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.

Much of the agency’s success can be attributed to its long-term relationships with clients. It has worked with Oaklawn Park horse racing track in Hot Springs since the 1960s and had similar long-standing relationships with Allied Telephone (later Alltel), Middle South Utilities and Arkansas Power & Light (later Entergy), First Commercial Bank and others.

Cranford has been an inspiration to the advertising community with his mission to bring the latest communications tools and technologies from Madison Avenue to Main Street – from the creative revolution of the 1960s to the digital and social media revolution of today.

Cranford’s work with chief executive officers and other executives – including seven governors – led to President Bill Clinton appointing him to chair the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts from 1994 to 2001. Among his work on charitable and community organizations, Cranford is the chairman of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Commission and has served on the board of trustees of both the Arkansas Arts Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

In his long career, Cranford has been honored many times by his peers. He received the Silver Medal Award by the Arkansas Advertising Federation/American Advertising Federation in 1989 and was a member of the first class inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame in 2008. Other honors bestowed over the years include the distinguished alumnus award from the University of Central Arkansas in 1995, the William F. Rector Award from Fifty for the Future in 1997 and the Golden Boy Award from the Little Rock Boys Club in 1990. He was one of three Arkansas’ Outstanding Young Men selected by the Arkansas Jaycees in 1969.

But one of the main ways that Cranford measures his success is his family. He has been married to his wife Frances, a former Miss Arkansas and first runner-up to Miss America, since 1962; and they take great pride in the accomplishments of their three sons Jay, Ross and Chris. Jay is senior vice president and chief creative officer at CJRW after success as an advertising copywriter at TBWA Chiat/Day in California. Ross is vice president for tourism services with CJRW, and youngest son Chris is a filmmaker, having graduated in 1994 from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. F



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