Looking Back on 20 Years on the Agensea
I have had, on several occasions in the last few months, an opportunity to reflect upon what a tremendous advertising community and agency culture we have in Boise. Looking back on the 20 years of this shop’s history, it is clear to me that we are the product of and have benefited from this hard-working and creative community. And, I hope we have done our part to lead the way.
My history in the agency life
My start in the agency business was supposed to begin in 1990 after a successful internship and graduation from the University of Idaho. True to the nature of this business, however, my first agency job turned out to be more than a few years away. Luckily, I found myself at an entrepreneurial independent television station under the wing of an ad sales and programming legend. My mentor, Rex McArthur, gave me my best piece of business advice within the first few weeks on the job. He said, “All things being equal, people will do business with their friends … and, even when things are NOT equal, people will STILL find a way to do business with their friends. Now get the […] out of my office and go make some friends!”
I think this would have been good advice anywhere in the world but is especially erudite in Boise. Those years spent “making friends,” not just in the larger business community but specifically amongst my fellow media reps and the agencies we served, still pay dividends today. It wasn’t just Rex that gave me good advice and helped me see the lessons in life but another boss Bruce Wetten and clients like Larry Polowski and Bob Peters as well as competitors; Tom Scott, Kristi Edmunds, Larry Alder, and Kevin McDonald to name a few.
People who shaped my career
There was also this robust agency culture in the early ’90s that I was able to see as a rep and learn through the Boise Advertising Federation. Teresa Guy, Tim Pace, Bill Drake, Jeff Nielsen, Diane Crawford, Tom Donahoe, Ernie Cody, and Joe Walker all had a hand in shaping my ideas and dreams of what would eventually become Marketing Media Group in 1998. How appropriate that our very first client, Diamond Sports- who owned the Boise Hawks, Idaho Steelheads, the Grove Hotel, and Century Link Arena – was a relationship that began because of my best friend (since high school) Eric Trapp.
Starting an agency
So, it was after 7 years of incubating in this amazing advertising culture in Boise that I decided to start an agency. Like most businesses, before the tech startup boom, I tried to keep it simple, but it wasn’t long before it became evident that I needed both help and company. I hired my first employee, Michael Reagan, who also quickly became my friend (you can read more about that here.)
As it turned out, Michael was one of many employees, partners, and clients who would become my friends and shape this agency in the early years: Vance Miller, Steve Appleton, Greg Poe, Thayne Fisher, Brad Duke, Tiffany Quilici, Blair Crook, Shane Jibben, Jeff Noble, Nikki Reynolds, Krista West, Karen Harvey, Ken Hunter, John Cunningham, Roger Finch, and most significantly Cord Pereira and Bill Waller, who were supportive, patient and generous with their time, expertise, relationships, and budgets. Somehow we were able to bootstrap MMG into a “real” agency, survive the dot com bubble in the early 2000s, and were still standing for the nice boom from 2002 through 2007.
The start of partnerships
It was during this growth period for MMG that we added a new media buyer who would become the most important friend I’ve made in the business. Carolyn Lodge, now my partner in 116 & West and our chief operating officer, was hired as an entry-level media buyer by Nikki Reynolds. Poor Nikki had the legitimate complaint of making great hires for her department only to have them stolen away by account services or, in this case, a new business pitch for the University of Idaho.
Carolyn organized and ran our Idaho pitch in 2005, which ironically resulted in MMG becoming their media agency only, but eventually lead to a long agency of record relationship. By 2008, Carolyn was running account services and playing a role in agency operations. By the time we acquired Davies Rourke in 2009, Carolyn was vice president of operations. She and Michael Reagan led our rebrand, as MMG became 116 & West.
Together, Carolyn and I led our first major pitch as 116 & West, successfully winning the Idaho Lottery account, where she would play the role of account director along with Jeff Nielsen. Soon after, Jeff was needed to handle two additional new accounts in Idaho Health and Welfare and the Idaho Transportation Department leaving Carolyn to run the Lottery business.
In the formative years following, with the Davies Rourke crew of Jeff, Ernie Monroe, and Vicki Ward complementing our team, Carolyn worked with each department of the agency, mapping our processes and instituting quality assurance practices, standardized client reporting, and refinement of our project scoping. She accomplished all of this while also managing human resources and overseeing client services. She is indeed the operator that compliments my visionary/entrepreneurial personality. We made it official when she became a partner in the business in 2011.
Merging agency cultures
I think when we acquired Davies Rourke and re-branded it as 116 & West there were plenty of folks who doubted our ability to merge two distinct agency cultures. Part of what made us successful in this endeavor was the determination by Carolyn to have streamlined processes that complimented our culture of hard work, paying attention to details, and thinking strategically.
In addition, Jeff, Ernie, and Vicki could not have been more generous with their advice, counsel, and sharing of experiences gathered during their long careers in the business. Michael, Jason Sievers, and their team, supported by Jessica Moon and Jory Sutton positioned us boldly and with the help of Brad Duke, Mike Fery, and Lawrence Ross, a move into our own space in the 805 Idaho building set us on a new trajectory.
Landing the Kendall Automotive Group account
Shortly thereafter we realized our goal of having a northwest/regional footprint by landing Kendall Automotive Group. In Kendall and specifically their president Dave Blewett and chief operating officer Michael Skillern, we found a true client partner who cares as much about our business as we do theirs. With Kendall’s support, we were able to open an office in Eugene, OR run by our tremendous account director Kallee McGrady.
Around this same time, we were also focusing on fulfilling the promise of being a fully integrated agency and so we began the search for someone to lead our digital team. Enter Tanya Vaughan and later Melinda Mansfield who together built a robust web/app development and inbound marketing team and combined it with our creative team in our downstairs vault. Meanwhile, Nikki and Sean Winnett led the evolution of our media department from traditional media to full digital integration. Today Mel is our executive creative director and manages the sharpest most creative team in the agency’s history and Sean is running our fully integrated media team.
Appreciating agency life
Anyone in agency life will tell you that one of the best parts is the Walter Mitty existence we get to lead. In 20 years we have cleaned baseball stadiums, witnessed the excitement of playoff hockey, run airshows, shot air to air photography over a volcano in El Salvador, attended Karl Malone’s morning spin class in his garage, captured the beauty of the University of Idaho in the autumn, walked an $86,000,000 check to the bank (and played Pebble beach with a little of that money).
We’ve cried at weddings and held newborns that may be partners someday, had a litter of puppies, fought, cursed, popped Champagne corks, learned how cows are milked, cars are sold and apples are packed, switched from Jack and Coke to filthy dirty martinis, run bakery shows and promoted headliner concerts, founded golf tournaments and supported causes for our community, laughed, and loved and made new friends almost every day.
Thank you to Greg, Lynette, Becky, Paul, Russel, Graeme, and Avery; Dick, Jo, Deanne, Morley, and most of all Traci, Olivia, and Dominic. And, thank you to every friend out there who has helped the universe conspire in our favor.