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Buyer has big plans for ad firm

A Lakeland advertising executive wants to expand Paradigm Communications into a statewide network of ad agencies.

A Lakeland advertising executive is buying Paradigm Communications, one of Tampa's largest advertising agencies, with aspirations of making it the hub of a statewide network of creative shops.

Chris Harwell, owner of Harwell Advertising and Public Relations in Lakeland, and Doug Hardee, Paradigm's creative director, are teaming up to purchase the agency that is best known for in-your-face ads and sports marketing pitches for the Devil Rays and Lightning.

Paradigm's current owners, Dan Furlong and Vince Fabrizzi, are holding on to many of Paradigm's offshoot operations, including its telemarketing firm Teledigm, software company Ovation and direct-mail fulfillment house Compass.

Terms were not disclosed for the deal, which is expected to be announced today.

A Tampa native, Harwell said he became interested in advertising after becoming good friends in high school with Louis Benito Jr., son of a well-known Tampa advertising chief and community leader who died in 1993. Harwell worked for the Lakeland Ledger's advertising department and as operations manager for two radio stations before founding his own firm in 1984.

"I always wanted to come back to Tampa," he said.

Harwell said he has created a holding company, Lord & Lasker Inc., to build a network of agencies along the I-4 corridor. Beyond Paradigm, he is in talks with another Tampa agency and agencies in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Formed in 1989, Paradigm made its mark in the mid-1990s by being irreverent and even outrageous. It put skinheads with swastikas on billboards for a radio station and introduced the Lightning by telling fans they would "Kick Ice."

The agency's current clients include Huntington Bank, Swiss Air, Cunard, the city of St. Petersburg and Outback Steakhouse.

Paradigm has about $48-million in capitalized gross billings compared with $18-million for Harwell. Harwell did not disclose his client roster.

Florida Trend magazine ranked Paradigm as the largest ad agency in the state last year with 123 employees. In terms of billings, Paradigm ranks second among Tampa ad agencies toWestWayne.

Harwell, 42, will become chairman and chief executive of the agency. Hardee, 48, who joined Paradigm last year, will be president and creative director.