Leading his agency into the world of now media

July 26, 2010
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As the owner of 300 or so baseball caps, Bill McKendry changes hats on a regular basis. But one that hasn't changed since 1994: co-founder and chief creative officer of the Hanon-McKendry advertising firm, which has 45 employees.

It's the company that is changing, adapting to the realities of new media — or "now media," as McKendry calls it.

"We're actually going through quite a metamorphosis as an agency, really dictated by where our industry is going and where the market is going," he said.

"As little as three years ago, we would sit with clients and they would hire us based on coming up with an advertising campaign. And we would always say, 'We'll create all this advertising, and by the way, if you've got some money leftover, we can create you a great website.'

"Today, we sit down with clients and the first thing that they want to talk about is digital marketing and websites and social media. Advertising is almost virtually the last thing on their list. It's almost like, if they have budget left over, they might do some advertising. That is a huge shift."

McKendry founded the firm with one-time competitor Jim Hanon and a total of six employees. Although Hanon is no longer part of the company, his name remains — it's a branding thing, McKendry explained. Both were working with other partners but ready for change when they decided to join forces.

Hanon was poised to leave Grand Rapids when he called McKendry for a lunch meeting.

"He just calls me one day out of the blue and says, 'Before I leave town, I need to have lunch with you,'" McKendry recalled.

McKendry's firm had just landed a big account for a doorknob and lock maker, and while he was happy for the business, it didn't resonate, he said. "At the end of my life, I don't want it written on my tombstone that Bill was the best doorknob marketer in the world. As great of an account as it is, that's just not who I am," he said.

"It's at that point that Jim and I both found out that we were men of faith. And it was our faith that caused us to struggle: Does selling things, does commerce really go against our beliefs? Is that really why we were made? Is that why we have the gifts we have?"

Thus was born Hanon-McKendry, incorporating the then-novel idea of marketing for local nonprofits.

Bill McKendry

Company: Hanon-McKendry
Position: Co-founder, chief creative officer
Age: 48
Birthplace: Muskegon
Residence: Cannonsburg
Family: Wife, Lauree; teenage sons, Cody and Dillon.
Community/Business Involvement: American Advertising Federation, Grand Rapids; board member, Compass Film Academy; basketball coach, Northpointe Christian High School.
Biggest Career Break: An internship at BBDO in Denver.

"We were going to take what we knew about selling hamburgers, what we knew about selling cars and credit cards, and we were going to apply that to the nonprofit and faith-based community and see if we couldn't help those organizations grow," McKendry said. "The voice of humanity, the voice of charity we just didn't feel was competing very well with the voice of commerce."

Their first nonprofit client was Mel Trotter Ministries, a religious organization founded in Grand Rapids in 1900 that helps the homeless and needy with food, clothing and other services, as well as residential substance use treatment.

The company developed an advertising campaign for the nonprofit mission and eventually donated its work to a national association that promulgated it, with different names and different logos, to more than 100 rescue missions across the U.S.

Hanon McKendry, which reported $9.75 million in 2008 net billings, continues to work with commercial clients. But to avoid "conflicts of conviction" with nonprofit clients, Hanon McKendry declines work with for-profit entities in the areas of alcohol, tobacco, lotteries and casinos.

As far back as 1988, McKendry said, there was talk of media convergence in the advertising community. With the accelerating pace of change in media, McKendry said the firm is crafting a new approach for its clients. It purchased Web marketing and design firm Mindscape in 2008.

"Three years ago, I would tell you that brands connected with people. … Today, the model is completely flip-flopped. The consumer is in total control. Today, people connect with brands. We've gone from old, traditional media to new media, and we've blown even past new media and we're in the world of now media," he said.

"People aren't sitting around watching television and thinking, 'I hope a new car commercial comes on so I can see what Dodge is offering.' They are not going out and buying magazines and newspapers looking for ads for new products. If … they are interested in something, the first place they go is right on their computer. The computer has really become kind of the clearinghouse of all initial contact."

Not that traditional media is going away, McKendry said; in fact, people are consuming more media than ever. But they are migrating to digital formats — not just the Web, but video, portable readers, mobile devices.

