Some We’ve Worked With
• AAA Baseball
• Al-jon/Vezzani Corp.,
• Bandag Manufacturing
• Brand Central Station
• Burlington (IA) Chamber
     of Commerce,
• Chiropractic Centennial
• Dahl Ford
• Deere & Co.
• Dubuque (IA)
• First Midwest Banks
• Galesburg (IL) Chamber
     of Commerce
• Galesburg Economic  
     Development Corp.
• Illinois Association of
     Public Health
• Iowa Development
• Kartridg Pak
• Life University
• MidCoast
• Mod-Form Manufacturing
• MPA Media
• National Seal Co.
• Palmer Chiropractic
     University System
• Quad-City Thunder
• Quad-City Times
• Quad-Cities Vision
     for the Future
• Sears Manufacturing
• The Marketing Advantage
• The Residential Specialist
• Today’s Chiropractic
• WDG Communications
• White Dog Studios




NOTE: Here’s a case where a company came looking for help with a public relations problem. The problem for this popular Quad-City advertising agency was that the partners got divorced. Many of their clients were nervous that the agency would fall apart. I was business editor of a newspaper at the time, and thought this could make for fascinating reading. It’s a story about how two people—and their mates—were determined to put hurt and anger aside to save a business. Again, people are more interesting than the facts of the profit and loss column.

Prestley & Prestley—no longer ‘mom and pop’

By Randy Heuston
Times Business Editor

Prestley & Prestley Advertising looks back on 1981 as the year it stopped being a “mom and pop” operation—in more ways than one.

That was when the mom and pop in question, Irene and Ken Prestley, got a divorce.

Divorces are often calamitous to small business, but the couple ultimately became convinced they had too much of themselves invested in Prestley & Prestley for either to give it up willingly.

“The agency was a culmination of our life’s work,” Irene says. “We couldn’t stand to see all our efforts and dreams torn to shreds.”

Defying their lawyers’ advice, the two resolved to go their separate ways personally but try to preserve the union professionally.

At the same time, they saw a need to do less of the hands-on work themselves. They set out to expand, bringing in more professional people to upgrade the quality and quantity of the firm’s advertising and public relations services.

The staff grew from three employees then to 13 now. The company recently took over another section of the building at 1218 E. 37th St., Davenport, doubling the floor space. Most significantly, Prestley says, “we became more professional.”

The proof of the pudding: Prestley says annual capitalized billings have quadrupled since 1982, up to $2.4 million in 1985. The 13-year-old agency believes it ranks number three in the Quad-Cities, based on number of employees and amount of billings. Advertising Communications Inc. (ACI) and WarrenAnderson are the two big guys on the block.

“We’ve broken out of the mom and pop mold,” Prestley says with a chuckle.

How the company has survived and even grown makes for an intriguing look at human relations and the advertising business in particular.

Personalities—not technology or even technical skills—are the key to the advertising game. The products are ideas and creative energy; the results of the services, which often deal with nebulous matters like nurturing an “image,” are difficult to gauge.

“People in advertising view themselves as different,” Prestley acknowledges. “It’s similar to Show Business; we have our own star system…. People in the business are ego-centric—you have to be. You want to see what you have created actually happen.”

Put those big or fragile egos up against bottom-line business types suspicious of anything hard to quantify, and you can have enough emotional volatility for a psychiatrist’s paradise.

“People don’t understand that ideas are worth money,” says Prestley, “and that tends to make (the producer of the ideas) insecure.”

Businesses may trade advertising agencies over a personality conflict, the strength of one sales presentation or embarrassment about a single campaign that went haywire. Losing a major account can be disastrous to an agency’s finances.

Given that climate, it’s hardly surprising that the Prestley divorce triggered shock waves among employees and clients that threatened to wash the agency right into bankruptcy court.

“We lost account after account at that time,” Prestley recalls. “Suppliers cancelled our lines of credit, requiring cash in advance for the work we were able to keep. It was difficult getting new accounts; no one wants to sign with an agency that’s perceived to be unstable.”

Prestley & Prestley sales people faced a new task—rumor control—which, the agency admits, is still a challenge today.

What they didn’t have to apologize for was Ken Prestley’s artistic and creative talent. He generally is considered among the very top graphics professionals in the Quad-Cities; one of his competitors calls him “unquestionably a brilliant artist.”

He’s also considered a highly creative promoter. In fact, in assessing himself Prestley mentions his marketing intuition before his art. “I think I can zero in on what’s going on to work from a strategy standpoint,” he says.

It was Prestley who created the wacky flood of mysterious pink stuff appearing around the Quad-Cities a year or so ago. The teasers set things up for the slogan, “Landscaping is more than pink flamingos,” promoting Suburban Landscape Associates. That firm has gone on to qualify for entry on INC. magazine’s “INC 500” list of companies.

The First National Bank of the Quad-Cities’ corporate identity and the “Mr. Friendly” costumed character were Prestley’s creations. As was the “Rick and Brenda” campaign for Dancer’s lounge at Steeple Gate Inn, a campaign that reaped honors in several categories in the Quad-Cities Advertising Federation’s “Quaddy” awards.

But success of an advertising agency takes more than creativity. It’s one thing to think up a dynamite promotion and something else to meet the payroll. The administrative tasks fall to Irene. She oversees billing, bookkeeping and personnel demands, as well as supervising the public relations division.

Prestley says about his ex-wife: “She and her staff make sure the creative staff doesn’t give away the store, as can happen so often in agencies with our creative strength.”

Ken and Irene say the business relationship clicks because their personalities are well suited for their respective roles. “I like to deal with people,” Irene says, “and Ken likes ideas.”

And to hear her tell it, the relationship has something else going for it: “We know each other…. We trust each other.”

The managerial responsibility became more complex as the agency grew, but Prestley & Prestley got a little help from an unexpected quarter when Irene remarried. Her husband, Bill Edmund, who holds a personnel job with another company, shared some of his expertise. “With Bill’s help we were able to systematize some procedures,” Irene Edmund says.

“As far as I’m concerned,” says her husband, “Irene’s (role with the agency) is like any other job.”

Ken, too, has remarried. Marcia Prestley agrees with Edmund that their mates’ former personal relationship has posed no significant problems. “I think I’m very business-oriented,” Marcia says, “and I can set personal matters aside from business and view things matter-of-factly.”

Ken: “Perhaps we both married extremely perceptive people, but misunderstandings, while they do happen, are less frequent than one might expect.”

So, though the marriage stopped working, the business partnership hasn’t, and with “several new accounts,” the principals of Prestley & Prestley say they are prospering and optimistic. They’re projecting increased capitalized billings for 1986, up to $3.5-$4 million.

In other words, no mom and pop operation.

“Advertising is a visionary kind of business,” Ken Prestley says. “You see possibilities where others don’t.”

He and Irene did, for sure.


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