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Creating a culture for the future

Flynn Wright expands leadership team as part of long-term growth and succession plan


Messaging is critical to advertising and marketing, and at Flynn Wright, there’s a message of creating a culture where “anything is possible,” which leaders of the agency say has been key to the company’s success over the past year. 

If you speak to the folks at Flynn Wright, that includes strong succession planning and finding the next generation of leaders, which they say was a necessary step as their business continued to grow, rather than retreat, during the pandemic.

“Creating a culture where it is not only acceptable, but it is a core value, to try and find and bring along people who will do it better than you ever did,” said Flynn Wright Partner and President Paul Schlueter. 

While many companies struggled as the world around them shut down during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Flynn Wright stayed focused on growth and getting better performance for their clients, partner and CEO Aaron Kennedy said.

“This commitment to doing things a certain way … it revolves around ideas like excellence, accountability and creativity, and that all funnels to performance,” he said. “The wiring here, the way we’re built, is very focused on performing for clients.”

He said by approaching clients’ roster of business categories, they recognized there were opportunities for growth.

“We recognized there was a unique advertising opportunity where engagement was going to be really high, cost was going to be really low, and working with clients we got to a situation where a number of clients leaned into it, and we have a long list of clients that actually had exceptional years.”

That growth led Flynn Wright to hire 13 people during the pandemic, and elevate three team members to the position of associate partner.

Kennedy said the elevation of Kyle Prendergast, Sarah DeKock and Bridget Proctor lays the groundwork for Flynn Wright to continue its success long into the future.

“At the end of the day, most of this move has to do with the fact we’re committed to the success of Flynn Wright for years to come,” Kennedy said. “And that starts with succession planning. You identify three young people like this who are making huge contributions and you bring them in as part of the ownership team. They’re going to be equipped to do amazing things in the years ahead.”

Kennedy said the move has actually been in the works for a couple of years.

“But it really came into fruition in the last year, the desire and probably even the need to expand the leadership circle so it’s a little less centralized around Paul and me,” he said.

Kennedy said Prendergast, Proctor and DeKock have complementary skills that will help move the agency forward.

“It really became something we needed to do as well as wanted to do because we expect to grow a lot more in the years ahead,” he said. “Things are lining up that suggest we have some pretty good opportunities up ahead, and we’re going to need broader shoulders in terms of the people that run the agency.”

Schlueter said the addition of the associate partners helps the agency keep the expertise close to the work.

“It’s not going to change what we do that much, it just is allowing us to keep that experience close to the work and expand the responsibility,” he said.

Prendergast, who has been with Flynn Wright since 2013, oversees the company’s direct marketing operation. DeKock has been with the company since 2004 and leads the creative marketing team, and Proctor heads the account service group.

We asked each of them to answer a few questions to get to know them better.

What is your biggest goal for yourself and the company in your new role?

DeKock: First is to continue evolving for the benefit of our clients. When I started here almost 17 years ago, the advertising industry was much different than it is now. Back then, planning and implementing a comprehensive, traditional marketing campaign was relatively simple. The fragmentation of the media environment has dramatically changed things, and it will continue to do so. Our agency has always stayed ahead of the curve and been innovative for our client partners by using creative customized, targeted marketing approaches. We know it will be crucial to continue to raise the bar and push the envelope.  

Proctor: Our goals are to continue elevating our creative product, expanding our capabilities and cultivating the next generation of talent. We work in an ever-changing industry; we are always thinking ahead and challenging ourselves.

Prendergast: I personally would like to see Flynn Wright continue to grow into one of the largest Midwest agencies over the next five years. We are already one of the largest agencies in Iowa and continue to see solid year-over-year growth. To maintain this growth trajectory, it is important to have an organizational structure to effectively support the growth, while having the right financial system in place to manage it. As we grow, opportunity costs become a very real challenge, and understanding where and when to invest our agency resources will be an important factor, especially as we continue to innovate. 

What’s the secret to Flynn Wright’s success over the past year?

DeKock: We are businesspeople first, so as we develop campaigns and programs for clients, we understand they must generate results. It’s easy to become enamored with the industry we work in; for example, we help shape pop culture. But while the creative segment of our business is extremely important in capturing attention and moving an audience to act, we maintain a high level of professionalism and focus on the end result. 

Proctor: The truth is, when the rest of the world slowed down during the pandemic, we didn’t. We never stopped working. We never let circumstances get the best of us. We did what we do best – we got creative on all fronts. We created new opportunities. We generated new business. We showed up for our clients in every way. And just as important, we showed up for each other. That’s the thing about Flynn Wright: Everyone is accountable to each other and our clients, and we are successful because everyone is always working hard to take us to that next level.

Prendergast: We never get too comfortable. We don’t lose sight that we are continuing to earn our clients’ business every single day. They expect us to deliver a return on investment with each marketing and advertising dollar spent – while bringing them high-performing media mixes and leveraging the latest targeting technologies – all to help grow their business.

What is your biggest challenge moving forward?

DeKock: As we continue to grow at a strong pace, hiring the right people with the right experience is critical. In growing and hiring, the challenge always lies in identifying client/agency needs and then finding the right individuals to lead the way. 

Proctor: Growing and shaping this agency for the future is a huge responsibility – as partners, we have a responsibility to keep raising the bar. I try to learn something new every day. That could be something about our business or something that affects or influences our clients. I’m always trying to learn more about myself as a leader and how I can be better.  

Prendergast: Flynn Wright is growing at a very fast pace, which presents both opportunities and challenges. In my new role of executive vice president, I’ll be focused on the overall financial health of the agency from both top-line and bottom-line revenue perspectives, helping to ensure we stay focused on delivering excellence, remain accountable, and drive performance in everything we do. 

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