How did I get into the advertising business?
When I first graduated from college, I moved to Chicago to attend Northwestern and start working toward a Masters in Advertising. It was always a foregone conclusion that I would go into the family ad business, Gordon Marks & Company. After living in Chicago for three weeks, I decided I wasn’t ready to go back to school and hadn’t quite gotten tennis out of my system. So, I left and found a job in Greenville, Mississippi as a tennis pro.
I worked as a tennis pro from 1976 until the summer of 1984. I’d left Greenville in 1978 and taken a job at Bayou DeSiard Country Club in Monroe, Louisiana. The summer of 1984 was awful, hot, and humid with on-court temperatures averaging 108 degrees. I was working from 5:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. teaching tennis lessons in the heat and on the court over 14 hours a day, five days a week. At the age of 30, I realized I needed to get out of the heat and find another job. The obvious choice was to go into the family business my Granddad started in 1939.
I met with my dad for dinner on July 14, 1984 and asked him if I could come to work for the family business. Although I didn’t have a Master’s degree, I’d been working towards my MBA at Northeastern Louisiana University. And besides that, I had a degree in dealing with people, so I felt like I could handle advertising clients. On July 28, 1984, I joined Gordon Marks & Company as an Account Executive.
What did my father teach me about this business?
My father Sutton Marks taught me a few things that have stuck with me over the years. And most of what I learned about the advertising business from my father also pertains to everyday life.
- Problems don’t solve themselves. Work to find a quick resolution.
- Don’t be afraid of making a decision. And if you make the wrong choice, just learn from the mistake.
- The best clients are the ones who like and trust you. Basically, clients who become friends are the best clients.
What was my first day like at MWB?
Honestly, I don’t remember much about the first day. I was pretty nervous because I’d heard horror stories about Gerrit Maris and his temper. I was given an orientation schedule and a three-ring binder that was about four inches thick. I spent most of the first day meeting with staff and heads of departments. The second day I was told to review the binder, which contained a detailed step-by-step explanation of how MWB worked and how to handle certain situations. I still have that binder. I learned quickly how organized and meticulous Gerrit was in the business.
How would you describe your roles over the years at MWB?
I was an Account Executive and expected to work on new business for most of my time at MWB. I remember the once-a-month new business meetings on Mondays after 5:00 in a small conference room that would hold 12 people, but somehow we packed in at least 20 people, and most of them smoked. The last 12 years I’ve done the same, but also became a cheerleader and decision maker with Mike (Mike Booth, MWB’s CFO) on what was best for MWB. I’ve gone from being friends with most everyone to being their boss (and hopefully still friends).
What do I know better now than I did then?
That’s a tough one. I think you gradually learn as the years go by what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that people respond better to reasoning rather than bullying. I’ve learned to listen first, then react rather than reacting immediately to a given situation. I’ve learned that you hire slow and let people go quickly when business is bad. You have to do what’s best for the company as a whole because you’re not only responsible for the employees, but also for their families.
What about lessons learned from playing sports?
If you apply yourself, you can always get better at whatever you want to do. It’s just a matter of putting the time into making yourself better. The ad business is always changing, so you have to read about the changing trends and adapt to the market changes. If you don’t adapt, you will not survive. Same in sports: If you don’t adapt to the conditions, you won’t do well.
What’s the secret about staying passionate about what you do?
Setting goals, whether it’s financial or relates to new business. Without goals, you will flounder.
What exciting things have I been proudest to be a part of?
I wasn’t a part of this, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I’d only been at MWB for about a month when I heard people chanting and the shuffling of feet. In a matter of seconds, Gerrit appeared at my office door and told me to “hop on”. He had started a “train” of people holding on to each other, one behind the other, prancing through the office hallways and proceeding through the parking lot on Galaxy Drive. When I asked what the hell was going on, I was told that we’d won the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau’s account. That was 30 years ago and we still have the account today. Who knew Gerrit got excited about anything? He always scared the crap out of me.
I was also proud of the work we did for River Oaks Hospital. I brought the account over from Gordon Marks & Company. At MWB over the years, we’ve not only created work that was award-winning on a national level, but also effective. Essentially, the work we did for River Oaks started the healthcare advertising revolution in the metro area because it worked so well. River Oaks went from an average daily census (beds occupied) of 33 percent to over 100 percent after a year of marketing. This lead to other healthcare accounts for MWB in Mississippi and Louisiana.
There are other things that I won’t bore you with for different accounts that were exciting. Winning is always exciting.
Any missteps to avoid, now that I know better?
As I mentioned earlier, learn from your mistakes but don’t dwell on them. I’d analyze what went wrong and try not to make the same mistakes twice. Never assume you have the business. You have to go into a presentation with guns blazing.
MWB will soon be celebrating its 50th year. What’s the secret sauce that’s kept this place going?
That’s easy, the people who over the years have been loyal and dedicated to MWB with the goal of creating great advertising that gets results. We’ve also learned to adapt to the current ad environment and change along with it.
How has my time at MWB shaped me, for better or worse?
MWB is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. You’d probably be better off asking someone who’s worked with me over the years. All I’ve done is try to adapt to the current environment and work hard hoping and praying the effort I put in would lead to success.
Inspired words of wisdom to share?
As related to the ad business? New business is the lifeblood of the agency. Never stop looking. Make friends in the right places. And stay involved within your community. It makes a difference.
By the time MWB’s 50th anniversary rolls around, I’ll be retired. It’s hard to believe I have worked at MWB for 30 years. I really can’t believe it. I’ve met so many nice, interesting characters over the years. I had Paige (Gousset, MWB Accountant) do a count a year or so ago. As it turns out, I’ve worked with over 160 people in my career here, and maybe a few more that she missed. Some relationships have been great, and some, let’s just leave it at interesting.
MWB is in good hands with Tim, Randy, Marc, and Keith running the company. Our client base is strong and our staff is amazing. I don’t see anything but continued success for MWB for years and years.
My wife Rondah (who I met as our client with River Oaks, but that’s a whole other story) and I will be traveling some and I’m sure I’ll be playing a little golf every now and then. And I’m also certain I’ll be dropping in to see everyone every now and then at MWB.
And I’d just like to thank everyone that’s put up with me over the last 30 years. As I said earlier, I’ve worked with some great people and learned the old adage of “hire people smarter than you” because it works.