Associated Integrated Marketing CEO Bill Fialka is out as agency eliminates position

WICHITA — Most people probably didn’t notice when Bill Fialka took over as CEO at Associated Integrated Marketing – and that’s how he liked it – but now he’s gone.

“The position was eliminated,” says Shawn Steward, vice president of client service and public relations.

He won’t say if Fialka was fired.

“I’ll let people draw their own conclusions on that.”

Fialka didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Steward says the agency is restructuring. He and three other vice presidents will manage the company. They include Dave Stewart, vice president and executive creative director, Luke Gutschenritter, vice president and group account director, and Kim Weprin, vice president  of finance and human resources.

“This is not a financial decision,” Steward says. “This was a proactive decision to better allow us to operate more efficiently.”

He says, “We essentially saw a lot of duplication of effort at the management level. We felt that by eliminating the CEO level of the agency … we’re just getting the management closer to the client level and just streamlining across the board.”

Steward says the agency’s board of directors made the decision.

Fialka has been CEO since January 2010. He followed much more high-profile CEOs, including Mike Snyder and Bruce Rowley most recently. Fialka, though, deliberately avoided media and other attention.

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Ambassador Hotel’s restaurant offers a front seat to . . . Wichita’s sidewalks?

WICHITA — There’s a description on the Ambassador Hotel’s website touting the view at its new restaurant.

Siena Tuscan Steakhouse Restaurant offers a signature dining experience in a vibrant atmosphere overlooking the sidewalks of Wichita.”

The sidewalks of Wichita? That’s the view?

Though it sounds kind of funny to describe it that way, Bruce Rowley says it makes perfect sense.

Rowley, whose Rowley Snyder Ablah handles marketing for the hotel, recently dined there.

“Come on,” he says. “The two people I just met walked here. How often does that happen?”

There’s also a lot happening around the hotel in what’s become known as Block 1, where the former Henry’s building is under development and the new Kansas Leadership Center and the Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center are under construction.

So while the sidewalk description may inspire a few chuckles, Rowley says, “I refuse to make fun of it.”

Jeff Ablah leaves Rowley Snyder Ablah

Ablah

WICHITA — As its second anniversary approaches, Rowley Snyder Ablah will celebrate without one of its founding principals.

Jeff Ablah has returned to his father George Ablah’s real estate firm, Ablah Enterprises.

“They asked him if he wanted to come back over there and help them with the huge volume of projects,” Bruce Rowley says.

He says the departure doesn’t mean the relationship — personally or professionally — didn’t work with Ablah.

“You know, it worked great,” Rowley says. “Jeff’s walking out on a high note.”

Ablah is selling his stake in the agency, but he says he’ll still support it.

“I’m going to continue to be an ambassador and a consultant.”

Rowley says the agency “had a stellar first year.”

“The first year was crazy wild,” he says. “The second year, certainly, we’ve had some turnover of staff. … People who couldn’t or didn’t feel like keeping up. … It certainly is a high-turnover business anyway.”

Rowley says the agency, which has 15 employees including the principals, is doing well, though.

“We’ve had actually great growth in our second year. A lot of that has been attributed to Jeff. The partnership, having three (principals), has been phenomenal.”

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You don’t say

“The good is you get to do something different every day. … The bad is you’re not ultimately in charge of what gets picked. … And the ugly is as soon as you’re done with it (it’s) like so yesterday.”

Rowley Snyder Ablah’s Bruce Rowley, who has written a foreword about the good, the bad and the ugly of advertising for the latest edition of Vault Career Guide

Rowley Snyder Ablah buys former Big Dog Motorcycle building it’s occupied for a year

Part of the upgrades to Rowley Snyder Ablah's newly purchased building include glass blocks in an area that used to have a nonworking door.

WICHITA — When the new Rowley Snyder Ablah ad agency signed a lease for former Big Dog Motorcycle space at 145 N. Hydraulic in the spring of 2011, CEO Bruce Rowley said, “You know there’s something happening down here. This is kind of a vibrant little area with lots of cool stuff going on.”

He and his partners like it so much, they’ve now bought the building from Sheldon Coleman Jr.

“We love the size of it,” Rowley says. “We love the flexibility of it.”

Most of the 3,000 square feet is an open area that Rowley says allows for easy reconfiguration of space depending on what a project might need.

“That was a huge part,” he says. “We’ve already moved ourselves probably four or five times in the year we’ve been in it.”

The agency is making a few upgrades at the building, such as getting rid of a nonworking door that Rowley says “made it sort of look like an abandoned building from the street.”

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You don’t say

“I do go drive over and visit it.”

Bruce Rowley of Rowley Snyder Ablah, talking about his new LED billboard on the northeast corner of Kellogg and Rock, which means he now owns an advertising outlet in addition to an ad agency

You don’t say

“I think Coleman has realized how much I spend each year at their truckload sale!”

– An e-mail from Bruce Rowley of Rowley Snyder Ablah on how Coleman’s annual sale was across from his east-side office last year, and now that he’s moved near the former Big Dog Motorcycles space on East Douglas, so has the sale (which starts Thursday)

Rowley Snyder Ablah moves agency office downtown

WICHITA — Despite extensive east-side searches for a new office, Rowley Snyder Ablah has moved downtown to former Big Dog Motorcycle space at 145 N. Hydraulic.

