By Published on .

The june bug Jackson Pollocked my windshield. And as I looked at its innards, I saw substance." So goes the priceless copy that opens a 1994 Williams & Rockwood ad for National Public Radio; if only Williams & Rockwood could Jackson Pollock a few windshields at the big national advertisers these days.

A look at the agency's innards will indeed reveal substance: Ten years old next April, the Salt Lake City shop has a sheaf of quality print to show for its first decade, but W&R is burdened with a comparatively scanty reel that reveals insubstantial billings of about $20 million. The snow-capped peaks that ring Salt Lake are nice to look at, but how do you scale them?

"That's the question that we wrestle with daily here," says creative director Scott Rockwood. "One of the priorities for us is to do creative work that gets national exposure. Not in the sense that it runs nationally, because our clients aren't very visible, but in the sense of the awards books. We're trying to build a national creative reputation, and we hope to ultimately translate that into national business." Ý24

limits ó22 So far, their One Show Pencildom is limited to a spot for a Utah film festival, and the only thing they've got that might be seen on MTV is a pierced and tattooed Partnership potshot about the evils of peer pressure. They're not even the only hot shop in Salt Lake; FJC&N is their fierce but friendly competitor every day of the year, says president Tim Williams.

But latter day hope springs eternal, and with good reason. W&R's national print exposure-the agency has a trademark clean, elegant and very appealing print style, though they can do grunge when they want to-is found chiefly in the NPR ads and trade print for CBS, which was their very first client back in 1987. But their creative mettle mainly resides in a pair of unlikely places: the Utah Symphony, which joined them a few weeks after CBS, and the regional Zions Bank, a client since '91 and their biggest biller at about $4 million.

It's been one print crescendo after another for the Symphony, along with the occasional low-budget commercial-W&R has done 25 Symphony spots in decade. The latest spot, in which an inbred hick of a trucker attempts to order a Tchaikovsky disc from a backwater general store that wouldn't even be likely to stock a Dueling Banjos 8-track, was a Cannes finalist this year. Another recent spot features wedding footage of a beautiful bride who married a guy because he had orchestra seats. The zany approach reflects the dire straits of the regional classical music scene, of course-"Classical music is kind of a dying art form," sighs Williams. Ticket sales have doubled over the years, he says, but Abravanel Hall is still not a sellout. It's the market, not the orchestra; the late great Utah maestro, Maurice Abravanel, had a pretty good national reputation. "In fact, if we had his reputation, we'd be happy," says Rockwood.

Zions Bank, actually founded by Brigham Young, has a good reputation too, but in only four states. The latest Zions TV spot-there have been about 12 since '91-pushes home refinacing loans with a cheapo parody of those helpful home economics slide shows of bygone days, offering money-saving recipes for beans. Wacky work for a symphony orchestra and a bank is not quite what you'd expect from any agency, never mind one in Mormon country, but the only fire and brimstone at W&R is when the principals fight for their comic ideas. In fact, they attempt to deflect the bicoastal suspicion about all things Saintsly right at the top of the agency reel with a light-hearted look at outsiders' cliched thinking about Mormonism, built around old TV and movie clips that joke about polygamy and Donny & Marie.

Nevertheless, the Mormon angle comes with the territory. Rockwood, 45, calls himself a Mormon, as does third partner Dave Cole, the general manager. Williams, 42, says he's "of Mormon background." They're all Utah born, bred and educated, though Cole did time at The Richards Group in Dallas, and Williams was an account exec at Marsteller in New York and O&M/Houston. As far as Mormonism goes, "We're kind of split down the middle in the agency," says Williams, much as is the state itself nowadays. "We've got a lot of Mormon influence and a lot of people who are Mormons, but it's not like it was 10 or 20 years ago." Media communications is actually a strong suit for the Church, he avers. The Church owns radio and TV stations, production facilities, and even has its own agency, Bonneville Communications-"I think that's why Salt Lake is the most developed city in this part of the country for the media communications market, and Brigham Young is the best advertising school in this region by far," he adds. "They turn out great people, and we benefit by that. The Mormon Church is conservative in many ways, but pretty progressive on the media front."

Nevertheless, the state of Utah is poorly situated in more ways than one; "I think there's a general perception that Utah is very conservative," says a somewhat resigned Rockwood. "We are obviously hypersensitive to our geographical location."

"There are plenty of examples of agencies in out of the way places that have made a name for themselves," Williams adds hopefully. "Martin, Fallon, Wieden-those are all cities that were never advertising centers. We've always thought, if they can do it, we can do it. The big difference between Minneapolis, for example, and Salt Lake City is Minneapolis is much more developed and industrialized, and has a much larger base of local accounts. We are literally 500 miles from the next large city. Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, Boise: they're all a full day's drive away, their business base isn't much better than ours and their agency community is not as good. So, we've got a real challenge."

Indeed. And Fallon, for example, is billing about $350 million now. "We're not really focused on big billings," says Williams. "It's not that important to us. We never expect to be a $100 million agency. It's not something we're even aspiring to."

They are most surely aspiring to some California-based bigger business; they retain the services of Select Resources, a Los Angeles consultancy that represents them for West Coast reviews, and Williams says they are the first agency outside of California to do so, but nothing much has come of it so far. They have been in reviews for two big Utah fish, Iomega and Novell, but have attracted only project work.

"We're also victims of something everybody in the business suffers from-the merger and acquisition frenzy," says Williams. "There used to be a lot more clients for agencies our size; we've lost quite a few clients through acquisitions, like JB's Restaurants, and it kind of hurts. We have to look increasingly to the West Coast. But it's tough. We're the wild card, the guys from Utah."

While they may never expect to bill in nine figures, "that's not to say that growth isn't important to us," says Rockwood. Williams adds, "The truth is if we could fill up the space that we have in our offices right now"-there are 12 creatives on staff-"we'd be fairly content. We're looking to grow for the sake of getting more personal satisfaction from the work."

And what about Kurtis Glade, the guy who wrote the Jackson Pollock copy? "He was a Utah kid, we hired him right out of school," says Rockwood. "He went to Y&R

Most Popular
In this article: