The message is the medium

 In 2014-12

Share this story:

Among the many items on the walls of Wray Ward LLC’s offices near downtown Charlotte — including framed advertisements for clients, a mural to mark the company’s 30th anniversary and a giant video board in the lobby — is the face of Don Draper, the lead character in Mad Men, AMC’s TV series about a New York advertising agency in the 1960s. It’s an odd place for him. The traditional ad agency is a relic, with the term itself becoming obsolete. Wray Ward refers to itself as “an independent creative marketing communications agency.” Its repertoire includes print ads, paid web content, digital marketing, in-house videos, tweets, market research and search-engine optimization. The biggest shift occurred two years ago, when President and Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Appleby and staff cleared away the remnants of the ad-agency structure Charles Wray and Bob Ward set up when they started it 37 years ago.

Wray Ward, literally and figuratively, broke down many of the partitions that had separated its creative team, account representatives, market researchers and content marketers. “We realized,” Appleby says, “that we all needed to be creative thinkers.”Anyone could take part in brainstorming sessions. She set up common spaces for employees to work, hang out and talk. The company invested in video-production equipment, an unusual move for a small agency accustomed to outsourcing that work. Clients’ increased reliance on Internet marketing is driving most of the changes. “That’s been part of this whole transformation, to go from a traditional ad agency to a more integrated agency to this digitized model,” says Appleby, 51, who joined the company as senior art director in 1993 and was named president in 2001. “I think we saw pretty early on the need to evolve. There are firms that we really fought hard against in the traditional sphere 10 years ago that are no longer in business.” Many of the state’s largest ad agencies in the 1980s and 1990s no longer exist, including Rockett Burkhead & Winslow Inc. of Raleigh, which closed in 2009, followed three years later by Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy of Charlotte.

Wray Ward, the biggest in Charlotte by employees and billing but tiny compared with international marketers, views its size as an advantage. “When you have 60 to 70 people all under one roof and not fighting each other for dollars, you have a culture that encourages collaboration,” Appleby says. John Mader, formerly an account executive for the global giant Ogilvy Public Relations in Atlanta, says Wray Ward is nimbler. “They all talk about integration, but it’s all these big monster agencies and people fighting over budgets,” says Mader, 37, a vice president and director of Wray Ward’s connections group, which includes public relations, content marketing and paid media. “We were better able to grow fast and figure out how to do more.” Increased reliance on the Web means brands now promote their products and services via words, audio, video and still images across multiple media. Revenue from the company’s digital services has doubled in the last two years and now represents 40% of its business. Nearly all of Wray Ward’s recent hires have digital-related jobs.

The new approach has impressed the company’s oldest client, which is part of one of North Carolina’s most traditional industries. Glen Raven Inc. is a textiles manufacturer in the Burlington suburb that bears its name. Started in 1880, it operates in 17 countries on six continents. Recently, Wray Ward produced a series of promotions for Glen Raven’s Sunbrella fabric that combined 12 videos with blog posts, photos and social media linked through the Sunbrella website. Ten agency employees worked on the project, including writers, videographers, photographers, Web developers, Internet search specialists and a media buyer. It was preceded by months of data gathering. “Especially in our case, depth of knowledge of the product is very important,” says Allen Gant Jr., Glen Raven’s CEO and chairman. “We’ve spent a lot of time with them at our facility, telling them how our products are made and how they are applied in the marketplace. It’s quite rare to have a relationship with an ad agency that lasts 37 years.” That’s a paradox facing Wray Ward and other marketing companies. Clients have to keep adapting to what’s new, forcing marketers to stay abreast. Change can be expensive and difficult, especially for a small company. But, as Mader says, “it’s why our doors are still open.”

— Greg Lacour
Recent Posts
Contact Us

Questions or feedback? Drop us a message!

Start typing and press Enter to search