Lewis Buys Ericson Marketing

Mobile, Ala., Agency Absorbs Longtime Nashville Ad Presence
ATLANTA–Seeking to strengthen its presence in the Tennessee market, Lewis Communications last week purchased the advertising division of Ericson Marketing Communications. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Lewis, headquartered in Mobile, Ala., already maintains a Brentwood, Tenn., office near Ericson’s Nashville, Tenn., base.
But the acquisition “will double the size of our [Brentwood] office,” said Larry Norris, Lewis president, who called the acquisition “a new business strategy . . . demonstrat[ing] our commitment to serving the Nashville area.”
Norris said the Tennessee office would boast $15-20 million of the agency’s approximately $70 million in total billings.
Ericson Marketing Communications is one of Nashville’s oldest and best-known advertising agencies. In recent years, however, its fortunes faded after the death of founder and principal Eric Ericson, followed by the closing of the city’s Opryland Amusement Park, its largest client.
The agency’s annual billings, which reached a 1991 high of $44 million, are “approaching $10 million,” according to Norris.
“We had all of the Gaylord business [Opryland’s parent], the theme park, the hotel, and that left a void we weren’t able to fill fast enough,” said Ericson president and chief executive Gary Haynes.
Haynes also pointed to other local clients acquired by national companies, like Nashville Bank being purchased by SunTrust, as additional losses that Ericson ultimately could not absorb.
“Too many consolidations, too many headquarters elsewhere, with Nashville being only a branch office,” he said.
The largest account acquired by Lewis is Purity Dairies, a Nashville milk wholesaler, which Norris said had capitalized billings of $2.5 million. Competitive Media Reporting cites 1998 spending at $269,000. Lewis also obtains Atlantic Premium Brands of Chicago and three Kentucky medical centers.
Lewis’s major Nashville clients include Vanderbilt Medical Center, Edgenet and Nextlink.
Plans call for Ericson creative director Tom Johnston to share those duties with Cindy Sargent of Lewis, though “We haven’t totally worked that out yet,” Norris said.
Haynes plans to rename his agency Ericson Ventures and pursue public relations and marketing research opportunities. He hopes to market the company’s mostly empty headquarters as a business center. K