10 Things I Learned From My Company Founder

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    February 8, 2017

10 Things I Learned From My Company Founder


We have a lot to celebrate here. 2017 marks four decades since Bob Ward and the late Charlie Wray opened the doors to Wray Ward. I got to spend some time talking with Bob about the people and the work that make this place great.

Here are 10 things I learned.

1. Be willing to learn. Every day.

You won’t know everything about the marketing business, or any business, by your first day or even your 1,000th day on the job. That’s why it’s so important to soak up knowledge from everyone around you. Ask questions, even if you’re afraid of the answers. Agree to disagree, because sometimes differences spark the best ideas. And above all, work as hard as you possibly can.

2. You can’t have a great house without a strong foundation.

Builders understand that a strong foundation is just as important as the details that make a home beautiful. And a strong culture forms the foundation of every strong company.

Bob Ward and Charlie Wray believed in putting people first. They believed in the power of working as a team to achieve a common goal. They motivated those teams to be the best they could be. They expected staff to treat their clients with respect.

Today Bob is a guest whenever he walks our halls. But the virtues he and Charlie instilled live on, and they drive everything we do.

3. Be willing to take risks. That’s how you grow.

Bob and Charlie took a big risk by going out on their own in 1977. They could have failed miserably. They could have lost their financial investment and their people and the culture of trust they’d worked so hard to build. Bob admits it wasn’t always easy, and sometimes they had to make gut decisions without thinking about the next step. But their giant leap of faith led to something even bigger. And Wray Ward is what it is today because of a lot of people – from company leaders to copywriters – who resisted the urge to always take the easy route.

Bottom line: risk-taking is an inherent part of any successful business. If you aren’t willing to take risks, you’ll fail.

4. Innovate, but don’t forget who you are or what got you here.

The marketing industry is inherently innovative. We’re always looking for new and better ways to communicate a message or sell a product. It’s important to be open to new things, because that’s how you grow. But at the same time, you have to hold onto the values and principles that got you where you are. You have to remember who you are.

Real success isn’t rooted in anything mechanical or technological. It isn’t fancy code or expensive machines or pretty pictures and words. Success is deeper and more primal. It comes from having a certain attitude. It comes from a strong desire to be the best and produce the best work. It can’t be created artificially, regardless of how many cameras or computers or marketing budget dollars you have at your fingertips.

5. The tools might change. But at the end of the day, you still have to tell a good story.

The tools have changed a lot since Bob and Charlie founded Wray Ward. Bob told me that when he retired, the agency didn’t have Internet or Facebook, digital cameras or drones. They had traditional media – television and radio, newspapers and outdoor. Today we can carry the whole world in a little, bitty device. We can watch basketball games being played across the country and learn about events six time zones away as they happen. And that has changed how we communicate. But a marketer’s job is still connecting person A with person B. And the best way to do that is to tell a good story.

6. The best creative work makes people feel something.

If you really want to reach an audience, you have to make them feel something. And no matter how you do it or where you share it, the best creative work has that secret, special sauce that comes alive on the pages of a magazine or the TV in the living room or the screen of a smartphone. It’s an ad that doesn’t look like an ad. It’s marketing that captures the eyes and ears and hearts of the intended audience. It’s marketing that gets people to act.

7. If you’re resilient, you’ll survive.

I was still learning phonics at school and sketching my favorite cartoon characters in dog-eared notebooks when the agency’s original office space flooded. The ground floor space was under three feet of water before staff could call for help on their rotary phones. Eventually, the fire department helped everyone get out of the building.

But Bob and the rest of the team returned to the office within 48 hours. They opened the windows and hauled away irretrievable items. They ripped out the carpets. They ran box fans and hung paper files on clotheslines to dry. They got back to work.

That office is long gone, and our hometown of Charlotte hasn’t seen another rainstorm to match what Bob and longtime Wray Wardians simply call “The Flood.” Still, it’s a lesson in resilience. In work and in life, there will always be external forces you can’t control. Surprises, good and bad, will come your way. Sometimes you’ll win, and sometimes you lose. But if you’re willing to learn from your experiences, you’ll not only survive – you’ll thrive.

8. It takes a village.

Whoever said they could do it alone probably failed.

It’s easy to see how proud Bob Ward is when he walks into our building and sees what we are today, but he’ll be the first to tell you he had little to do with all of it, even though he helped plant the first seed 40 years ago. He’s genuinely grateful for all of the talented, committed people who came after him and had the ability to keep a good thing going.

We should all feel so fortunate.

9. Support your community.

A strong company values and respects the community where it does business. A strong company gives back to the community and its people in a meaningful way.

10. You’re only as good as your clients.

Not so long ago, I was a 22-year-old kid with a freshly minted English degree looking for my first job. I still remember my dad sitting across the dinner table and telling me to consider the people I’d be working with as much as the actual work I’d be doing. At the time, I didn’t realize he was talking about clients as much as coworkers.

It’s true: good business starts with mutual respect and admiration; it starts with believing in the people or products you sell. And I sure feel lucky I found a place, a team and a client list that could make my dad proud.

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