Advertising icon Wayne Cranford dies at 87

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,761 views 

Wayne Cranford.

Advertising legend Wayne Cranford has died at the age of 87, Talk Business & Politics has confirmed. The Little Rock businessman built a nationally-renowned advertising agency in the capital city and was a 2012 inductee of the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

Cranford/Johnson, as it was long known before evolving into today’s CJRW, was a powerhouse ad agency started with his friend and colleague Jim Johnson in the 1960’s. It later added public relations to its offerings with the hiring of a former intern named Ron Robinson. Cranford Johnson Robinson later merged with the Woods Brothers Agency, leading to the moniker Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, or CJRW.

“Almost 60 years ago, Wayne Cranford co-founded what is now CJRW on the belief that excellence in advertising was not exclusive to Madison Avenue. He went on to prove such every day. He was truly a pioneer in our industry and his presence will be greatly missed,” said Darin Gray, CJRW President and CEO.

In a tribute to Cranford upon his induction in the state’s business hall of fame, Ron Robinson, who died in 2018, told Talk Business & Politics:

“There were advertising agencies and there was Cranford/Johnson,” Robinson said. “There was great collegiality. Wayne was the account executive and the real businessman of the operation. Jim Johnson was the creative heart and soul of the agency. And they were both very inspired people and inspirational people.”

“They brought a new spirit to advertising in Little Rock because they wanted to create an agency that could be found in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles or Atlanta. You didn’t have to be on Madison Avenue,” he said.

The original Mad Men (circa early 1960’s). Wayne Cranford (left).

In the 1960’s, there were as many as 50 advertising and marketing agencies in the Little Rock phone book. Typically, an agency might lose as much as 20 percent of its business from year to year from “stolen accounts” or completed work.

Slowing that churn and keeping leads in the pipeline was important for an agency’s long-term success, and Robinson said Cranford understood this dynamic early on.

“One of the secrets to Wayne Cranford’s leadership in the beginning was in trying to get to know people and to try to do project work for people to show that you could work together and what it would be like to work together before getting the major account,” he said.

He recalls Cranford/Johnson’s efforts in the late 1960’s to land the mighty Arkansas Power & Light (now Entergy Arkansas) account, then one of the most lucrative clients in the state. Cranford scored an opportunity to brand and develop a public awareness campaign for AP&L’s first nuclear-fueled plant in Russellville.

The agency coined the name, “Arkansas Nuclear One,” developing a logo and public education effort about nuclear power and the economic benefits of the new power plant. It was from that foundation that Cranford/Johnson eventually won the AP&L account.

Another unconventional approach Cranford took with the agency was in business development. In the ’60’s, pro football players didn’t train and play year-round as they do now. They also didn’t get paid blockbuster salaries like today’s athletes.

“One of the things that Wayne Cranford smartly did in the beginning was he hired Lance Alworth, the all-American and all-pro football player that he had gotten to know after graduation from the University of Arkansas,” Robinson said.

In the off-season, Alworth, a standout wide receiver for the San Diego Chargers, would call on prospects for the agency. As a household name and national sports star, he helped open a lot of doors to potential business.

“New business was attracted by the fact that people began talking about the work the agency was doing. This was shaking up the advertising agency then,” Robinson said.

The UA Walton College of Business Hall of Fame produced a video on Cranford’s life. It also chronicles his life story and accolades:

Cranford was born in Bald Knob, Ark., on New Year’s Day in 1933. He lived there until attending what was then Arkansas State Teachers College in Conway, where he earned a degree in journalism.

When he was 22, he moved to Little Rock, working in journalism, publicity and advertising before forming his own agency with friend Jim Johnson in 1961. The agency grew into Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, which once employed nearly 100 people in two Arkansas offices and billed $82 million a year.

Cranford chaired the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts from 1994 to 2001. Among his other work with charitable and community organizations, he was chairman of the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Commission and served on the board of trustees of the Arkansas Arts Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

In his long career, Cranford received the Silver Medal Award from the Arkansas Advertising Federation/American Advertising Federation and was a member of the first class inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Southwest Advertising Hall of Fame.

Other honors bestowed include the distinguished alumnus award from the University of Central Arkansas, the William F. Rector Award from Fifty for the Future and the Golden Boy Award from the Little Rock Boys Club. He was one of three Arkansas’ Outstanding Young Men selected by the Arkansas Jaycees in 1969.

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