At the end of this year, Andy Flynn will retire from Flynn Wright following more than 25 years with the Des Moines marketing and communications firm founded by his father in 1984. Flynn, who started in sales with the company in 1993, helped launch more than two decades of steady growth and established a solid professional and financial base for what began as a small family-owned agency in 1984. 

Under his leadership, Flynn Wright has grown into a regional and national agency with nearly 70 ad professionals doing business in 35 states. Flynn, 62, is a proud Des Moines native and has served on numerous community boards and committees over the years, among them Goodwill of Central Iowa, Easterseals and the Des Moines Rotary Club. 

Now based in a refurbished Locust Avenue building with a panoramic view of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, the agency has thrived as an enduring marketing and media resource for local, regional and national clients. In a recent discussion with Flynn and his successor, Aaron Kennedy, the agency’s leaders talked about connecting with clients, industry trends and lessons learned over the past quarter-century. 

If you had to sum up your guiding philosophy in a slogan, what would it be? 

Flynn: I think as far back as I can remember, I’ve always come to work wanting to outwork everybody, regardless of what the position was. So a work ethic has always been a hallmark of mine. I like to think that I back that up with intelligence, and curiosity and intuitiveness. I’m a sponge; I have a thirst for knowledge. I’ve always said you’ve got to be a student of life, and maybe that’s a good line of what my philosophy is. If you think about the advertising business and all the different types of clients that we represent and all the different kinds of industries, we immerse ourselves in those industries. So whether that’s the utility business, or jewelry or insurance, we get to know that business inside-out, which is fascinating in itself. But beyond that, because I’ve always been a salesman and business development guy they’ve always wanted me out pulling doors, so that guys like this [Kennedy] could run with something and help out a client. 

What helps you to connect with clients? 

Flynn: I know that I have a lot of extracurricular interests, and so does Aaron, and that serves us very well. First of all, you have something different to talk about — and your clients do, too. Clients are people, just like us. For instance [Kennedy] is into horses, so Aaron has some great relationships because of that, which by the way has turned into some nice business. … We’re totally in a relationship business. 
What have been some of the most significant advertising trends you’ve seen? 

Flynn: I’ve thought about it a number of times — and we’ve discussed a number of times — how a lot of [agencies] are no longer around in our business. If you look at who we used to compete with 25 years ago — some really significant shops, like the CFM&Zs and Porters of the world and people like that — they’re gone. Kraige & Newell is gone; they were acquired. Those are the people we used to compete with and they’re no longer around. So we’ve always taken great pride in our longevity, and in our clientele. We have clients that go all the way back to when [Kennedy] and I started, which is amazing. So I like to think that there’s a good reason why we’re still around. 

Kennedy: It comes down to this: 25 years ago, the average consumer saw 500 ads a day. Now they’re exposed to 5,000. The biggest change in the industry has been fragmentation. It’s all of the available platforms and channels that exist, which requires a tremendous level of innovation and information to stay on top of that. And I don’t think that trend is going to change. It’s going to continue and continue, which makes it paramount in terms of your ability to take information and to process it into good recommendations. 

The other big change is the role of attribution — the expectation that clients have of measurement and the ability to prove out performance. That won’t change [going forward]. Those developments have been good for our business. What hasn’t changed — and won’t change — is the fact that this business has always been about ideas and persuasion. That was true 50 years ago when our fathers were in this industry, and it will be true 100 years from now. [Kennedy’s father was a freelance illustrator who had worked with Peter Flynn Sr.] 

What do you see as key lessons you’ve learned? 

Flynn: One of the things I’m most proud of, and that I think I brought to this agency — my family intended me to start out in this agency, but I took a different career path. So I was with a different company, and I was probably their 10th or 11th employee, just like I was here back in 1993. What I learned in building that other business — which now they’ve got 400 employees and they’re all over the country — was how to grow a business, and how to grow it in a financially healthy way. 

What’s the key to keeping a growing company healthy? 

Flynn: Managing your cash flow is extremely important. It’s not the sexiest part of our business, but if you think about it, we are responsible for placing millions and millions of dollars of media on behalf of our clients in 35 states. We’re the ones who have to pay the bills — we don’t get the money upfront. So we have to have the wherewithal to do that. … And based on the way you pay your own bills, it’s the way they kind of treat you. We’ve always said we’re the most current shop around, and we pride ourselves on being current. … So our vendor partners tend to look on us in a favorable light — if we need timeframes that are crazy sometimes, they’ll bend over backwards for us, and that’s good for everybody. 

How difficult is it to recruit quality young professionals these days? 

Flynn: It’s a big-time challenge. We have had a number of kids start right out of school, and a number have interned with us while they were in school, so they’ve really shown their stripes. We’ve been pretty successful that way. It’s a young person’s business, that’s for sure. We’ve grown a lot of people up, which has been one of our more successful ways of developing some real ad pros. 

Kennedy: Almost all of the department heads in leadership here grew up at Flynn Wright — that’s a pretty amazing thing. I’m not sure that’s that common. We’re looking for curiosity; we’re looking for work ethic, for charisma. There are a lot of ingredients we’re sort of evaluating when we interview. We actually go through a pretty extensive interview process, because our inventory is our people — we’re selling ideas and strategies. … The single-most important thing we do is picking those people who will be the next Andy Flynn. 

What new directions do you see the agency taking? 

Kennedy: It’s a continuation of what we’ve been doing, because everything we’ve been doing has been working. That’s primarily based on the way we try to conduct ourselves every day. There’s this mantra of professionalism that exists in every corner of the agency. … We’re always looking for that next innovation. An example of that: the video/animation capabilities of this agency continue to expand year after year. The things we’re able to do with that equipment compared with just two or three years ago are amazing. In addition to being a good profit center, it’s turning into a great vehicle for attracting new business. 

As you get ready to retire, what are your biggest personal goals? 

Flynn: Spending time with my family — I have two kids and three grandkids. My significant other whom I’ve been going out with for 12 years and I just got married in July. So spending more time with my loved ones all the way around. The way I’ve approached life over the past several decades really hasn’t allowed for that personal time. 

Any particular pastime you’re most looking forward to? 

Flynn: When I grew up, I was an artist; I used to love to sketch and to paint. I really want to get back to that. I used to so enjoy holding a palette and mixing my own paint. … And I like to write. I love to garden and to grow flowers and veggies, getting my hands dirty. I want to grow more proficient with wines and the different regions of the world, and that’s just the start. And travel on top of that. [His last day in the office will be Dec. 28.]