Wills Closes In Little Rock

Loss Of Late Owner Ends 42-Year Family Business
DALLAS–One month after owner Ed “Watty” Wills’ apparent suicide, the Frank J. Wills Co. in Little Rock, Ark., is closing its doors after 42 years.
The trustee for Wills’ estate, Little Rock attorney Jim Penick, confirmed that the family-owned shop will be shut down following a sell-off of company assets over the next 30 days. The decision eliminates the jobs of 35 employees, although a third have already found new employment, according to agency official Bill Paschall.
Penick said the shop was closed after an evaluation of assets and debt structure, but the main reason was the loss of Wills, whom colleagues said spent as much as 14 hours a day at the advertising agency founded by his late father.
“It was a significant blow to lose the hands-on guy, and based on the overall financial picture, the prudent thing was to wind it down and liquidate everything,” Penick told Adweek.
Penick enlisted accounting officials from Little Rock agency Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods to help assess the shop’s viability. He and CJRW chief operating officer Tom Steves denied the large agency had an interest in purchasing Frank J. Wills Co., which claimed billings of $20-25 million in 1997.
Little Rock police said Wills apparently shot himself July 6 at his residence. Authorities are still awaiting a final autopsy ruling.
Three of the shop’s larger Little Rock-based clients–Dillard’s department stores, Harvest Foods supermarkets and Dixie Restaurants–had remained on board since Wills’ death. While Dixie has since returned to former agency The Marchese Group in Little Rock, officials with Dillard’s and Harvest could not be reached for comment on the future of their accounts.
Paschall said that although the agency is closing, a public affairs subsidiary that he, Wills and fellow partner Randy Thompson operated within the shop will continue with a handful of staffers.