CFR of Tulsa, Oklahoma is Marketing Agency of the Year
McCoy, Thomas A
Chandler-Frates & Reitz (CFR) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which writes $50 million of mostly commercial lines business, has been named Rough Notes Magazine Marketing Agency of the Year for 1994. Rough Notes readers chose CFR from the agencies featured on the magazine’s cover last year.
CFR is a 60-year-old firm which was reborn 11 years ago when Jack Allen, Jr. purchased it and instituted an aggressive program of marketing through associations. He also made CFR a fun place to work, which seemed to Rough Notes readers to be their most significant achievement.
“CFR proves that a balanced combination of hard work and fun can really pay of said one Rough Notes reader. “It sounds like a great place to work,” said another.
So what goes on at this place in Tulsa? Among other things:
–a juke box in the office is played during instant celebrations for events such as new business acquisitions;
–employees are paid bonuses, both in cash and retirement fund deposits, at a special award presentation each month that business goals are met.
–A complete gym is provided for employees featuring state of the art equipment and a stereo system.
–employees receive paid time off to do volunteer work in a disadvantaged school that the agency has “adopted.’
“We believe in having a diverse group of people who concentrate on what they are good at, and have a good time doing it,” says agency chairman Jack Allen.
This corporate culture has produced more than just a fun place to work. Since Allen bought CFR in 1984, revenues have increased 10-fold, from $.5 million to more than $5 million. “We expect to double our premium volume to $100 million in the next three years,” says Allen.
Those kind of numbers might be hard to imagine if they were marketing to one customer at a time. But CFR writes 25% to 30% of their business through associations, enabling them to grow more quickly and efficiently. They offer association programs for physicians, home builders, welding supply distributors, hotel-motel owners, restaurants and various manufacturers.
Allen was a producer with Chandler-Frates & Reitz in 1984 when the firm was operating as a partnership. Allen had just about decided to quit. Instead, he recalls, “The owner came to me and said, ‘why don’t you buy me out?’ So I did.”
Since that time the agency has expanded to 18 producers, all of whom operate as independent contractors. “The producers can concentrate on what they do best, and our administrative people do the same,” says Allen.
Strong administrator serves as president
Agency president and chief operating officer Robert Gardner is one of the latter. He is a former corporate attorney and current Tulsa city councilman, who joined CFR in 1990 as a producer. “I failed miserably as a producer,” Gardner says. Allen and Chuck Taylor who were managing the agency “only when we weren’t selling,” said to Gardner, “Fine. You take our job.” So he did.
Having a non-producer operations person as president has worked well, especially now that their work force has grown to 58 people, including 7 in Oklahoma City. “I believe by working on your weaknesses, all you do is get a little better at being weak,” Allen says. “But when you put people where they are the strongest, they get really good.”
The agency’s 18 independent contractor producers must produce at exceptionally high levels. They are housed in the agency offices. Allen defines this as “sort of a controlled cluster,” which gives producers the administrative support they need and an affiliation with CFR’s corporate culture.
Marketing to companies is a major responsibility
Chuck Taylor is the agency’s chief marketing officer. One of his primary duties is negotiating favorable terms with carriers. Such negotiations are particularly important when writing program business. “A carrier might have what looks like a great deal for us on a program, but how well we do with it depends a lot on the details of how administration is handled,” Taylor says.
When dealing with companies, he adds, “there’s no such thing as a level playing field. There’s always a home court advantage.” Part of that home court advantage comes from having preferred contract status with some companies, but Taylor believes it goes farther than that.
“One company wanted to base our production override on total new business, which was a net figure after deducting for accounts we had lost. We said, ‘We’re business partners with you. We’re not going to move this business without cause.’ So, they agreed to base the override just on new business, rather than the net figure.”
CFR recently made a renewed commitment to automation by adding Sherry Burks, a full-time automation person, to its staff. “We view this as an investment, not a cost,” says Allen. “If you expect a lot out of automation, you’ll get a lot. Automation can replace everything except creativity and relationships.”
Let the good times roll
So how does an agency that likes to have a good time celebrate being named Marketing Agency of the Year? When he first found out, Allen was incredulous. “There were some outstanding agencies featured in Rough Notes last year. I voted for one of the other ones myself,” he said.
Then it was time to party.
Allen and his wife, Linda, along with Robert Gardner and Chuck Taylor journeyed to Indianapolis for the Marketing Agency of the Year presentation. In a little over 24 hours in Indianapolis they:
–switched places with a limousine driver to videotape themselves;
–visited another Marketing Agency of the Month-Wells & Company, Inc.;
–took a spin around the Indianapolis 500 race track;
–visited the RCA Hoosier Dome
–went to see a client;
–and, oh yes, attended the Marketing Agency of the Year dinner held in their honor which was attended by members of the Rough Notes editorial advisory board and Rough Notes executives.
Determined to bring back to their employees (and to Jack and Linda’s seven-year-old son, Grant) the memories of their award dinner and trip, they carried a video camera everywhere they went in Indianapolis. On their first day back in the office in Tulsa, Allen had still pictures produced from the video footage, which he displayed throughout the agency building.
“That’s one reason Jack is so good at what he does,” says Robert Gardner. “He realizes that everyone contributes to the organization’s success, and he wants everyone to share in the good times.”
Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Apr 1995
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