“I’ve got to tell you, we’ve looked at almost everything on the east side,” Bruce Rowley says.

When he opened the agency late last year, it temporarily was located in the Terra-Cotta Tower at 29th North and Rock Road. Rowley liked the amenities on the east side.

“I finally got dragged by my leasing agent down to this building that he wanted to show me,” Rowley says of Classic Real Estate’s Craig Ablah, who is agency partner Jeff Ablah’s cousin.

Rowley likes the openness of the 3,000-square-foot space, but he particularly likes the area around the building.

“You know there’s something happening down here,” he says. “This is kind of a vibrant little area with lots of cool stuff going on.”

He’s impressed with what Chris Ruffin has done with the nearby Sunburst Plaza at 1725 on East Douglas, which is where Tanya’s Soup Kitchen will soon reopen.

Tanya’s and the Donut Whole across the street helped seal the deal.

Rowley says his office has already done taste tests to determine favorite doughnuts.

“I thought that maple bacon was going to be winning, but Neapolitan appears to be quite a hit, and the one with Fruity Pebbles on it.”

Rowley says he knows his 12-person agency isn’t going to have a huge impact on the area, but he hopes his “little, tiny presence” adds to the movement there.

Wesley Medical Center drops Associated, hires Rowley and Ablah for advertising

UPDATED — It was at about this time last year that Wesley Medical Center took its advertising account from Howerton and White, which had it for about five years, to Associated.

Now, Wesley has jumped from Associated to the new Rowley and Ablah agency.

No one with Wesley Medical Center, Wichita’s second-largest hospital, would comment on the switch.

Jeff Ablah and one-time Associated CEO Bruce Rowley (who wasn’t at Associated when it had the Wesley account) formed their new Rowley and Ablah agency early this month, and Ablah says landing Wesley shows “tremendous trust.”

“Obviously, we would wear it as a badge of honor to have a client such as them. There’s no question about that.”

Two Associated representatives also are commenting.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done for Wesley over the last year,” says Shawn Steward, Associated’s director of public relations.

He says Wesley representatives indicated the agency helped the hospital “make great strides.”

He’s not sure why the hospital chose to switch agencies.

“They honestly didn’t give us any direction in the notification.”

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Bruce Rowley and Jeff Ablah to start Rowley and Ablah advertising agency

UPDATED — Bruce is back.

No one in the Wichita advertising community should be surprised that Bruce Rowley couldn’t stay away long.

The former Associated CEO, who left in 2006 for stints at Invista and Pulse Systems, is returning to the industry with Rowley and Ablah, an agency he’s formed with real estate developer and investor Jeff Ablah.

Rowley says the idea is, “Why don’t we start a different kind of ad agency together where it’s a little more business focused and a little less . . . pretty picture oriented.”

It’s the kind of talk that’s reminiscent of comments that quickly gave Rowley a brash reputation when he returned to Wichita in 2002 following an international advertising career with large agencies, including Saatchi & Saatchi and DDB Worldwide.

Ablah hasn’t been in the agency business before, which Rowley thinks may be a good thing.

“He doesn’t really yet know what many people think the rules are, if that makes sense.”

Rowley also says in addition to having a lot of great local and national contacts, Ablah “also just has a fantastic strategic business mind.”

Mike Snyder, who succeeded Rowley as Associated CEO before being forced out early this year, was going to be the third partner in the new agency. In fact, when the company incorporated, it was as Rowley, Snyder and Ablah.

“Mike’s not capable (of) having any involvement in this,” Rowley says. “Not at the moment.”

Snyder couldn’t be reached for comment, but it sounds like a noncompete with Associated prevents him from leading another agency right now.

Associated’s structure is what caused Rowley to leave the agency.

“The key reason why I left Associated . . . (was) it was never going to be a place that I could own,” he says. “It’s been a goal of mine to make sure I didn’t get back into advertising working for somebody else.”

Associated is owned by its employees, and Rowley says part of the agency’s money goes to paying people who haven’t worked there in years.

“I always had a bit of a problem with that.”

He and Ablah have leased space at the Terra-Cotta Tower at 29th North and Rock Road, where they’ll open today.

For now, it’s just the two of them, but by the end of the month Rowley expects there to be six employees. A couple of client announcements likely will come before then.

“I’ve had a great time being on the client side,” Rowley says of his time away from agency life. “Done a lot of really interesting things.”

A change was probably inevitable, though.

“I love doing this work, so it’s really fun to get back to it,” Rowley says.

“I’m not coming into it with some grand vision of wanting to get to a destination.”

Rowley quotes Jay Chiat of the legendary Chiat/Day advertising agency.

“The experiment was let’s just see how big we get before we get bad,” Rowley says, paraphrasing Chiat. “And you know, frankly, he discovered how big that was and sold it and left.”

Rowley’s idea is to just see what happens.

“The point is let’s do really great work. Let’s have fun. Let’s do the work that everybody else in the market wishes they could do and have a great time doing it.”