We are in the mid-1970s. Craig Lawrence and Paul Schiller had decided to leave their full-time jobs in advertising to create their own agency.
They sat in a car and tossed a coin.
Whoever wins would have their name first in the company. The loser would be the president.
“I don’t know if I won or lost,” Lawrence joked, thinking back to that moment decades later.
“We really didn’t really have a plan,” Schiller added.
But they had creative flair, vision, and the ability to bring something new to a Sioux Falls market that already had its share of agencies.
Lawrence and Schiller may have been in the advertising business, but they approached it like the reporters and storytellers they are.
“I think where we were really successful was that we were journalists first, and we had to get the information for our clients,” Schiller said.
They would listen to a business leader express a vision of what the company wanted to do, then ask questions.
“A year from now, what do you want people to think of you? said Lawrence. “Well, then let’s go.”
This involved continuously collecting data, which led to the creation of “very effective messaging tools,” Schiller continued.
It also led the entrepreneurs into a brand new venture, which became L&S Teleservices and then Five Star Call Centers.
That’s why I recently met the founders when they sold the call center business to its management team at the end of 2022. They left the marketing company a decade before.
It was a fun opportunity for me to reflect with two leaders I admire in my own industry, as our parallel journeys in journalism and marketing have some similarities, albeit decades apart.
I like people who disrupt their industry a bit, think differently than others, and know how to show and tell a great story. They certainly tick those boxes and more.
“Still mad after all these years,” is how Lawrence put it. But it’s a good kind of crazy. During the hour we spent together, we quickly became close to the media industry, innovative advertising campaigns and entrepreneurship.
A few quick stories worth repeating:
Schiller earned $2 per photo and Lawrence 35 cents per column inch when they worked together as a photographer and reporter at USD. From there Lawrence went to the Brookings Registry for a year before getting into TV news and Schiller went to the Yankton Press & Dakotan before serving in Germany during the Vietnam War.
They remained friends, with Lawrence even winning a German-sponsored essay contest asking for thoughts on “how Berlin can build its image in the United States.” The skills of the future brand builder earned him a trip to the country where his friend Schiller was serving.
Once – and it might not be too hard to imagine – Lawrence remembers driving a news car for what was then KSFY-TV with a 16mm film for Harold. The rule was that whichever news station arrived first, its film was handled first.
“We passed a highway patrol on the side of the road, but he didn’t stop us,” he said.
They both eventually migrated to marketing jobs before deciding to start a business on their own.
Along with their Lawrence & Schiller agency, one of their clients was Ben-Hur Ford, a major local car dealership.
They decided to fill a 1,000 gallon swimming pool with red Jell-O and numbered ping pong balls to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“You would come and jump in the pool at Jell-O and win a prize,” Lawrence said. “It’s crazy.”
Maybe, but the client sold 150 cars because of it.
When assessing the state of the industry today, they sometimes ask, “Where’s the boldness?” Where is the creation? Where’s the ‘over there’?” Schiller said. “Tell me a campaign in this city that predominates in our market.”
Fair question. And I struggled for an answer, but it got me thinking. That’s why it’s so valuable to sit down with leaders like these who understand what it takes to move industries forward.
They’re role models not just for me, but for so many in this market that have evolved marketing and storytelling. They also prove that one effort can lead to new ones, as they did with Five Star, and how surrounding yourself with the right people makes all the difference.
“If Five Star is successful, it’s not because of Paul and me,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We lost a lot of money and then we met Joel, Troy and Ray – brilliant guys experienced in running Wells Fargo call centers.
They sold this business to Troy Holt, Ray Peterson and Joel Sylvester at the end of 2022.
“They just have such a different perspective from ours,” Sylvester said. “They were advertising guys and we are call center guys. What we considered easy things were things they struggled with. And we’re very humble, we do our job, but we haven’t always done a great job of telling the story of our accomplishments. We didn’t have relationships with the business leaders in Sioux Falls, and they helped us understand what the market needed.
So what’s the next step? I thought it was impossible for Lawrence and Schiller to follow a middle path to retirement, and they did not disappoint.
Schiller continues to impress with his iconic photography of South Dakota’s landscapes, rooted in a mission to show the world that it’s so much more than “overflown country.” Look for a coffee table book on the prairie – with writings, of course, by Lawrence.
The two are also collaborating on a meaningful effort to honor Lawrence’s son, Chris, who is a survivor of stage four bile duct cancer. The non-profit organization Hope Has Arrived helps bring hope, strength and peace against cancer. There are shared stories of hope and content designed to bring peace and inspiration.
A book is being created to compile many stories – with photos of Schiller.
How can two people work together for so long and in so many ways? I asked, and they pointed me to a book they published several years ago with the answer.
In the foreword, it is written that they “learned to live with each other’s habits and quirks, carefully avoiding conflict”.
“It’s not because we are great humanitarians. It is because we are pragmatic. We know that if we focus on conflict, we can’t focus on the mission: growing the business. »
Despite what they told me their next moment will involve, I suspect there’s more to come for their own stories too.
We are lucky in Sioux Falls and South Dakota that these two storytellers have used their words and images to capture so much.
I glanced at my desk calendar as I finished this column – which I do several times a day – and under the photo of Paul Schiller on it for the month of January was the caption “New Beginnings “. As usual, they found the right words for the occasion.
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