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After 50 years, Clearwater's FKQ Advertising still a family affair, reaching mass audiences

FKQ Advertising founder Bob Faller and his daughter, FKQ president Lisa Faller, run the area’s second-largest ad agency out of their Clearwater office, with 75 employees.

CHRIS ZUPPA | Times

FKQ Advertising founder Bob Faller and his daughter, FKQ president Lisa Faller, run the area’s second-largest ad agency out of their Clearwater office, with 75 employees.

Lisa Faller was born the day her father, Bob Faller, opened an ad agency in Buffalo, N.Y.

Now, 50 years later, their Clearwater-based FKQ Advertising is the second-largest ad agency in the Tampa Bay area with annual billings of $77 million. Her 78-year-old dad is chairman, and she's wrapping up a decade as president. Some of their top clients are Dollar/Thrifty Rental Cars, West Florida McDonald's, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Melitta, Badcock Furniture, Nash Finch Supermarkets in Minneapolis and Transitions Optical. The Fallers talked about how dramatically the industry is changing, how digitalization doesn't trump creativity, and challenges confronted in a family business.

Let's get this out of the way. Does the TV show Mad Men reflect reality?

Bob: The characters are familiar personalities who do a lot of the crazy stuff we used to do, but today the industry is much more button-down Harvard business school types. There are similarities in that we're still creatives who every day start brainstorming ideas with a blank sheet of paper, but we've more media to choose now. We used to be able to shoot from the hip; now it's much more disciplined. If we launch a campaign and the orders and e-mail aren't flying in that night, something's wrong.

Lisa: We're far more data driven, use sophisticated tools to measure what we do, and we're held accountable as more marketing shifts to digital forms. If it's online, we optimize, adjust and test out what's not working by the next day.

What types of tools?

Lisa: We buy key search words and adjust free generic ones 24/7 to show up on people's searches. We know who's visiting our client's sites, when and whether an offer works right away. We track every aspect of a customer's online journey including offline influences that got them to us. For rental cars we track in real-time site visits, time of day, who they are, how they got there, what they did once on the site, what class car they rented, the average value of it how much it … cost to convert a visit to a transaction. We track all that from a single tweet offer.

Bob: Compare that to my era when we'd spend $80,000 to put a 30-second spot of Leslie Nielsen running through an airport on Monday Night Football. We'd get 250,000 phone calls. But that was the only short-term measure we had.

The TV mass audience is splintering into dozens of cable channels. More people are using DVRs to avoid commercials. And research from Deloitte says a big percentage of people routinely multitask while watching TV — 42 percent are surfing the Internet, 26 percent are texting and 29 percent are talking on the phone. How do you get a message across?

Bob: It's a bigger challenge than ever. Years ago McGraw Hill estimated people were bombarded with 800 commercial messages a day. Today it's 2,300. Some TV advertisers just turn up the volume even though it's against the law. But the real answer is a ''creative'' people want to see aired at the right time.

You say the best marketing plan is a blend of media that has been shifting more online. Does that mean curtains for traditional mass media?

Bob: Not at all. Traditional mass media are still the most powerful means of filling the funnel with customers. Nobody has the reach of print yet. TV — sight and sound — is the most powerful way to brand or change minds.

Lisa: But it depends on the industry, so it's a mix. You use mass-market TV and print to fill the funnel with customers and digital to fine tune when they get there. Some clients put less than 15 percent of their budget in the Internet and social media with the rest split among TV, print and radio. But the travel industry became so dependent on Web booking in the late 1990s that our travel industry partners put two-thirds of their money there.

Westfield Shoppingtown Countryside once sold ads on the food court tables. Last week I saw Tires Plus ads on shopping center parking space striping. Seen any enticing new avenues for ads?

Lisa: We always look for places to put messages where you don't expect them. I just saw ads on coat hangers in a cloakroom. We've put beach sand and people in swimwear in a glassed-in panel truck and driven it around snow-bound cities. We've wrapped ads around golf carts. We have digital signs in airports that react to hand motions made by people walking past.

Bob: We once invested in equipment to project ads on the sides of buildings, but couldn't get enough cities to allow it. We set up a living billboard at a busy Dale Mabry intersection with Florida Orchestra musicians seated up on a platform playing.

Lisa: It had so much stopping power we caused a traffic jam.

What's it like handling a family business with three close relatives on a 75-person payroll? You dealt with your brother-in-law leaving to start a rival agency and taking the ad manager of your biggest client with him. How did you handle being labeled the boss' daughter?

Lisa: I grew up in a house where my father routinely brought clients over to talk business at dinner or by the pool, so I listened a lot. I always wanted to be in the business. I've been proud to be the boss' daughter, but it meant I had to work harder. My father moved the business to Tampa when a client (Goldome Savings) expanded into Florida.

Bob: Lisa played a key role while in her mid 20s in our landing our first big Tampa client, Kash n' Karry Food Stores (now Sweetbay Supermarket, which uses another agency). We patched things up with my son-in-law (Vince Fabrizzi, now a principal in Clearwater direct response firm Jagged Peak). We share clients with them because what they do is a perfect match with what we do.

Where is the advertising business going to be in five years?

Bob: You'll always need agencies because marketing is splitting into more disciplines, and clients don't want to keep the creative type people with the expertise on their payroll.

Lisa: Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. How much more convenient and relevant can we make (smart phones) because people use them everywhere? While we don't know how everything will play out (in wireless media), we plan to invest in experts to help clients navigate. In our business, the only constant is change.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

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Key dates in the history of FKQ Advertising Inc.

1961: Founded in Buffalo, N.Y, as Faller, Klenk & Quinlan.

1982: Branch offices set up in Tampa, Charlotte, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, San Francisco and Toronto.

1987: Bob Faller takes over full ownership from partners and moves agency to Clearwater.

1989: Unable to get city's okay to set up shop in a South Tampa mansion, Faller moves HQ into former homebuilder Arthur Rutenberg's offices in Clearwater.

2001: His daughter, Lisa, is named president.

SOURCE: FKQ Advertising

After 50 years, Clearwater's FKQ Advertising still a family affair, reaching mass audiences 02/19/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 7:50pm]

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