Then and Now: Reflections on 30 Years at One Marketing Agency

  • Categories:

    Agency Life

  • Date:

    March 20, 2017

Then and Now: Reflections on 30 Years at One Marketing Agency



Agency Life

As Wray Ward celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017, I’m celebrating my 31st year with the agency. 

In some ways, this makes me feel like a fossil. After all, I got my start at Wray Ward before many of my coworkers got their first box of crayons. But through all these years our mission – to create meaningful relationships between brands and their audiences – never changed. And even though a lot of the faces changed in my three-plus decades here, we’re still a collection of passionate dreamers, thinkers and questioners, all focused on achieving that singular goal.

The world looked a lot different in 1986.

I never imagined Wray Ward or Charlotte would grow to the size they are today.

Our founders, Charlie Wray and Bob Ward, worked for large corporations before opening their own shop, and they championed our agency’s intimate environment and family feel. It was a perfect match for a young mother with two children in search of a stable work environment and a solid client mix.

Charlotte was a young city in those days, too. In 1986, the streets rolled up at 5 p.m.; families ice-skated beneath the shops at Eastland Mall; and the NBA expansion Charlotte Hornets wouldn’t start playing for another two years.  

Wray Ward also looked a lot different.

Back then, most ad agencies worked in formal offices, and ours was no exception. The front lobby was home to a huge cabinet made of rich, dark wood, with glass shelves and lights that showcased our awards. Our receptionist greeted guests at a heavy oak desk and filled stacks of While You Were Out pads with handwritten phone messages. I still remember how the office of Owner and Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Appleby, then a young art director and rising star, would be littered with dozens of While You Were Out slips after lunch. Now, I’m sure she returns to dozens of emails.

One of the first things that struck me about Wray Ward was the agency’s commitment to its internal processes. Employees shared information via a series of contact reports that account executives produced after every meeting. We wrote action alerts on orange tickets whose color made them impossible to overlook. Now we have an electronic action alert system; while the modern way appears to be completely different, it essentially serves the same function.

This business already moved at the breakneck pace people associate with it today, but we didn’t have the fancy tools and systems we now take for granted. If we took photographs in 1986, we waited while the film was developed. Today we wait for battery packs to charge before we can capture our next drone shot. When I started at Wray Ward, we didn’t email proofs to our clients. Instead, we faxed a final copy and thanked our lucky stars clients trusted us to do the job well. And to make even minor changes to a print ad in 1986, we marked up a hard copy and hand-delivered it to our typesetter. In 2017, we sit down at a computer and make edits in minutes.

For 30 years I’ve handled the same tasks, from getting estimates to contacting resources. But before the internet, I had to approach those tasks in a completely different way. I remember working on a campaign for WIX Filters that involved photos of six pretty famous rock and roll artists’ records from the 1950s. I needed to get permission from the owners of the rights to those records; to complicate things, the rights owners were record labels that went defunct 20 or more years earlier. I spent a month on the phone chasing down those rights, and I hate to think of that month’s long-distance phone bill. But the experience taught me how to articulate what’s needed in a succinct, successful way.

WIX Filters records

Evolution never stops.

Perhaps the only thing that remains unchanged after 31 years is my title. And while my title never changed, through the years I developed and grew the production manager role on my terms, evolving with the technology and trends that help our clients build their brands. Along the way I’ve worked with hundreds of talented people within and outside our agency walls. And, I’m deeply satisfied by the knowledge that we’re accomplishing both great and small things each day. 

This agency is my daytime home. My job isn’t easy, but I’m part of an amazing team. I love the people I’ve worked alongside since we used typewriters and rotary phones, but I’m also invigorated by my younger coworkers who bring a different kind of wisdom to our office and the industry.

Today Wray Ward has nearly 100 full-time employees with clients in categories from home to healthcare and automotive to energy. We provide advertising and strategic brand planning, media planning and buying, but we also guide our clients’ journeys through insights, digital, public relations, video production and search. We tell stories about beautiful fabrics and faucets, skylights and shades. We support businesses based both in our hometown and across the ocean. We’re a full-service agency in 2017, which means something entirely different than a full-service agency in 1986. But, the focus – to create meaningful relationships between brands and their audiences – remains unchanged. 

I’m happy to be part of Wray Ward’s evolution; staying put for all of these years gave me the chance to help build a place that makes me proud.

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