Archive for Saturday, April 22, 2006

Advertising agency casts net for national clients

April 22, 2006


Cindy Maude, Callahan Creek's president and CEO, leads a staff of 50 and counting at the advertising agency at 805 N.H. The company recently opened a West Coast office to handle an account for Toyota Motor Sales.

Cindy Maude, Callahan Creek's president and CEO, leads a staff of 50 and counting at the advertising agency at 805 N.H. The company recently opened a West Coast office to handle an account for Toyota Motor Sales.

Callahan Creek doesn't have a New York, Los Angeles or Chicago address, but that hasn't stopped the Lawrence-based, full-service advertising and marketing firm from making a big name for itself.

The agency, located at 805 N.H., touts an impressive list of clients, among them: Hill's Pet Nutrition, Sprint Nextel, Payless ShoeSource, Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, and the Kansas Department of Commerce.

And Callahan Creek, with a staff of about 50, is getting bigger all the time.

Last November, the agency announced that it had purchased CHRW Advertising, of Kansas City, Mo. (Terms were not disclosed.) The purchase gave Callahan Creek five new employees and a list of clients that includes Boulevard Brewing Co., Indigo Wild, American Century Investments, The Roasterie and LaserCycle.

The deal also gives Callahan Creek access to office space alongside Emfluence, an interactive services company in downtown Kansas City that remains owned by CHRW's partners.

Then, last December, Callahan Creek announced that it is the new full-service advertising and marketing agency for CommunityAmerica Credit Union. It will handle print, television and radio advertising for the Lenexa-based credit union, plus provide printed materials for use inside CommunityAmerica locations and for direct-mail marketing.

But perhaps the biggest news emerged from Callahan Creek in January, when it disclosed that it has opened a West Coast office so that it can keep up with its newest client: Toyota Motor Sales.

Callahan Creek opened the office at the Toyota Motor Sales national headquarters in Torrance, Calif., where the firm will have eight employees, including three who already have relocated to the site from Lawrence.

The firm will handle "internal graphics" for Toyota. Employees in Torrance will handle daily management of the account, while the bulk of creative work will be handled out of the Lawrence office.

Callahan Creek

Callahan Creek is a Lawrence-based, full-service advertising and marketing firm serving regional and national accounts such as Hill's Pet Nutrition, Sprint Nextel, Payless ShoeSource, Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, and the Kansas Department of Commerce.

For more information about the firm, visit

What's behind all the firm's recent growth and latest successes?

"I will say that certainly the economy has something to do with it, but I also think we have focused this last couple of years on really putting in services and capabilities that we know are important to people," said Cindy Maude, Callahan Creek's president and CEO.

"We're big believers that good work leads to more good work, from our existing clients, as well as clients who we go out and talk to. It's just kind of putting your nose to the grindstone, having a plan and working toward it."

Maude is the sole owner of Callahan Creek, buying the firm in 1996. She moved the firm from Topeka to Lawrence in 1999.

The recent news that Callahan Creek has added Toyota - the world's second-largest automaker - to its client list provides more confirmation that the firm is building a national reputation.

Callahan Creek competed against 16 other advertising agencies across the United States in order to win the Toyota account, a monthslong process.

"I don't even know who all the other agencies were. But it's pretty amazing," Maude said.

To accommodate the firm's likely continued growth, Callahan Creek plans to take over the space in its building formerly occupied by Dan Sabatini Architects. Sabatini's office is moving across the street to the second floor of Hobbs Taylor Lofts, at the northeast corner of Eighth and New Hampshire streets.

"We have subleased that space (in the building where Callahan Creek is located) to Dan the last six years, so we'll just take it over, and we won't sublease it again. We also have some additional space in this building that we sublease to two small companies, so if we need that space, we have it," Maude said.

"So we actually have quite a bit of room still left in this building. ... And we'll probably be up to 50 people (on staff)."

'ZIP code doesn't matter'

An advertising and marketing agency doesn't need to be located in a big city in order to be a success and create a great reputation for itself, according to those who work at Callahan Creek.

"Your ZIP code is not an indication of your talent level, but it is an indication of what you might charge for that. And we have been able to offer outstanding value to our clients in terms of our product," said Tom Tholen, vice president of strategy and planning.

At the same time, Callahan Creek hasn't adopted a big-shot attitude that might alienate clients.

"We're not full of ourselves. We don't have a mentality that makes us believe that we're better than our clients. We like to go in and partner up (with them). The best relationships you can have in this business are when you can feel like an extension of your client, rather than just a vendor," Tholen said.

Being located in Lawrence has its advantages for the firm.

Staffers enjoy working in the city's vibrant downtown, Maude said, which supports the kind of creative atmosphere Callahan Creek seeks to cultivate in its office.

"This is a high-energy, creative city, and we knew that when we moved over here from Topeka. The kind of company we have needs to be in this kind of environment," she said.

Lawrence is a convenient location, because it places the firm right in between clients that it services in Topeka and the Kansas City area. It also gives the firm more flexibility as far as attracting employees. Lawrence is an easy commute for staffers driving in from either direction.

"We've had a high degree of interest in Callahan Creek, and the miles between Kansas City and Lawrence haven't been an issue. People are getting more and more excited about being around a good group of employees, in a great environment, working for clients that anybody anywhere would die to have," Tholen said.

That's why Callahan Creek doesn't have to take a back seat to prestigious advertising agencies in major cities around the country.

"When we won this new business (from Toyota), I was obviously very pleased with it. But what I really wanted to emphasize with our people was, 'Don't be surprised; we're good at this.' It doesn't matter if we're in Lawrence, Kansas. It only matters that we're talented, and that we're able to demonstrate that to a client," Tholen said.

Renewed energy

One reason for Callahan Creek's success is its corporate culture, say those who work there.

"It's really important to have honest relationships with our clients, and everything we do is based on that. We also like and respect each other, and we believe that great ideas can come from anybody in this building, not just an art director or a writer," Maude said.

"We're just down-to-earth, hardworking, caring people who happen to like each other and are passionate about this business."

John Kuefler, executive vice president for client services, co-founded the agency in 1982. He, too, finds the atmosphere at Callahan Creek remarkable.

"In a way, the most surprising thing is that a lot of fundamentals haven't changed. We're still a very values-based company, sort of a large family in terms of our corporate culture," he said.

"We've always been an innovative agency, doing anything that it takes to help build our clients' businesses. We've always been sort of entrepreneurial."

Kuefler is enthusiastic about the firm's recent growth and the addition of clients.

"It's very exciting. There isn't really anything to feel but positive. The energy here is fantastic," he said.

"Everybody's feeling it, both those of us who've been here many years and the new people."

Jim Baker is a freelance writer in Lawrence.


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