REFLECTIONS ON OWNING A BOUTIQUE AD AGENCY IN PRESCOTT FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS
by Tracey Horn, Owner, Helken & Horn Advertising Agency
Looking back on more than 20 years of change and growth in any business can be extraordinary, but looking at a small advertising agency in Prescott seems fortuitous. A random person stumbled into our office the other day and was quite surprised that Prescott even had an advertising agency. So, what has changed in 22 years in the world of a small-town ad agency? Simply put—technology.
In years past, if you wanted to reach us at the agency, a phone call on a landline or using a pager was about it. Cell phones were not used much locally until 1998, and even then, they were flip phones that worked intermittently up here in the mountains. Today, we communicate more often via email, though weekly meetings are still necessary to see how campaigns are working and how overall business is increasing. Our hope is this will not change. There is nothing like one-on-one contact with clients.
In the mid-90s when Helken & Horn opened its doors, if we wanted to place a print ad, we had to buy special paper for clearer graphics at the right weight for the newspaper to put rubber cement on the back. We actually hand-delivered ads to the newspaper office if we wanted them placed. There was no instantly emailing a pdf file, and an ad could take weeks to produce. Our type font choices were very limited and clip art was really cool (or at least we thought so then). Eventually, we progressed to floppy disks and zip drives to share information. They were expensive and didn’t hold much, so we had a storage closet full of them. That information today would probably fit on one thumb drive.
Being in a small town, where everyone knew everybody, many clients liked to record their own radio spots. Twenty years ago, this was not an easy task for many of them – not being professional voice-over folks. It would take many takes as the reel rolled, and there was no computer program to edit mistakes and long breaths. It could take hours for a client to get a 30-second radio spot just right!
Producing television commercials has evolved too – from videotape to digital. It could take a week to shoot and edit it to perfection. At the time, there were only eight stations to play these television ads locally, whereas today we have about 20 thanks to cable. And, there are many more uses for producing a television spot these days. We didn’t have YouTube or social media to reach the audience, like today.
This brings me to the biggest change in the ad world since we opened our doors – the Internet. Our computers at the agency were used for graphic design and copywriting only. We didn’t have email for at least the first five years, and meetings were all done in person. The Internet has changed all of this. It’s just been the last 10 years that we’ve expanded into Internet marketing. Most business owners are aware that their marketing dollars are crossing over into areas beyond traditional media, so it has added a whole new division of many advertising agencies around the world, not just ours. Websites and online marketing is a new avenue we all must embrace today. It’s instant and it’s everywhere. It’s been very exciting for us to use this new form of marketing for all of our clients. Our first websites were pretty basic and limited in style. One or two photos were used, and video could not be added. Facebook and other forms of social media did not exist, and the new buzz word was making sure you had good ‘Meta Tags.’ Search Engine Optimization (SEO) also did not exist, as there were very few clients that even had a website when we started creating them. It’s just amazing how far we’ve really come since we began 22 years ago, and our industry is not slowing down.
So, has all this technology helped our industry? Yes. It has allowed us to create campaigns faster, be more productive and add more accounts, so it has had its benefits. But being in a smaller market, face-to-face meetings are truly a necessity. We’ve worked hard to create strong relationships throughout the community, and we are proud to have maintained many long-term clients. We love our hometown and look forward to helping more area businesses grow along with us.
Tracey Horn is the owner of Helken & Horn Advertising Agency, Inc. in Prescott, Arizona. Founded in 1995, Helken & Horn is among Northern Arizona’s leading full-service advertising agencies, with a broad base of both business and nonprofit clients throughout the Quad-City region. To learn more, visit online at www.azadagency.com or call 928-776-0234.