Stone & Ward Reflect, From Leno to Picasso

Stone & Ward Reflect, From Leno to Picasso
Millie Ward and Larry Stone

The walls can’t talk at Stone Ward, the storied Little Rock advertising agency. But if they could, they might tell a joke stolen from Jay Leno.

“We did a commercial for Terminix where we put a special effects surround on faces, cut a hole in the wall and blended the faces into the wall; if the walls could talk, you know, they’d tell you you’ve got termites,” says CEO and Executive Creative Director Larry Stone, recalling one of his firm’s early successes. “It got a lot of attention, including a mention on ‘The Tonight Show.’

“In his monologue, Leno said that if your walls start talking to you, you need to call somebody other than Terminix.”

Laughter from Millie Ward, the other half of the Stone Ward name, fills the conference room.

It was a typical moment for Stone and Ward, having fun together, running a company together, finishing each other’s sentences.

After more than 33 years as business partners, 17 years of marriage and induction into the Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame this month, they have struck a good work-and-home-life balance: They draw no dividing line.

“We share our passion for this business,” Ward says. “We love advertising, so what do we talk about when we go home? A lot of times we talk about advertising.”

That’s not to say they lack other interests. They are doting grandparents and world travelers — recent destinations include Australia, New Zealand and the Bahamas — as well as devoted members of Immanuel Baptist Church. Attorney Mike Rainwater is their Sunday school teacher. “He teaches like a lawyer, very pragmatic and insightful,” Ward says.

But advertising is a constant, and retirement is nowhere on the horizon.

“Larry and I knew from the start we made good partners — a lot of the things that he did well I didn’t, and vice versa,” said Ward, 62, who is adept in account management, PR and marketing. “You don’t want to be stepping on one another,” says Stone, 69, who specializes in art and design. “As business partners, this worked pretty well,” Ward recalls, “and then over the years we became friends …” “And then closer,” Stone interjects. “It helps when you like each other.”

“Not everybody can do it, being married and in business together, but in our case, it seemed very natural. Maybe that’s because we were business partners long before we were life partners,” Ward says.

And business has been good. The hall of fame honor, sponsored by the American Advertising Federation’s 10th District, was the latest landmark.

From four employees when Resneck Stone Ward was formed with Memphis adman Myron Resneck in 1984, the firm has grown to 53 workers, including six in a Chicago office that opened a decade ago. Ward mentions capitalized billings of $47 million a year. “That’s million, not billion,” says Stone, whose south Arkansas roots are in Three Creeks, just north of Louisiana.

“When you start a company as young as we were, you have big dreams, and some of them come true, and then you finally look back, and it’s humbling,” Ward says.

There were flagship moments and clients, Ward recalls, including the “dancing banker” commercials. After Curt Bradbury tapped the agency to reposition Worthen Banking Corp. “after a big crisis,” an actor playing a staid banker danced to “I Feel Good” after closing a deal, becoming a minor celebrity. “There were dancing banker sightings in the newspaper,” Stone jokes.

Ward, an Arkansas State University graduate who was honored in her hometown of Wynne as she joined the hall of fame, thanks key clients like TCBY, Nickelodeon, Sport Clips Haircuts, Baptist Health and Sissy’s Log Cabin.

Opening the Chicago office, too, was a leap of faith, she said. “We opened that office about 10 years ago with one guy, and he came in every day for a year with no clients, looking for that first client. That turned out to be Snap-on Tools, which led to U.S. Soccer, both men and women.”

“It was an investment that paid off, but it could have gone the other way,” Stone adds.

So, what’s the ultimate secret to success, beyond God’s grace and the help of others?

“Picasso was asked that, and in general terms, he said it helps to do a lot of work, and to live a long time,” Stone says.

Ward adds, “That’s probably a good principle for Stone Ward.”