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Making timber sound sexy, putting banking in plain terms, all in a day's work

MWB helping clients snare ad-weary audience

How do you make timber sound sexy on Wall Street?

Catching the eye of investors, making them want to invest in timberland, was the challenge that ad agency Maris, West & Baker (MWB) faced when they were hired two years ago by the Molpus Woodlands Group.

Jackson-based Molpus Woodlands is one of the largest timberland investment management organizations (TIMO) in the country. It was started in 1996 as an outgrowth of the Molpus family`s Philadelphia timber business and is headed by president Dick Molpus, who is the third generation to work in the business.

The MWB staff knew that timberland could appeal to investors who had been burned in the stock market crash of the late 1990s, but there was work to do.

“Timber is very low tech, but you have to go on Wall Street and make it sexy,” said Keith Bates, vice president, strategic planning at MWB.

“(Investors) think stump jumpers, so how do we dress them up and make them a viable alternative to people looking for new investment?”

MWB created a new corporate look for the company with upscale, comprehensive sales materials, which Molpus Woodlands has used to more effectively communicate the company`s unique product to prospective clients.

Tom Risher, Molpus Woodlands executive vice president, said the company has been the “benefactor” of MWB`s efforts.

“The goal was to educate Wall Street that timberland is a viable alternative to stocks and bonds,” said Risher. “I really think David Kimball (MWB president and CEO) has assembled an exemplary team of creative professionals.”

MWB, based in Jackson, was founded 34 years ago by Garrett Maris and Norman West. In 1970, long before desktop publishing, the MWB staff was physically pasting ads together. Today, the agency deals with a global economy and has adapted well to the Internet age. MWB was the first ad agency in the state to have a Web site (10 years ago), and the first agency to create a Web site for a client. That client was the former Deposit Guaranty National Bank back in 1994.

MWB`s first client was Thermo-Kool in Laurel, which specializes in walk-in refrigeration. Thermo-Kool is still using MWB`s services and has benefited from the growth of talent at the agency, said Thermo-Kool president and CEO Patricia McLaughlin said.

“The creative staff has done an excellent job of understanding the uniqueness of our product and explicitly conveying those differences in our advertising campaigns,” she said. “It is particularly satisfying to me in our global market to have been able to establish and maintain such a rewarding working relationship with another Mississippi company.”

Advertising onslaught

Besides technology, one drastic change in MWB`s business is the sophistication of today`s audience. Whether they are buying a hamburger or $5 million worth of timber, consumers are constantly bombarded by advertisements from even the most unexpected places. Ads pop up on Internet pages, on fast food restaurant bags, on TV in extra-loud fashion and even in bathroom stalls.

This advertising onslaught causes the public to react in one of three ways, said Eric Hughes, MWB senior vice president and creative director. “They pay attention to the incredibly great ads or the shockingly horrible ads, and they forget everything in between. That`s just survival. Another option is to stay fervently loyal to a small amount of brands so they don`t have to pay attention to all the advertisements.”

The challenge for MWB and the companies it represents is to come up with eye-catching, intelligent work that will be remembered and liked, said Hughes, adding that people don`t like most of the advertising out there.

To snare these ad-weary customers, many companies are coming to MWB looking for a brand, or a brand rejuvenation, that will distinguish it from all the other fish in that particular pond, whether it be banking or freezers.

One example of rebranding was the work MWB did for BancorpSouth beginning back in 1999. The bank had grown significantly and needed advertising that positioned it as a total financial services company. BancorpSouth`s research showed that a large part of the bank`s customer base wasn`t very familiar with what BancorpSouth had become and those that didn`t bank there didn`t know what the bank was about. The answer was for BancorpSouth to come forward and talk plainly about everyday financial terms.

“We determined the best way to do that was to take their brand and demonstrate how it fits into people`s lives in concrete ways,” said Lou Ann Flatgard, senior vice president, account services.

The result has been some of the most successful advertising in the bank`s history, said Kimball. One particular ad – depicting a checkbook that looked like a laptop computer to advertise the bank`s Internet banking – resulted in signups at five times the usual rate.

Other long-time clients are the Jackson Convention & Visitors Bureau, which MWB has represented for 15 years, and the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, which MWB has represented since its start back in 1998.

Kimball said long-term relationships are not unusual for MWB.

“The majority of our clients are struggling against competitors who have larger budgets,” he said. “They’re frustrated with the weight and apathy of ad agencies in larger markets, and they would like to grab business they didn`t have before. We’re one of the few agencies in the Southeast that offers top shelf, results-oriented work without overspending client dollars. And what we develop goes head to head in national market awards. We beat out much larger agencies.”

Over the years, MWB has been consistent in winning top advertising honors on the national and international level.

MWB was recently invited to join the Advertising and Marketing International Network (AMIN), which is a network of international and national non-competing independent advertising agencies. MWB is the only Mississippi agency in AMIN, said Kimball.

“It benefits our clients because it give us the depth and the resources of an extremely large international agency,” he said.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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