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.”