"I understand the principles of marketing. I understand the principles of branding. I understand how to persuade. I understand the process you need to go through to make a great product. It's just a different medium."

That attitude might be expected when you consider that McKendry has been communicating in a different medium his whole life: sign language. The child of two deaf parents, McKendry's brother and son are also deaf. McKendry has hearing loss in one ear and partial hearing in the other.

"My first language was sign language," McKendry said.

A native of Norton Shores, McKendry grew up as the youngest of the four children of John McKendry, a linotype operator for The Muskegon Chronicle, and his wife, Lois, a maintenance worker for the Muskegon Children's Home.

"They were great parents, very loving parents. They were both smart people, but in their day, being deaf was a huge handicap," McKendry said.

As a youngster, McKendry served as interpreter for his parents, even in situations that were beyond his years. "If the smoke alarm goes off, you're the person that has to wake people up. If the phone rings, you're the person that has to answer the phone. When mom and dad want to go to the bank and talk about their mortgage, when mom and dad want to go to the car dealership to negotiate a car, you're right there and you're right in every transaction. You get exposed to a lot of responsibility very early in life.

"I used to think that that was a curse. Today, I think that that's a gift."

One responsibility McKendry wriggled out of? High school. There always seemed to be something more important than showing up at Mona Shores High School. "I was bored to tears in high school," he said.

Asked to repeat 12th grade — "I didn't like it the first time" — McKendry instead obtained a GED and enrolled in Muskegon Community College, harboring a vague notion about someday running his own business. One of the first classes he took was in advertising, because he thought it sounded easy. His professor thought he had a knack for the work and encouraged him. After coming in second in an American Advertising Federation student competition, "The fire was lit."

Enamored of the West, McKendry landed a full-ride scholarship to the University of Denver. He married his high school sweetheart, Lauree, at age 20, while attending college.

McKendry credits DU's insistence that marketing students attend the business school for his ability to relate to the leaders in his customer companies. His mentor was Charles H. Patti, a marketing consultant, author and teacher who is still on the DU faculty.

"You may be a great advertising person, but unless you can talk the language of business and marketing, you're not selling anything," he said. "A lot of my success isn't just the ability to come up with creative ideas; it's my ability to articulate to the business owner or the head of marketing why these ideas will change or improve their business. They don't hire us to create pretty pictures."

He said Patti helped him land an internship in the Denver office of industry giant BBDO. Some 600 students applied "and only one kid got in … because of his recommendation." He almost didn't take the internship.

"I was young and I was married and you didn't get paid," he recalled. But he convinced the advertising giant and the college that the internship was worth a paycheck, and eventually he landed a full-time job there.

"I got to work on clients like American Express, Dodge, Taco Bell," he said.

McKendry and his wife decided to move back to West Michigan to raise their two sons, Cody and Dillon. He took jobs at a couple of smaller Grand Rapids agencies before forming an agency in 1990 with Dan Hyma, who eventually went on to become an architect.

In addition to their agency, Hanon and McKendry founded a nonprofit film and video production company that evolved in 2000 into the Compass Film Academy, which today offers a 15-month program to aspiring filmmakers.

Outside of work, McKendry enjoys water sports and skiing and spending time at the family cottage in Manistee. He also coaches basketball at Northpointe Christian.

McKendry's favorite inspiration is a quote from author Peter Drucker: "Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs."

"What we've made nonprofit organizations realize is that they put together boards, they run capital campaigns to build buildings and to do things, but they don't market and they don't innovate," McKendry said. "They are really spending their money on a lot of things that won't grow their organization.

"Every dollar they get, they want to do good with, and we agree with that. The problem is that the whole nonprofit community is measured by how much of that dollar they put toward the good that they want to do. If you don't put 90, 95 percent toward doing good with every dollar they get, they get criticized.

"But I say that any business that did that would be out of business tomorrow. We say … take 10 percent and put it toward something that is going to grow the organization, grow the donor base, grow the volunteer base. In the end, like the Mel Trotter story, you will actually do more good."

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