As The Russell Agency celebrates 35 years in business, its three female owners toast their longstanding friendship.
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – For three Triad businesswomen, 2014 represents a very gratifying milestone: the 35th year of operation of their advertising and marketing firm, The Russell Agency.
Owners Betsy Hamilton, Anne Cullen and Cindy Cash are not only successful partners; they’re also longtime friends. In 1979, they were each in their early twenties when they joined founder Judi Russell’s new Winston-Salem agency (which began in the basement of Russell’s home), and they quickly became key contributors to the agency’s dramatic growth.
Just two years later, in 1981, The Russell Agency built its own offices on Deacon Boulevard and continued to garner new clients both inside and outside the state.
As the client roster and workload grew, new employees were recruited. Hamilton became The Russell Agency’s vice president and oversaw the day-to-day operations; Cullen took charge of client accounts; and designer Cash was named creative director.
During the next two decades, the agency would build on its reputation for responsive client service and solid creative work. Along the way, all three women would get married, have children and begin sharing their family life, in addition to their days on the job – and sometimes nights.
“Those were crazy, fun and occasionally exhausting times,” said Hamilton. “Working all night at the office wasn’t uncommon, because we took real pride in our ability to meet our clients’ deadlines without sacrificing the quality of our work. If that meant staying up all night to get a job done, so be it. And that’s the way we still feel – although the evolution of digital technology has made our process more efficient.”
In 2005, Judi Russell decided to leave the agency to pursue other interests, and Hamilton, Cullen and Cash – now longtime stakeholders as well – purchased Russell’s interest in the company.
A New Era – and a Big Move
The Russell Agency’s “new” ownership trio began looking for a fresh location for the firm’s offices – somewhere closer to the city’s re-emerging center and with easy access for clients and employees. The women wanted to find an older, freestanding building that could be rehabbed.
In the spring of 2006, they found the perfect place: a former auto-detailing shop on the corner of Fifth and Broad streets. They bought the 8,000-square-foot building and – working with an architect, an interior planner and a contractor – immediately began transforming the site inside and out.
A few months later, just before Christmas, The Russell Agency moved into its renovated, 6,000-square-foot space. (An adjoining 2,000 square feet were set aside to lease out.)
“We love the energy that comes with being in the center of the city,” said creative director Cash. “It’s given us a fresh perspective that I think even shows in the work we do for our clients.”
Cullen added: “We also like to think of ourselves as pioneers of sorts in the commercial rebirth of this part of downtown. Since we moved here, we’ve been joined by Spring House Restaurant next door, in the renovated Bahnson House – and now a new five-story office building, 751 West Fourth, is going up right across the street. It’s exciting to watch the transformation.”
Marking the Milestone
Thirty-five years of profitable operation is a noteworthy benchmark for any business, especially an advertising agency that has weathered multiple economic cycles and continues to thrive.
“It’s amazing how far we’ve come,” said Hamilton. “We’re very, very proud of our agency’s work thus far and how it’s helped local companies and organizations build their own brands.
“At the same time, we owe a lot to our clients, employees and Winston-Salem for enabling us to be successful. So we do have some special things in the works to mark our anniversary.”
Those plans, according to the owners, include partnering with the Forsyth Humane Society to hold a pet adoption fair this spring in The Russell Agency’s parking lot. Other types of “events” will be less public. For example, the agency’s staff will be donating 35 pairs of shoes to Goodwill Industries.
“We want to make this a year-long celebration,” said Cash, “one that recognizes our clients and employees and also returns something worthwhile to our community.”