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GodwinGroup at 75 has longer reach, wider range of services

When Louisville Slugger lost its swing, the venerable baseball bat maker called on Jackson’s GodwinGroup to help get it back.

That was 1997, a year the Kentucky baseball bat maker decided it must do something to turnaround its diminishing market share. The call went to Godwin, an established Mississippi marketing and advertising company beginning to emerge as a regional operation.

As GodwinGroup’s official history tells it, the Slugger bats got their groove back and once again led in market share.

A long track record in Mississippi and the kind of clutch performance delivered with the Louisville Slugger account have helped to position Godwin to extend its reach both geographically and in the services it offers.

Today the 56-employee firm’s footprint takes in the entire Southeast.

Television and print represent the firm’s top two business categories but digital is its fastest growing and is expected to surpass the other two in the next few years.

Digital grew so fast, according to Chairman & CEO Philip Shirley, that in 2009 Godwin signed WebMetro, a nationally known digital marketing firm based in Los Angeles, as a partner, thus creating WebMetro/Godwin as the digital arm of GodwinGroup for 12 Southwestern and Southeastern states, stretching form Oklahoma to the Carolinas and south to Florida.

The partnership gave GodwinGroup a way to keep pace with the boom in digital accounts. “We estimated we needed 50 people on the digital side,” Shirley said, adding the firm found it could not hire that many digital professionals from the Jackson area fast enough to meet demand.

The digital crews build “highly functional” websites, perform search engine marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, social media, among other services, Shirley said.

John McKie, executive VP and managing partner, oversees the digital work. GodwinGroup recruited McKie, a former marketing exec with McRae’s Department Stores, to do direct marketing. “But I pretty quickly started working with the digital people,” McKie said.

He called the job a non-stop learning experience, one in which “you have to devote some amount of time every week to trying to stay current.”

John McKie

McKie does not see the growth slowing any time soon, though he emphasized the firm must keep working hard to stay atop the Mississippi market. “That’s going to be hard to do because there are a lot of fine agencies to compete with.”

Meanwhile, the regional footprint is solidly in place, he said. “We think our offerings and culture work well within this region. I see us continuing to try to be at the forefront of digital and other emerging forms of digital.”

Like many other business sectors, advertising took a hard hit at the onset of the Great Recession in early 2008. Godwin certainly felt the blow, CEO Shirley said. “We fell of a cliff in May of 2008.

“The second quarter of ’08 is when ad budgets got cut all over the country. A lot of our accounts were in a position to spend only a half or a third of what they normally spent.”

The firm cut close to 20 positions, though not all of the positions had people in them.

Work volume rose as revenues dropped.

“That’s why 2008 and 2009 were so painful to us,” Shirley said. “The work went way up and the money went down.”

Everything had to work right to deliver value for the dollar, the CEO said. “We had to redouble our efforts…. We had to make sure the clients survived and they came out of it strong.”

The effort paid off, Shirley said. “They have appreciated it. The ones who are now turning it around remember that.

“That’s why the last two years have been outstanding for us.”

The privately held GodwinGroup reported sales of $14.5 million in 2011, according to the Mississippi Business Journal’s 2012 “Book of Lists.”

The rebound led the company last year to renovate and refurnish its suite of offices that take up the entire eighth floor of One Jackson Place in downtown Jackson.

As the recession receded, one lesson became clear:

An economic slump is the worst time to quit advertising, Shirley said.

“The companies that continue their aggressive advertising come out of it quicker and gain enormous market share when it does turn around.”

And the recession’s lesson for Godwin?

“Be a good partner,” he said.

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