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A young man from Mexico, Mo., leaves his hometown job selling real estate to travel the country as a band tour manager. The gamble pays off. Ten years later, after working with impressive groups such as U2, he’s producing music videos and documentaries in Los Angeles. But then the man reinvents himself. Having never worked for an advertising agency, he decides to start one of his own in Columbia. Snce again, his risk is rewarded. Twenty years later, his advertising agency is not only still around but also thriving with four offices, about 90 employees and big-name clients such as Bayer, Diamond Pet Foods and Abbott Laboratories. For Terry Woodruff, creative risks and unexpected ideas have been the bedrocks of his life. They’ve also been the keys to Woodruff Sweitzer advertising agency’s success.
An unexpected resume
Woodruff traces his dogged work ethic, entrepreneurial drive and competitive nature back to his modest Mexico upbringing. “I grew up with three sisters and was consistently trying to figure out how to outsmart the older one and outrun the younger two,” he says with a laugh. “My mom was probably my inspiration. She worked very hard at making sure we had our needs met. Selling insurance gave her some flexibility to be home with us when we were young. I picked up from her that you have to reinvent yourself and stay relevant.” In high school, Woodruff discovered his interest in sales while working in the sporting goods department at Walmart — the only job he’s ever held working for and getting a paycheck from someone other than himself. By the time he started college at the University of Central Missouri, he naturally gravitated toward finance, marketing and management. After earning his degree, Woodruff returned to Mexico to sell real estate, a tough gig in the early 1980s, when mortgage rates hit unbelievable highs of 18 to 20 percent. Woodruff wanted to steer his career in a different direction, so when a childhood friend asked him to manage his music group in New orleans, Woodruff hopped aboard the tour bus. It wasn’t a glamorous job. A large chunk of a tour manager’s role could be mistaken for baby-sitting: making sure musicians are checked into their hotel rooms, getting them to gigs or video shoots on time, running mundane errands. But it was a gateway job, leading Woodruff to discover his strengths in public relations and video production. He delighted in the marketing aspect, drumming up media coverage, helping on the set of music videos, ensuring that reporters had a positive concert experience. Along the way, Woodruff formed valuable professional connections and worked with unbelievably talented artists, including U2. “In the mid-’80s, their music was incredibly popular and catching on like fire,” he says. “they experienced incredible success, but I just couldn’t see another group like the Rolling Stones and the Who sustaining such popularity. I didn’t know they’d still be considered one of the best today, but I knew those guys were very special.”
For about a year, Woodruff also co-produced a tv series called LA Rocks! with Sherman Hemsley, famously known for his role as George Jefferson on All in the Family and The Jeffersons. The series hoped to capitalize on MTV’s growing popularity by intercutting a group’s new music video with interview clips and backstage tour footage. When LA Rocks! didn’t get the viewership it had hoped for, Woodruff formed an independent film and video production company in Los Angeles. For about seven years, Woodruff and Associates produced music videos and documentaries, including one about the U.S. invasion of Panama and another following Jan and Dean, the first american rock ’n’ roll group to perform in Communist China. Although Los Angeles had brought good, unexpected fortune to the Midwesterner, he and his wife, Betsy, decided it wasn’t where they wanted to raise their children. With the birth of their daughter Lauren in 1990, they relocated to the more family-friendly Columbia.
With an original apple Macintosh computer atop a 6-foot folding table, Woodruff opened his CoMo-based advertising agency in 1992. “I remember the days when I would develop new business during the day, and at night my wife, who’s a designer, would put together the creative applications I had promised clients,” Woodruff says. For his first clients, Woodruff looked to familiar ground in Mexico and worked with the city, a local law firm and the hospital. Gradually, he added more clients and staff. “We grew fairly slowly; I was never interested in rapid growth or growth for growth’s sake,” he says. “I wanted to make sure it was calculated risk. I wanted to ensure that if i lost any one client, we wouldn’t have to eliminate staff. When I hired people and had them move to mid-Missouri, I considered it my personal responsibility to keep their families secure.” Woodruff Communications expanded as its number of clients and the success of its clients grew. He opened an office in Kansas City to reach a larger market and one in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to serve the marketing needs of Arysta Life-Science. Now, after almost 15 years, Woodruff’s Calgary office has grown from two to nearly 35 employees, and Arysta has grown from less than 10 employees to the world’s largest privately held agricultural company. “I truly consider the account team at Woodruff Sweitzer to be an extension of our business,” says Linda Frerichs, Arysta’s head of global communication. “They are an integral part of our growth as a company. They work hard and take the time to understand our business inside and out. It’s fun and exciting to see the creative ideas they produce.
