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A Closer Look: Louie Laurent

President, ZLR Ignition


Louie Laurent knew in college that he wanted to start an advertising agency. He got his chance 25 years ago when he started Zimmerman, Laurent & Richardson Inc. (now known as ZLR Ignition) along with Jim Richardson and Kent Zimmerman. ZLR recently did a marketing campaign for Iowa State University called “Enjoy Your Adventure,” which was followed by record enrollment. The firm is also taking on a campaign for the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) trying to develop a state branding strategy.

Did you think when you started that the business would last 25 years?

Well, you always hope, but you never know. It has been, at times, a roller coaster. We have dealt with some of the biggest and smallest companies; some of the smartest people go through here as employees and staff. But 25 years? I’m not sure if I would have thought I would make it that long.

How much has changed in that time?

The funny thing is, things change and they stay the same. We’ve had these kinds of fads du jour. … If I knew what the next buzz was, if anybody did, you get in on the ground floor of that. But, I think that’s the thing that stays the same; the business of communication is in motion and fluid all the time. If I hear “The advertising agency is dead” one more time, I’m going to scream. We had all these people predict newspapers are dead. Well, newspapers aren’t dead. They are changing, evolving. (People say) radio is dead. Well, radio is not quite dead. Nothing pushes anything totally out, generally. It just changes. You still have to have a great idea. … It’s just that the way you deliver it might change a little bit.

What is ZLR’s strategy?

Our strategy is if you understand the audience intimately and how we view the client, the brand, the product and how they view themselves in relation to that – you can craft the communication piece that will be more on target. So simply, we put the audience in front of the communications.

How did that fit into Iowa State’s “Enjoy Your Adventure” campaign?

That campaign strategy was based on what students told us they wanted out of their university experience and what they got at Iowa State. That strategy might not work somewhere else because it might not be true. They basically told us what they wanted, and what Iowa State delivered, and we translated that into an interesting campaign.

What are you looking to do with the IEDA?

I think what we hope to do is develop a unique brand strategy that will help make Iowa more attrative to companies looking to move, expand or start. And the thing you have to understand with this kind of endeavor is you have 50 competitors who all want to do the same thing. Our task is to try to be smarter about it than 49 of those competitors, or at least most of them. That’s a big task, but Iowa has a lot to offer. I think we’re a little shy about it sometimes, but it’s creating that message so it really resonates to whatever audience we’re talking to.

What has been the biggest challenge the company faced?

In 1998, we lost about 65 percent of our revenue in a period of about 60 days, through no fault of our own. Our largest client was sold and went in-house, and our second-largest client got into financial difficulty and stopped spending. So we went from 45 or 50 people to 12, in a couple weeks. That was a traumatic time. That was the biggest challenge. But with every challenge is an opportunity. We kind of reinvented ourselves from there. You don’t have to have a bunch of people to do great work and work with great clients. You just have to have a few really good people and a really effective way of developing the strategies that you put to work.

Are you happy with the decision you made 25 years ago?

Oh yeah. I can’t say I’ve never looked back, but I’ve never been dissatisfied with the decision. You run a business, you have your ups and downs, but I never thought, “I’m sorry I did this,” ever.

What do you do outside work?

I’m a serial hobbyist. I have a Harley that I don’t ride enough. I play golf badly. I play guitar a little bit better than I play golf. I have a drum set that I bang on. I like to travel and just got back from Italy. I like to fish. If it can be done and it’s fun, I like to do it.

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