Looking at Martin-Wilbourn Partners Two Years Later

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 12:00 am  

It’s been more than two years since five ad agency veterans ditched Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods to create agency Martin-Wilbourn Partners LLC.  

The group that left in May 2010 to form Martin-Wilbourn included ex-CJRW CEO David Martin and CJRW cohorts Mitch Chandler, Andrew Moreau, Mac Stroud and Leslie Heizman, as well as retired Alltel communications executive Randy Wilbourn and Steve Burnett, founder of the Burnett Group in New York. Linda Beene, former director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, joined the firm shortly thereafter.

Partners Martin and Wilbourn headed the young Little Rock company. The others, all with more than 20 years of experience in their areas of expertise, served as senior vice presidents.

The benefits of starting out with such an experienced staff included a smooth beginning. “We really didn’t miss a beat at any point of the startup,” Martin said.

People Moves
Martin, who is president and CEO, and Wilbourn, who is chairman, still own the company. Beene and Burnett remain senior vice presidents, but much of the marketing and communications agency’s high-profile founding group has scattered. In every case, they were hired away by clients of Martin-Wilbourn.  

Heizman left just last month to take a job as director of business development at Arkansas Surgical Hospital in North Little Rock.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce hired Chandler to replace Gary Newton as its chief operating officer in August.

In January, Stroud joined Goodwill Industries of Arkansas in Little Rock as vice president of human resources. And Moreau began working as senior director of corporate communications in June 2011 for Life & Specialty Ventures of Little Rock.

“They all left for career improvements. When people have opportunities that are better, all you can do is smile,” Randy Wilbourn said.

Martin-Wilbourn hasn’t exactly replaced the heavyweights it’s lost. The company’s early leadership staffing approach, described by an observer as “all chiefs and no Indians,” has changed some, Wilbourn said. The company is now down to two senior VPs.

But the firm is still going strong, Martin said, with a staff of 20, 20 ongoing client relationships and more than 40 total clients over the past two years.

New employees include Brent Gambill, vice president and director of digital and social media, who came to the company from Sirius XM Radio in Washington, D.C. Another is COO Nathan Joblin, who came from the Social Venture Network in San Francisco. Both are Arkansans.

From Alltel to Today
Martin left CJRW, he said, because his management philosophies, including those in regard to digital marketing, differed from those of other CJRW leaders.

Martin and Wilbourn had worked together previously at former Little Rock telecom Alltel. Their approach to measurable, deeply researched marketing strategies stems from their Alltel days.

Early on in Wilbourn’s career, predecessors to the current cellphones cost $2,000 to install in cars, and average phone bills for those car phones were $1,500 a month, Wilbourn said.

Yet Alltel asked him to sell cellphones, and Wilbourn saw the market evolve from one with cellphones unavailable to the masses to the current climate of cellphone ubiquity. “We had both been trained … [to] take advantage of the changes,” Wilbourn said.

Advertising has changed drastically in the past 10 years, he said. Applying experience from changes in cellphone marketing, Martin-Wilbourn is making recent innovations, like social media, integral to clients’ messaging.

The company focuses less on website design and programming and more on communicating client messages to achieve specific goals, Martin said. While some ad agencies have struggled to determine how well social media and other digital tools for marketing pay financially, Martin said his firm was taking advantage — for clients — of how measurable use of such marketing is.

“From a commerce perspective, you just have to have someone who knows what they’re doing,” he said. “We wouldn’t be doing it if it weren’t profitable for them.”



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