To boost the creative arm of the agency, Woodruff hired Steve Sweitzer in 2004 and renamed the agency Woodruff Sweitzer. Sweitzer had previously been creative director for a Los Angeles-based agency, where he worked on the iconic Energizer bunny commercials and the U.S. launch of Sony PlayStation. “Steve is someone who I had gone to high school with and had monitored in the advertising world,” Woodruff says. “His experience with managing big brands and consumer packaged goods was very helpful in getting our clients to understand the power of brand and what sound marketing strategies could do for them. We both have a different set of talents and capabilities, which is what i think is the power of Woodruff Sweitzer.” Ss president and CEO, Woodruff manages the overall business strategies and finances. As chief creative officer, Sweitzer oversees the development of campaigns. But both believe in maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit by giving their employees a lot of independence.“We don’t get mired down in process and rigid structures,” Woodruff says. “It’s important to us to hire the smartest minds in the business and then give them enough freedom and leeway. We empower them to think outside the box, and we encourage them to work on strategies and develop ideas that clients wouldn’t be able to think of or get to on their own.”
Expecting the unexpected
Within the past 10 years, the advertising landscape has changed dramatically, leaving many agencies struggling financially. But Woodruff’s “reinvent to stay relevant” philosophy has catapulted his company to great success in spite of tough economic conditions.With the influx of social media and marketing via mobile devices, Woodruff could see that clients were struggling to determine which media would work best for their message. in 2005, he and partner Jack Miller started True Media Services in Columbia to help clients pinpoint how to best reach their target audience through traditional and interactive media strategies based on independent consumer research. In October, the media planning, placement and analysis firm was named one of the state’s fastest-growing companies by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This Summer, Woodruff Sweitzer also expanded into St. Louis by acquiring Paradowski Creative, which boasts clients such as Monsanto and Anheuser-Busch InBev. “They’ve been one of the leaders in interactive and digital strategies and mobile applications, which will bolster our ability to help clients efficiently and effectively reach their consumers,” Woodruff says.
Whether using traditional or new media, Woodruff believes that what sets his agency apart is its ability to consistently pitch new ideas and unanticipated marketing strategies. Mike Kampeter, president of Diamond Pet Foods, describes their work as creative with practicality and overall common sense. Traditionally, diamond has specialized in lower-priced products, but Woodruff Sweitzer helped the company develop a premium, high-end pet food called Taste of the Wild. With more than 12,000 pet products on the market, Kampeter boldly says he doubts anyone would argue against ranking taste of the Wild as No. 1 for its creative packaging and concept. “We’ve used multiple agencies in the past and quite honestly weren’t happy,” Kampeter says. “We wanted some new looks in our product line, and Terry’s group came in and showed us what they’d recommend. It’s been about a half dozen years since then, and we now work exclusively with Woodruff Sweitzer. We feel comfortable with them. they can handle everything from new product development including design work and packaging concepts all the way through when we unfortunately need their help with crisis management.”
Seven years ago, Boone County National Bank also turned to Woodruff Sweitzer, this time for a creative way to celebrate its 150th anniversary. A traditional advertising agency might have recommended dedicating a local park or erecting a monument of some kind, Woodruff says. Instead, Woodruff Sweitzer suggested the bank sponsor a downtown blues festival and adopt as its tagline: “Other banks have branches. We have roots.” The unorthodox idea was met with some skepticism, but today the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival has grown into a much-beloved Columbia tradition. The festival attracted about 52,000 fans from 35 states last year and has an economic impact of nearly $4.5 million on Columbia and Missouri.
“We always make sure we bring unexpected ideas to clients, which sometimes can get our thinking called into question,” Woodruff says. “But they’re not unsubstantiated. reason and sound strategy are behind every idea we pitch.” More recently, Brown Shoe Co., which operates Famous Footwear and Naturalizer stores across the country, was handed its own unexpected solution to a holiday promotional campaign. the idea? An attempt to beat the Guinness World record for online caroling by encouraging customers to send a personalized singing avatar to family and friends. “It’s fun to come up with ways to engage the audience and interact with the audience beyond your traditional mediums,” Woodruff says. “Initially, though, everyone’s looking around the table wondering if we’re serious. Quirky ideas have to be accompanied with sound business strategies so that clients can see that it works and get more comfortable with it.”
For Woodruff, evolving personally and professionally isn’t just something he preaches to his employees or children. He lives by that philosophy. outside of the office, the motorcycle rider spends lots of time hanging out with his 22-year-old daughter, Lauren, and travels across the country to watch his 18-year-old daughter, Katherine, compete in hunter/jumper horse shows. When he’s not playing golf (badly) or shooting sport- ing clays, Woodruff volunteers to count black bear cubs in the spring and to trap and collar bears in the summer. Recently, he formed the Missouri Black Bear Foundation to educate the public on Missouri’s growing black bear population. And next on Woodruff agenda? Well, who knows? But expect the unexpected.