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Ad agencies in south Mississippi find profitable niches in the marketplace

Beyond the metro

Advertising agencies outside of Jackson have a much tougher challenge because of the smaller base of potential clients. But a number of ad agencies in south Mississippi have found profitable niches in the marketplace particularly in the areas of economic development and tourism promotion.

In the year since the merger of a Coast firm with GodwinGroup in Jackson to create GodwinGuice, a division of the Godwin Group, staff has nearly doubled from 11 to 20. GodwinGuice is now the sixth largest ad agency in the state. GodwinGuice will soon break ground on an expansion of their office that will double the size of their Biloxi-based operation.

“This is the fastest-growing area of our state, and I think the growth of the Coast is what really interested Godwin in making a larger presence here,” said Reed Guice, president of GodwinGuice. “The merger was good for us, and for the GodwinGroup. I did it because I could not grow my agency fast enough to serve the growth occurring on the Coast. It was the best thing for my clients to merge with Godwin and all the services they have to offer. Clients are getting more and more sophisticated.”

Long-time Godwin employee Jim Bass came to GodwinGuice after the merger. Guice said he brought some of the Godwin culture with him, and the result is an improved product for clients.

“When I merged my shop with Godwin, instantly, I had more resources available to me, which means more resources available to my clients,” Guice said. “And we’re finding our clients are taking advantage of those additional services which include interactive media, a research department and one of the finest pure public relations departments in the South. We knew our clients needed those things. Now rather than them looking elsewhere for it, they can get it all through this shop.”

Another advertising agency that has done well out of the Capitol is Gianakos Associates in Meridian. President Kim Gianakos admits that building a thriving ad agency outside of Jackson is a challenge. But Gianakos Associates has been successful attracting tourism and economic development work including an exclusive contract with Amtrak to promote the Amtrak Crescent.

Five years ago Amtrak decided to stop daily service by the Crescent, which runs from New York to Washington, Atlanta, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Meridian, Hattiesburg and New Orleans. Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith protested, and got a coalition of mayors along the line to also advocate keeping the service. As a result, the service was not stopped, and Mayor Smith was appointed to the national board of Amtrak.

“Mayor Smith has been a real advocate of passenger rail service all over the U.S.,” Gianakos said. “What happened with that is that Amtrak started to reconsider how it markets its long-distance leisure trains, and we were asked to make a proposal about what we could do with that. Out of that proposal we created the Crescent Promotional Office, a new division of Gianakos and Associates, and we are dedicated to improving riderships for groups and individuals on the Crescent. What we are doing is being used for a model about how they will promote other long-distance trains.”

Gianakos essentially created a convention and tourism bureau for Crescent, talking one-on-one to tour leaders, group tour leaders and destination managers in addition to traditional advertising in print, radio and television. The firm also does local and state tourism work such as promoting the State Games of Mississippi, an event that attracts 4,000 athletes from across the state to Meridian for athletic competitions similar to the Olympics.

The Prime Time Group in Gulfport is another ad agency that does a lot of work in tourism and economic development. Ted Riemann, president of The Prime Time Group, said major clients include the economic development groups, casinos, health care providers and political candidates. The firm especially does a lot of political work.

“On election day, you know whether you have done a good job or not,” Riemann said. “You either win or lose. You have to start with a good candidate. We are in a position after 20 years that we can pick and choose the candidates we are going to work with. Obviously, if we get a choice, we will go with the candidate we believe has the best chance to win.”

Casinos are also important clients, and ones that Riemann said are fun to work with.

“One good thing about our casinos is that we have had long-term good relationships with them, which is not normal in advertising where you generally win and lose clients all the time,” Riemann said. “In this case, we’ve stayed with the same people all the time.”

Bice Advertising in Hattiesburg also does a lot of economic development work for clients such as the City of Hattiesburg and the Area Development Partnership. Rick Bice agrees with other south Mississippi ad agency heads that running an agency in smaller metropolitan areas is always a challenge.

“You can’t take it for granted,” Bice said. “You have to keep current, stay on your toes and keep versatile. You have to be able to wear several different hats and be very resourceful. We started in December 1978 and have four full-time employees. Probably our mainstay would be print design, but we work in all media.”

Bice Advertising got into Web design about four years ago, and believes that is an important additional service. They have been involved in developing more than 30 sites.

The ease of transmitting materials via the Internet can help ad agency businesses reach beyond the local market to other states. Allison Buchanan, president of Buchanan Group in Biloxi, brought a number of out-of-state clients with her when she moved to the Coast 10 years ago, and still does a substantial amount of work for out-of-state clients. The Buchanan Group primarily focuses on marketing communications, and does a lot of business-to-business marketing including Web site development, multimedia projects and public relations.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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