As I walk out the door for my official last time today, I look back in satisfaction on 35 remarkable years as a brand management principal at The Richards Group. I came in with that designation, and I proudly retire with it too.
When I joined Stan and his mighty band of 35 or so Groupers in 1983, I had already been blessed with a solid launch at Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago and almost ten years in marketing at Frito-Lay. I was 35 and, some would say, a bit full of myself. What I learned most from Stan, and all my colleagues here, is that the agency business is the ultimate team sport. There are no more important jobs – or less important jobs. They are all critical to our work, the growth of our clients, and the welfare of our people. Nothing else matters.
I have also grown to understand that hiring and developing smarter, more organized, and harder-working people will help you grow and ensure that your clients and the agency prosper too. And many of these wonderful people will grace you with friendships that will last a lifetime. I am also counting on many of them to lead the next generation of Groupers to carry on Stan’s legacy far into the future.
Every retiring agency person has enough client stories to fill at least one book, but in the interest of blog etiquette, I will keep to just a few. My first big new business “win” was Motel 6, and it wasn’t a real win but an assignment from one of Stan’s former clients.
The first thing I learned on Motel 6 is that advertising can do very little unless the product is at least competitive. Motel 6 delayed the launch of a new campaign until they finished some major remodeling and product enhancements, like putting telephones in the rooms. But that gave us time to really understand the motivation of the potential customer – and time for the creative and media folks to develop one of our most successful and longest-running campaigns, which is still running today. Though I passed the baton early to another principal, I was asked to take the helm again later in my career to ensure that we kept the business on track. Along the way, my wife, Becky, and I developed a lifelong friendship with our first CMO at Motel 6, Hugh Thrasher, may he rest in peace.
My next new business highlight – and I partnered with my good friend Jeff Upshaw on this one – was The Catfish Institute. We had been recommended to the institute’s president, Bill Allen, by a New York consultant. But Bill also knew of Jeff, whose family still farmed in the Mississippi Delta.
Jeff and I worked hard to understand the challenges of working for a farmer cooperative and had great fun plotting with the first creative team, Glenn Dady and Mike Malone, to help put farm-raised catfish on the menus of America’s white-tablecloth restaurants. And what fun we had along the way! I still count Bill and Jeff as two of my closest friends.
I was also blessed to lead the agency team that pitched and won Chick-fil-A. Though a couple of smarter, harder-working folks eventually took the ball from me and ran with it for the rest of our 22-year run, I was fortunate to be there at the start. Our team helped craft the Original Chicken Sandwich strategy that pitted us against the burger boys. A brilliant young creative team came up with the self-preservationist cows, and we were off to an incredible run – and a few more lifelong friendships including Steve Robinson, David Salyers, and Greg Ingram.
Another really interesting opportunity came our way with a call from Malmö, Sweden. The woman in charge of Perstorp Flooring’s advertising admired our work for The Container Store, Elfa’s primary retail outlet in the United States. She invited us to Fort Worth to meet Perstorp’s president, Lars von Kantzow, who had just signed Color Tile as their first U.S. outlet.
Stan wasn’t available, so Owen Hannay and I were on our own. We told The Richards Group’s story the best we could and showed our work to much nodding and laughing, so we knew there were no language or cultural issues. We then suggested that Lars consider Stan’s four conclusions that he hopes every client prospect will come away with at the end of a pitch: I like what you said. I like how you said it. I like you. Let’s do business.
Lars called the next day and said those conclusions right back to me. Together, we launched Pergo, the most successful new flooring brand in a generation. And I made another lifelong friend in Lars.
These are only a few of the stories about this place and our wonderful clients, but they are representative of my story here. They are part of why this place has meant so much to my career and why I have remained here so long. But in every story, it wasn’t just the business success – it was the people I had the opportunity to work with every day. They are what I will dearly miss.