The message is the medium.

Author:Lacour, Greg
Position:Wray Ward LLC - Company overview

Among the many items on the walls of Wray Ward LLC's offices near downtown Charlotte--including framed advertisements for clients, a mural to mark the company's 30th anniversary and a giant video board in the lobby--is the face of Don Draper, the lead character in Mad Men, AMC's TV series about a New York advertising agency in the 1960s. It's an odd place for him. The traditional ad agency is a relic, with the term itself becoming obsolete. Wray Ward refers to itself as "an independent creative marketing communications agency." Its repertoire includes print ads, paid web content, digital marketing, in-house videos, tweets, market research and search-engine optimization. The biggest shift occurred two years ago, when President and Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Appleby and staff cleared away the remnants of the ad-agency structure Charles Wray and Bob Ward set up when they started it 37 years ago.

Wray Ward, literally and figuratively, broke down many of the partitions that had separated its creative team, account representatives, market researchers and content marketers. "We realized," Appleby says, "that we all needed to be creative thinkers/'Anyone could take part in brainstorming sessions. She set up common spaces for employees to work, hang out and talk. The company invested in video-production equipment, an unusual move for a small agency accustomed to outsourcing that work. Clients' increased reliance on Internet marketing is driving most of the changes. "That's been part of this whole transformation, to go from a traditional ad agency to a more integrated agency to this digitized model," says Appleby, 51, who joined the company as senior art director in 1993 and was named president in 2001. "I think we saw pretty early on the need to evolve. There are firms that we really fought hard against in the traditional sphere 10 years ago that are no longer in business." Many of the state's largest ad agencies in the 1980s and 1990s no longer exist, including Rockett Burkhead & Winslow Inc. of Raleigh, which closed in 2009, followed three years later by Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy of Charlotte.

Wray Ward, the biggest in Charlotte by employees and billing but tiny compared with international marketers, views its size as an advantage. "When you have 60 to 70 people all under one roof and not fighting each other for dollars, you have a culture that encourages collaboration," Appleby says. John Mader, formerly an account executive for the global...

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