Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2012: Wayne Cranford

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012 12:00 am  

Wayne CranfordChairman Emeritus, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods

Wayne Cranford
Chairman Emeritus, Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods
Little Rock

An innovator in advertising and marketing communications, Wayne Cranford recently celebrated 50 years of his iconic Little Rock agency. His and the agency’s history are dotted with enough firsts to fill the pages of several scrapbooks – first Arkansas agency to create and place a local color television advertisement, the first Arkansas agency to win a national Addy award, the first to buy a national network program, just for example.

But like many Arkansas stories, such firsts grew from small-town beginnings watered with drive and a “we can do that” spirit.

Wayne Cranford was born at Bald Knob on New Year’s Day in 1933 and from his own recollections, lived a happy small-town childhood, the middle of three brothers. He started school when he was 5 and skipped half of the fourth and half of the fifth grades, which was the way bright students who had to be challenged to stay busy were dealt with in those days.

By the time he was 9 years old, he was selling popcorn at the local movie theater. He was a high school senior at age 15 and a college senior at 18, attending what was then Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway because it was not too far from home. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism; and since there weren’t many opportunities for someone so young, he returned to Bald Knob to teach high school journalism and English.

That early stint as an English teacher never left him, as anyone who has worked for him and made a grammatical mistake can attest.

When he was 22, Cranford moved to Little Rock to work for the Arkansas Democrat newspaper as a police reporter. While working as a reporter, he got his first taste of doing publicity on a big scale when he got a chance to do publicity for the Miss Arkansas Pageant. He became both assistant state editor and Sunday magazine writer at the Democrat before taking a better-paying position as director of public relations for the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Cranford had just taken another new job with the Arkansas Gazette newspaper, when a friend and former colleague at the Democrat called him and put him on the phone with Tom Hockersmith, owner of a large ad agency in Little Rock. Cranford joined Hockersmith’s agency, later persuading the agency owner to hire a young art director who had just won a statewide poster contest, his future partner Jim Johnson.

In 1961, when Cranford was just 28 years old, he and Johnson left Hockersmith to form Cranford Johnson. They started with a $4,000 loan and no clients. They moved quickly to secure three clients – the number they needed to be recognized as an agency – and have seldom looked back since. The first year in business, they secured the advertising account for the political campaign of Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright, doing ads for the Fulbright campaigns of 1962, 1968 and 1974.

Cranford Johnson grew into a regional advertising powerhouse, playing a role in the growth of such companies as Alltel, Acxiom, Entergy and Tyson Foods Inc.

The agency added the name of Ron Robinson, a one-time intern who later became president of the company, to that of Cranford and Johnson in 1984. Brothers Shelby and Wayne Woods merged their agency with Cranford Johnson Robinson in 1990. Renamed Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, the agency is the largest in three states and one of the 16 largest in the Southwest.

Cranford has served as chairman emeritus since 1993 for the agency that now employs nearly 100 people in two Arkansas offices and bills $82 million a year.



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