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Maris West & Baker president is third generation ad executive

Jackson — As a third-generation advertising executive, Peter Marks, the new president of Maris, West & Baker Advertising Agency, has an advertising gene or two. He is also committed to Jackson, his hometown.

The 51-year-old grew up in Northeast Jackson. He attended Casey Elementary, Bailey Junior High, Murrah High and was in the second graduating class of Jackson Prep where he got the school spirit award.

“I believe in the city and want to get more involved with it,” he said. “We lived in Madison, but came back into the city because we missed it.”

Marks began his advertising career after two stints working as a tennis pro in Monroe, La., and Greenville. He grew up playing tennis in Jackson, where his parents were among the first members of River Hills Club, and around the South. He worked hard and went to Ole Miss on a tennis scholarship after his father promised a new car in exchange for the scholarship.

But a few summers of working outside in the hot sun convinced him the family business might be a good thing. Peter Marks’ grandfather was one of the city’s advertising pioneers, starting Gordon Marks and Company in 1939, and his father, Sutton Marks, retired after 38 years in the business.

Considering the timing

“Timing is everything, and I saw I was wearing out fast as a tennis pro. I asked my dad about joining the agency,” Marks said. “He said he would let me work with him if I also worked on an MBA, so I went from being a tennis pro to being an account executive.”

But he did prove himself as an account executive and was chosen the account executive of the year by the Jackson Advertising Federation in 1999. There wasn’t much tennis after the career change as he turned to golf instead.

After Sutton Marks retired, Gordon Marks and Company merged with Maris West in 1990, and Marks brought the company’s accounts to the merger. His main role has been in account service, representing the agency and the clients. He says he’s tried to do what’s best for the clients and the agency, plus developing new business. Now as president, he wants to step out and give the agency more of a face in the community. The agency has put out a survey to vendors and clients to better define its future direction.

“We know the business has changed,” he said. “I’m not sure ‘ad agency’ applies. Yes, we are that, but we’re more. It’s more than pretty ads. We must come up with big ideas. We have to brand.”

He points out that along with all the new technology and other changes to the industry, media buying is more sophisticated now, and people are exposed to 3,000 messages a day.

Growing with the clients

“We focus on communicating with our companies and let people know we’re here to help them grow and branch out,” he said. “We have clients who have grown, and we’ve grown with them. Seeing their success is the most rewarding thing for me; to propose a campaign based on research and see that bring success.”

Along with clients in Mississippi, the agency has clients in Memphis, Dallas, Austin and Minneapolis, including one that’s been with them for 35 years.

Marks said he learned a lot from his dad and granddad who really believed they had to be surrounded with people smarter than themselves. He says his mentors also taught him to have honesty and integrity as guiding principals.

“My granddad used to walk the halls every afternoon and listen to people. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by good people. The successes are due to the people we have,” he said. “The challenge is to find those people to come to work here and make them feel they’re a part of everything.”

Another challenge is working within budgets and getting clients the exposure they need. “We must find the most effective way to promote clients. It’s not just two newspapers and three TV stations anymore,” he said.

The new president says the 25-employee agency is known for its creative, winning top industry awards year after year. They get to know the clients with the philosophy of getting in there and listening with the result of producing big ideas.

“It’s a people business. You have to listen,” Marks said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I’m having fun. If you’re not having fun, you should not do it.”

Although Marks believes it’s important to have recreation to stay fresh, he’s not having much these days while the agency is in transition. He plays a little golf and stays in touch with his family.

His wife, Rondah, has a marketing consulting company, Marks & Co. His oldest son, Tyler Gordon, is a medical student, Tucker is sales manager for a national company in Atlanta, and Matthew is a sophomore at Ole Miss.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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