Shake It Up

From its industrial-chic offices, Richter7 has a front-row seat to some Winter Olympics drama. Not the figure- and speed-skating events taking place in the nearby Ice Center, but the ongoing protests in Pioneer Park, across the street from the agency’s downtown office.

The park is one of seven barricaded zones allocated for dissenters, as well as a drop-off spot for shuttle buses. Protesters ranging from leftist anti-corporate activists to a group of conservative Utah residents angry that athletes are being offered free condoms take the stage and sometimes fill the surrounding streets as well. Agency staffers are happy to watch the orderly but sometimes rowdy show.

They can hardly recognize their low-key city. Giant Olympic banners cover high-rise office buildings, Budweiser’s red billboards punctuate every highway (the state’s alcohol-advertising ban was lifted a few months ago) and thousands of rifle-touting soldiers patrol the streets. To avoid parking and traffic woes, city leaders are pressuring downtown workers to adopt a 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. work schedule so they can leave before the Olympic crowds arrive.

“I’m afraid 6 in the morning doesn’t really work for some of our creatives,” deadpans Dave Newbold, Richter7’s president and creative director. “And some of our clients would rather meet after 2.” What to do? “We’re taking it day by day,” he says.

The agency, which has billings of about $46 million, is savoring its own small slice of Olympic glory. Its biggest client, Zions Bank—which was founded by Mormon leader Brig ham Young—is hosting a historical exhibit at its headquarters near the Mormon Temple, and the agency is promoting the exhibit and other special events. Jeweler O.C. Tanner, another client, crafted the gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals and tapped Richter7 to handle public relations and trade ads touting that involvement.

Overall, the Games are a double-edged sword to natives of the Beehive State. “The event is pretty controversial among locals,” says agency CEO and diehard skier Scott Rockwood. “We’re afraid the world will see how great the skiing is here and the resorts will get more crowded and expensive. At the same time, there is a sense of community pride and hope that the media attention will clear up misconceptions.”

The world is learning that Salt Lake City, worldwide center for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is not a polygamy-condoning backwater. Sure, buying a martini can be difficult under the state’s convoluted drinking laws (though authorities are by and large looking the other way this month). But this community, with a population of 182,000, is remarkably modern, with extraordinary history and stunning scenery.

Agency offices are not much different from the typical urban creative shop. Located in a former warehouse district, the renovated space features exposed ducts, brushed-steel div iders and modern art. No foosball games, but no corporate cubicle zones either.

The shop is not altogether typical, though. Mormon staffers—who make up at least half of the agency’s employees—don’t hang out together over beer, cocktails or coffee, since the church forbids alcohol and caffeine. Church members don’t have much time for after-hours socializing anyway. With Mormon life’s heavy focus on family, members generally marry young and have children right away. In addition, each adult is encouraged to spend 20 hours a week volunteering for church work. As a result, the agency is usually empty by 6 p.m.

Business and religion are very intertwined in Salt Lake, and Richter7 is no exception. Indep en dently owned, the 47-member shop was founded in 1971 as FJCandN by Bob Fotheringham, a conservative businessman and longtime Mormon bishop. His authority in the church and respect in the community helped the shop secure business, but did not engender a reputation for creativity. To compete on the creative front, Fotheringham recruited New bold, 49, who was working for the Mormon Church’s ad agency, Bonneville Communications.

Fotheringham and his partners later bought creative boutique Williams & Rockwood, co-owned by Rock wood, another devout Mormon. The shop was merged with FJCandN, giving the agency key client Zions Bank, which was owned for almost a century by the Mormon Church and maintains very close ties to it. Rockwood, 50, a bear of a man, still watches over the estimated $15-20 million Zions account and is close to its CEO, Scott Anderson, who is related to the family that bought the bank from the church in the 1960s.

