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`We very much wanted to be a part of this`

GodwinGroup plays role in crafting development plans

JACKSON — Recently, GodwinGroup signed three mega clients – the State of Mississippi, the New Orleans Saints and the Mississippi Sea Wolves – and was the first advertising agency in the state to pass the $50-million mark in annual capitalized billings. If the Legislature approves the governor’s new economic development plan, the Jackson-based advertising agency will find itself with a new task: changing the name, logo and image of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development to the Mississippi Development Authority.

“We really bought into the initiatives that Gov. Musgrove set forth with the new economic development plan, believe they are realistic, and believe we can help with the execution of those initiatives,” said Philip Shirley, president and COO. “We very much wanted to be a part of this. We pitched it eight years ago and didn’t get the state account. We pitched it four years ago and didn’t get it then, either. This time around, we rolled up our sleeves and went in well prepared.”

Before GodwinGroup executives pitched the state account, they conducted preliminary research, primarily regarding tourism, said Danny Mitchell, chairman and CEO.

“In primary markets, we knew that most of our tourism is drive-in, even though we’re beginning to capture some fly-in markets, such as Tampa, St. Louis, Atlanta and Houston, certainly in gaming areas,” said Mitchell. “The one thing that was mildly surprising, when we went into areas and talked to consumers and asked them their opinions of Mississippi, is that we could identify no negatives. And we anticipated a few. Even after we talked to a couple of hundred consumers in 30 markets outside the South, we found no negatives. We only found a lack of information.”

Even though GodwinGroup is a member of the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, and participated in community meetings around the state, the name change was initiated out of the governor’s office, said Mitchell.

“Image is critically important in economic development,” said Mitchell. “Just like any product you select, or service you choose, economic development professionals go through the same mental processes. Your brand, so to speak, helps people sort you out. People categorize their perception based on your image. In Mississippi’s case, there are a number of important aspects of that plan. Abundant, natural resources. People with good work ethics. Very powerful training programs. A number of elements that go into that image, including a tourism image. We have history, gaming, beaches, museums, historical sites, hunting, fishing and even bird watching. We have an incredible diversity in the tourism side that is certainly a part of economic development. All of these attributes go into the brand that is Mississippi.”

The synergy sparked by the Advantage Mississippi Initiative has led to “permission to believe,” Mitchell said.

“With WorldCom, Mossy Oak, Viking Range, up-and-comers like Pug Power, people believe things can really happen in Mississippi,” he said. “The technology cluster that’s been talked about isn’t aspirational. It’s here. And we should be able to attract other companies. It’s the right time. We have the right companies in Mississippi. We have an opportunity to create an image that is attractive to other businesses.”

GodwinGroup’s annual capitalized billings are expected to exceed $55 million by year-end, Shirley said.

“We have a lot of new business, and we don’t know exactly when all of that will come online,” he said. “In addition to recently adding the Sea Wolves, the Saints and the state account, we’ve expanded with existing accounts. With the Louisville Sluggers, we’ve just gotten into their hockey division. Then we keep adding products like batting gloves, hockey sticks.”

A year ago, GodwinGroup, a privately-held advertising agency established in 1937, listed more than 90 employees. Recently, 15 more were added, and to be nationally competitive, the ad agency retooled its focus to five specialties: leisure sports and hospitality, telecommunications, food industry, health care and finance and business-to-business accounts.

Even though 60% of GodwinGroup’s business, including Piccadilly Cafeterias, and American Hawaii Cruises, is derived from businesses located out of state, “Mississippi will always be our home — and our most important attribute,” Mitchell said.

Since GodwinGroup acquired Biloxi-based Guice & Guice, one of the Gulf Coast’s oldest and most recognized advertising agencies, and was renamed GodwinGuice, the combined coastal operations have doubled. Similar growth is anticipated in the recently acquiredTannehill Agency in Oxford. An affiliate office is located in New Orleans, and last year, GodwinGroup acquired Baton Rouge-based Martha H. Crombie Healthcare Strategic Planning & Communications, a consortium of consultants from various parts of the U.S. with expertise in different areas of health care. Renamed Integrated Healthcare Solutions, business has flourished since the purchase, said Shirley.

“Our industry has undergone a tremendous revolution in the last few years and we had to change with it,” Shirley said. “Traditionally, an ad agency had an artist and an account person, who was maybe a media buyer. About 25 years ago, we started hearing the term ‘full-service agency,’ which basically meant the addition of public relations. Then, 10 to 12 years ago, we heard the term ‘integrated marketing.’ Now we’ve moved beyond that. We’re communication problem solvers.”

In the last few years, GodwinGroup expanded with a research department, added database marketing and direct marketing, currently mailing out tens of thousands of direct mail pieces monthly. Consultants have been hired and the agency is expanding heavily into e-commerce.

“By adding and integrating all of these resources, we’ve created a resource for Mississippi that simply did not exist before at this level to provide a cohesive solution,” Shirley said. “Now, we have an opportunity to create an image for the state that is attractive to other businesses.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com.


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