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Jack Garner talks about trends, changes and a new division at The Ramey Agency

Longtime banker makes move to advertising

JACKSON — Earlier this month, Chris Ray, chairman and CEO of The Ramey Agency, LLC, named Jack Garner, president and CEO of Union Planters Bank, N.A. – Jackson, as president of the advertising agency and vice-chairman of the company’s board of directors.

“There’s no question that recruiting Jack will be one of our biggest success stories this year,” said Ray.

The career move marked Garner’s return to the advertising/marketing field after a 29-year banking career. Before he began his banking career, Garner served as a principal at the Grenada-based advertising and marketing agency Evans, Garner, Townes Inc.

“With this move, my professional career will actually be coming full-circle,” Garner said. “It was from a little ad agency, and with a real interest in marketing and advertising, that I came into banking in the first place.”

In the last two years, The Ramey Agency has weathered significant changes. Its founder, president, and CEO, Thomas “Tommy” G. Ramey, died unexpectedly in the fall of 1999. Ramey established the firm in 1985. At the time of his death, it was the second-largest advertising agency in Mississippi.

Last May, its ownership changed hands when The Ramey Agency, LLC, was acquired by CEO Chris Ray and COO Jim Garrison, along with an outside investment group controlled by Viking Range Corporation CEO Fred Carl of Greenwood and the Stephens Group of Little Rock, Ark.

Soon after the announcement that Garner would take over as president of The Ramey Agency, the Mississippi Business Journal chatted with him about the challenges of switching careers, changes at The Ramey Agency, the advertising industry in general, and a division of the company so new that it hasn’t yet been named.

Mississippi Business Journal: Why the move now?

Jack Garner: The opportunity was now. I was very content in my 28th year of banking when I was contacted by the folks at Ramey. Over the months that our conversations took place, I began to realize that I’d accomplished pretty much everything that I had set out to do in banking, and that a new career with a company like The Ramey Agency would be an exciting change.

MBJ: It may seem surprising to folks in the business community that you’ve switched gears, since you’ve been a formidable presence in the banking industry. What have you done in preparation for your new venture?

JG: Since the announcement of my move, it’s amazing how many people have called or written me saying that they wish that they had an opportunity to do the same thing that I am doing. It’s very rejuvenating to begin a career in such an exciting industry.

As for my presence in the banking community, it could have been because I was associated with formidable banks. I think I’ll enjoy a similar presence in the advertising industry because of my association with The Ramey Agency.

MBJ: What do you foresee as your biggest challenge?

JG: Getting used to not wearing a pin-striped suit to work every day.

MBJ: What experiences in the banking industry will you bring to the job?

JG: I’m bringing every one of them. The good experiences and the not so good ones are both invaluable learning opportunities that I use constantly.

MBJ: You’ve been a Ramey client. Now you’ve swapped seats. Are there any issues you would like to see addressed at The Ramey Agency, or the ad industry in Metro Jackson/Mississippi?

JG: I was privileged to work with Tommy Ramey as a client for more than 20 years. I’ve had a real first-hand view of the creation and subsequent dynamic growth of The Ramey Agency since it began.

As I get more settled in my new seat, I’m very impressed with the bench strength at Ramey. The place is loaded with very talented people. As a matter of fact, I think that Jackson is very fortunate to be the home of a lot of talented advertising professionals. Clients do not have to go to Dallas or Atlanta to find a world-class agency.

MBJ: What are your priorities? Will they include solidifying the company’s position or branching out into new areas or revenue streams?

JG: Our position is solid. That’s one of the things that attracted me to The Ramey Agency. We have a great track record and some excellent investment partners with access to capital. Plus, the people here understand who they are and what they can bring to the table for a client.

Moving forward, Chris Ray and I are focused on three areas of growth: building our business with existing clients; attracting new clients; and finding the right agencies in the region to acquire.

MBJ: Several national ad industry reports have pointed to 2001 as a year where the advertising industry will experience a slowdown. What is your opinion, and if so, how will advertising agencies compensate?

JG: The marketing budget is often the first to be cut during an economic downturn. However, there are some companies that recognize that this strategy is not a good one. These “opportunists” maintain or increase their spending during a downturn and, as a result, get ahead.

We are fortunate that every one of our clients thinks this way. Across the board, each of our clients is increasing their marketing efforts this year. That supports our position of being the “agency for opportunists.”

MBJ: Internet advertising revenues in the U.S. jumped from $1.9 billion in 1999 to nearly $3 billion in 2000, with estimates of $63 billion spent on digital marketing by 2005. What is your opinion on trends in other advertising venues? How will the rest of the pie be split?

JG: Our experience has been that online spending doesn’t increase to the detriment of offline spending. What happens is that the “pie” simply gets bigger.

People still consume vast amounts of print and broadcast media — and we don’t believe that this level will dramatically decrease anytime soon. However, we aren’t asleep at the wheel regarding the Internet, either.

That’s why we have launched a separate Web development company that will concentrate on Internet-oriented issues. In fact, the company is already doing Web development work for two of our clients in spite of the fact that we haven’t even settled on the name yet!

It’s a fascinating business that has enormous implications not only in the marketing world, but in the fundamental way businesses operate.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.


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