In November 2000, Fotheringham and two of his executives started a consultancy called Brand Force and sold the ad agency to FJCandN’s New bold, Rockwood, evp of client services Peggy Lander and evp of public relations Tim Brown. Brand Force moved upstairs from the agency, and the two share clients. The four agency partners changed the shop’s name, playing off Salt Lake’s history of earthquakes. A 7 on the Richter scale signifies a major quake—and signals the shop’s intent to “disrupt” old assumptions and ideas in favor of a fresher approach.

Rockwood is straightforward and careful in conversation, but his quirky humor is evident in his ads. A spot for Cache Valley Cheese shows earnest, middle-aged cheese tasters going through unusual measures to stay sharp, such as exercising their mouths and tongues to tune their taste buds. A Zions Bank execution shows a real-life banker in white shirt and tie gamely trying to rock-climb with the owners of an outdoors store that he counsels.

The Zions Bank account is, to some extent, the agency’s calling card. “Zions Bank is worth much more than the billings it brings,” says a Salt Lake marketing consultant. “It can help bring in any other Mormon account. To companies run by LDS executives, having the Zions account gives an agency something like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

Another top Richter7 account is the Poly nesian Cultural Center in Hawaii, owned by the Mormon Church. The center offers cultural programs to tourists, and its income supports the Hawaiian campus of Brigham Young Uni ver sity, owned by the LDS Church. Other notable accounts are the Park City Chamber of Commerce and the Jackson Hole ski resort.

Billings have changed little in the last few years. In the Salt Lake market, Richter7 shares second-place status with the local office of Publicis. Euro RSCG DSW Partners, at almost three times Richter7’s size, takes the No. 1 spot.

Newbold sidesteps the benefits of the Mormon Church connections. He says he doesn’t want the shop to get work as a result of those ties. “I want it to be from the caliber of our work,” he says.

Rockwood has evolved into the agency’s organizer, while Newbold, easygoing and humble, serves as its soul. “My goal is to do national-caliber work in an out-of-the-way place,” says New bold. “I never plan to move to either coast. I’m not looking to get rich.”

Instead, he says he seeks to create a sense of balance for himself and fellow staff members. Every month or so he e-mails philosophical musings he calls “e-lluminations” to agency employees, sometimes quoting Mormon leaders. In one he wrote: “This job is my No. 3 priority, which is why I believe I will be successful at it. That doesn’t mean I won’t work hard and hustle while I’m at the office. But it means I’ll simply focus on family and God first. … I believe nice guys can finish first.”

Newbold and Rockwood, both fathers of five, attended college in Utah and have spent their entire professional lives in the Salt Lake area. Their other partners bring in different perspectives. Client handler Lander, 50, is the only non-Mormon partner and was once a self-described Southern California beach bum. Brown, 44, grew up in an Italian Catholic family in Iowa and worked in Los Angeles before joining the shop.

Despite the lifestyle differences between Richter7 and most other ad agencies, the Utah shop has won national awards (including a Clio, a One Show Pencil and numerous Addys) with work that is both irreverent and clever. That, too, is part of the Mormon experience. “People think we Mormons are weird, and we think we are weird, too,” says Rockwood. “The majority of people in the Mormon community don’t take themselves so seriously—we can make fun of ourselves. This may be a conservative area, but people here are into recreation and fun. We like to have a good time.”

That sentiment is credited with the success of the Zions Bank work. “We look to our agency to bring out the lighter, human side of banking,” says marketing chief Marilyn Taylor. “They know how to put feeling into our message, and people really respond to that.”

To unveil its new name and offices, last fall the agency’s partners hosted a late-afternoon reception. Casual young staffers, media reps and well-dressed clients strolled around rooms designed with indirect lighting, exposed brick and earthy colors. Conversation was relaxed, assisted by offerings from the bar set up in a glass-walled conference room. A closer look revealed that the beverage of choice was a milk shake. Especially the chocolate offering with sprinkles on top. There was, of course, no wine or espresso. Anyway, noted Newbold, what better choice to go with Richter’s earthquake theme?