In January 2004, the month Republican Haley Barbour was inaugurated governor of Mississippi, his gubernatorial campaign spokesman Quinton Dickerson was forming a public relations (PR), advertising and communications firm with Josh Gregory.
Within months, the pair had landed a chunk of the state economic development agency’s coveted advertising business, and built a team that includes creative director Mary Lee, production manager Vickie Burkes and graphic designer Ryan Farmer. In two years, the Jackson-based firm has racked up numerous industry awards, including a “Best in Show” ADDY award from the Jackson Advertising Federation for television ads for the Mississippi Tourism Division.
Earlier this year, Dickerson was named one of Mississippi’s Top 40 Under 40 business leaders; the Jackson Free Press recently named Gregory one of Mississippi’s Young Influentials of 2006.
The Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Dickerson, a University of Kentucky alum and former staffer for Congressman Chip Pickering, about his focus on account management, public relations, communications strategy, media relations, message development, advertising writing and, well, strategies, for Frontier Strategies.
Mississippi Business Journal: What makes a consortium-style PR firm like yours different, and what advantages does it offer clients?
Quinton Dickerson: We didn’t invent this concept, but we saw an opportunity to create a company that provided an efficient way to work with clients: for us to offer a wide range of services with a non-bureaucratic, hands-on approach, without having a large, full-time staff on a daily basis.
It’s obviously more cost-effective for our company from an overhead standpoint, but it’s also a focused approach that allows us to be personally involved in every project, which translates into a very flexible and efficient way to work. By having a business structure with a small full-time staff and a larger network of affiliates who work with us when needed, it benefits our clients by allowing us to continually bring new ideas and creativity to the table so our work is original and innovative.
When we started the company, we told people we could be as big as we needed to be without having a large full-time staff, and that’s still true today. Depending on the needs of clients and the projects that we’re working on, we have the staff and affiliates to handle very large tasks if necessary. While we have added some full-time staff since our company began, we’re keeping our basic structure organized as an efficient and flexible company.
MBJ: Tell us what you’ve been doing for the state’s tourism account, and how you go about bringing together the various sources of talent to make it all work?
QD: Because almost every state outspends Mississippi in terms of tourism advertising dollars, it’s virtually impossible for Mississippi to ‘outshout’ the competition with a mass marketing approach. Working closely with Mississippi tourism director Craig Ray and his staff, we’ve developed a niche marketing approach that focuses on expanding the traditional geographic reach of Mississippi’s advertising message to 750 miles outside the state, as well as targeting a much younger audience than has typically been sought. The niche effort is focusing the advertising campaign on several specific areas of tourism in Mississippi, and then pinpointing that advertising message to the audience with the highest propensity to actually care about that message. Take golf for example. Golfers are very passionate about their sport and through golf-specific magazines, Web sites and television shows, golfers can be reached with a very specific golf message that they really care about. That’s just one example.
Regarding bringing together the talent to make everything work, when we first considered starting our company, we quickly found out there are a lot of really creative and experienced people in advertising and public relations in Mississippi. Since Mississippi has had so many successful actors, athletes, musicians, authors, medical pioneers and other specialties, it only stands to reason that our state has talented people in other fields, too, including advertising and communications. Whether it is working with the Mississippi tourism division or with other clients, bringing a team together to work on various projects has given us the opportunity to work with a lot of outstanding people who we also consider friends, not just business associates. Since our company was started, the list of affiliates that work with us has grown. Many of these affiliates have their own small company or they’re a one-person shop and they work from home. Most of them worked for large advertising firms previously and decided to do their own thing, so they’re not looking to become a full-time employee of our company. As a result, they like the flexibility of being able to work on projects with us — some short-term, some long-term — and still being able to maintain their business structure and other working relationships.
With the constant connectivity and technology that we all use on a daily basis, it allows us to be personally involved in all of our projects while utilizing the strengths of a lot of other people working on the same project, even though we’re not all in the same office. This structure still requires a lot of hands-on attention from us to ensure high-quality work and that deadlines are met.
MBJ: How did you pull the firm together so quickly after the campaign?
QD: We talked about forming this business about a year before we actually started the company, so it was something we put a lot of thought, time and planning into. We also spent a lot of time asking for honest advice from friends and other people we trust so we could learn as much as possible before starting the company. We’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of friends provide so much encouragement to help our company grow. We ran a lot of numbers to see if we thought the company would be successful or not, but in the end, that’s all speculation. We just really believed there was a market for a new and different style of company and were determined to give it a try.
MBJ: What plans can you share for further developing the firm?
QD: We’re really excited and optimistic about the future. With Web-based communications being a strong focus of our company, there are a lot of innovative things happening with interactive media that we’re moving into quickly and that’s going to be a lot of fun. With elections getting ready to be held soon — and with our background being in politics — we’re always excited about a good political campaign on the horizon.
MBJ: How did you come up with the name of your company, Frontier Strategies?
QD: A lot of people ask about the name and what it means. The dictionary defines ‘frontier’ as ‘a topic inviting research and development’ and it defines ‘strategies’ as having ‘a plan of action to accomplish a specific goal.’ Our basic philosophy is to create and develop a plan based on creativity and sound reasoning to meet the needs and goals of a client, and then to smartly implement that plan to produce the desired results. So, we think our name reflects our approach to our work.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.
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