients as Elanco, an animal health group, Snap-on Tools and Gold Kist, a farm co-operative, "in the truest sense."
The agency's people are "all behind" its metamorphosis, Frank says. "We're not pulling in different directions anymore."