Sharpening our Spearheads

The Evolution of the Marketing Communications Industry

The Clovis spearhead was created nearly 13,000 years ago. As our predecessors roamed the land, it took them more than 8,000 years to realize that, if they made the spearhead just a little bigger, they could sharpen it after each use, rather than creating an entirely new spear.

Flash-forward to 2015, the world is buzzing with text messages, emails, 3-D printing – you name it. But even looking back 20 or 30 years, there have been incredible developments, especially to the marketing communications industry.

As a 21-year-old just dipping my toes into the industry, I was aware of these advancements, but they did not fully resonate with me until I was given the task of interviewing some of our tenured employees. In addition to giving me a little history lesson on spearheads, they gave me some insight on the incredible changes they’ve seen in the industry since their hire date.


Pam LoweTechnology

Pam Lowe, account supervisor, remembers what she wore on her first day of work on October 22, 1979: black pants and her mother’s gray, velour top. Lowe began her career as an account secretary in a year when presentations were hand-written and ads were sent to typesetters.

“This was a time when you didn’t have computers. We had to re-type paragraphs and actually tape them onto the page,” she said. “In the 70s, it took several days to create an ad. Now, we can get one out in a day — even less — if we need to.”

Along with speeding up processes, new tools allowed an expansion of innovative solutions. Print, TV and radio used to be the three main vehicles of marketing communications. Now, we’re wrapping jet tunnels and placing native ads in the digital space. The ways by which we can reach a target audience are constantly growing and ever changing.


IntegrationMarsha Hall

Marsha Hall, senior counselor, first got an account management position with Lord Sullivan & Yoder (acquired by Fahlgren in 2003) in 1982 and has observed firsthand an industry-wide shift toward the integration of marketing, public relations, advertising and everything in between.

“There’s been a tremendous change in the industry,” she said. “Everything used to be more specialized between advertising and PR. There was a greater distinction.”

Hall isn’t the only one noticing this change. Publications such as Harvard Business Review and Forbes noted the move toward integration as well. And with major change on the rise in the industry, the agency needed to take a closer look at how to be on the forefront of this evolution.

“Fahlgren (now Fahlgren Mortine) was just an ad agency at first. And you might not realize this now, but it took years to reach integration,” said Chief Brent HolbertFinancial Officer Brent Holbert. “The industry has changed so much – that’s the beauty of the business.”

In 1993, Holbert secured his accounting internship with Fahlgren on the golf course, where he served as a caddy for the CFO at the time. Following his graduation, he was hired on as a full-time staff member and eventually became the third CFO in the agency’s history.

Holbert participated in the behind-the-scenes work in shifting the agency to an integrated model. This included moving to relevant client compensation models, figuring out how to go to market with a price that reflected these integrated services and merging industries with similar job titles, but different roles.

Yet, through all of the mergers, acquisitions and technological advancements Holbert has witnessed and taken part in, when asked about the changes since his hire date, his response was, “I had more hair back then.”


ArtTim Shoaf

Employed in 1977, Tim Shoaf, print production manager, started at the agency when it was known as Howard Swink. He first served as an art director, and then smoothly transitioned into print production because, in his words, “I wasn’t that great of an art director.”

Throughout his 38 years with the agency, Shoaf has seen dramatic changes in art. For instance, before he joined the agency, layouts used to be rendered with chalk and the ability to draw was a prerequisite for the job. They then started using magic marker and some people were reluctant to make the transition. A similar situation occurred when the practice eventually transitioned to computers.

The digital age also fueled the move to large format. We now have the ability to print 100 custom boxes or even produce ads to wrap buildings.

“Before, you would have a lot of small, quantity jobs, like printing 200,000 magazine inserts. We don’t really do that anymore,” he said. “Large format has opened up a whole new world for the graphic industry.” 


When thinking back to the spearhead created nearly 13,000 years ago, it is clear to see the increasingly rapid pace of change. The transition from chalk to magic marker to computers took place in the time of one employee’s career, which seems like a such a small fragment of time when compared to the 8,000 years it took to evolve the spearhead. With all of these advancements, it is important to capitalize on the development of the industry and be at the forefront of evolution.

“The thing about change is that it moves faster and faster and it’s amazing to me,” said Shoaf. “This company has evolved and that’s why we’re still here.”

What are some industry changes you’ve seen since you began your career? Have you had to take on new roles with its evolution?


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