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Front & Center: The Clark Co. owner Ed Clark reflects on 50-year career in advertising, public relations

Ed Clark in 1988 founded The Clark Co., a Spokane-based public relations, advertising and marketing company. He’s also known for his “How’s Business?” email newsletter that began as a weekly news feature on KXLY.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Ed Clark in 1988 founded The Clark Co., a Spokane-based public relations, advertising and marketing company. He’s also known for his “How’s Business?” email newsletter that began as a weekly news feature on KXLY. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

For more than 50 years, Ed Clark had his finger on the pulse of the business community as founder of the Clark Co., a Spokane-based public relations, advertising and marketing agency.

Clark entered the advertising industry in the 1970s as an intern for Spokane-based Thomas G. Hogan and Associates.

In 1988, he launched The Clark Co., which created hundreds of advertisements for local and national brands, including Rosauers Supermarkets, the Spokane Chiefs, PepsiCo. Inc. and Washington Water Power – now Avista Corp.

In addition to operating The Clark Co., Clark created the “How’s Business?” and “Entertainment Spokane!” weekly newsletters about events happening in the business and arts communities.

He was also a frequent guest lecturer at marketing workshops in the Pacific Northwest and taught advertising, public relations and marketing classes at Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College.

Clark has chosen to retire from the advertising industry, a decision prompted in part by the pandemic. Clark’s longtime business partner Nancy DeStefano has taken over operation of The Clark Co.

“The pandemic really helped get that decision moving. Because things really pretty much shut down and I thought, ‘You know, you don’t want to have to try to rebuild an ad agency now,’” Clark said of his decision late last year. “So, it seemed like a good time to retire. I had really done just about everything that I ever wanted to do and more.”

A ‘PR man’

Clark grew up in Hillyard and graduated from Eastern Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1969.

During Clark’s senior year of college, he mentioned to his mother he was unsure of pursuing a career in social work.

“She said, ‘You should be a PR man because you’re always trying to get attention and you could get paid for it as a PR man,’ ” Clark said. “I thought, ‘OK, well I’ll look into that, and so I started investigating the PR and advertising thing.’ ”

Clark enrolled in a few public relations and journalism classes at EWU and obtained an internship with Thomas G. Hogan and Associates.

“(Thomas Hogan) was the guy that got me started and got me just really excited about the business,” Clark said.

In addition to his internship at Thomas G. Hogan and Associates, Clark worked in The Spokesman -Review’s classified advertising department on nights and weekends.

At the end of the internship, Clark got a job with Spokane-based advertising agency Coons, Shotwell, Adams & Associates.

“It was pretty much the agency of the 1970s in Spokane, and I was very fortunate to be there because they had all the accounts in town,” he said. “They had Sears, which I got to work on immediately.”

Clark also worked on campaigns for the Farmer Stockman magazine, The Spokesman-Review and the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Coons, Shotwell, Adams & Associates handled advertising and marketing for Expo ‘74, and Clark was able to sit in on some initial meetings for the world’s fair.

After Clark left Coons, Shotwell, Adams & Associates, he worked for local radio station KJRB. He later moved to Seattle, where he was involved in campaigns for the Washington Dairy Products Commission and REI.

While working with REI, Clark recalls accompanying the company’s former CEO Jim Whittaker to Portland to open a new store. Whittaker is the first American to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

“That was quite a treat,” Clark said.

The Clark Co.

Clark returned to Spokane in 1980 and founded Clark, White and Associates with Jack White.

Clark White and Associates “took off like a rocket,” landing significant clients and a “tremendous amount of business,” Clark said.

Some of the firm’s clients included Pepsi Co., Key Tronic, Washington Water Power Co. and Medical Service Corp.

Clark left the firm in 1988 to launch The Clark Co.

“I’ve always been promotional about The Clark Co. and about our brand because that’s what you need to do,” Clark said. “They always say that ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ Not true. It’s who knows you.”

Clark was approached by the Spokane Journal of Business to write a column on small-business marketing, which led to creation of “How’s Business?,” a regular feature that ran for several years on television and KXLY News Radio 920.

It later evolved into a weekly newsletter that is still in circulation along with “Entertainment Spokane!,” a separate newsletter that details events in the arts community.

“One of the reasons that “How’s Business?” was so successful is because it’s not about us – it’s about other businesses in Spokane and things that are going on,” Clark said.

Momentum ‘87

Clark recalls Momentum ‘87 as one of his favorite advertising campaigns. Momentum ’87 was formed by five local business leaders: Dave Clack, William H. Cowles III, Michael Murphy, Paul Redmond, and Lewis Zirkle to create initiatives to shape the economic future of Spokane.

“The Convention and Visitor’s Bureau got funded to promote Spokane, and I was able to handle that account,” Clark said. “We created visitor advertising for it that mainly ran on television throughout the market … It was really fun to be able to create campaigns for my hometown.”

Clark also had an opportunity to create campaigns for the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians and Washington State University.

“Every campaign has really been fun and interesting,” Clark said. “It’s been a show business sort of a career because of all the things that I got to do. My career was far beyond my wildest expectations. I’m looking back and it was really fantastic and fun.”

Clark said satisfying but challenging campaigns were handling advertising for multiple bond issues that built dozens of schools, the Spokane Arena, the Spokane Convention Center expansion and improvements to the Spokane County Fairgrounds.

“Community issues like that are challenging because you have to bridge people and build consensus,” he said. “But the challenges were met, and we have a fabulous arena and convention center. And Spokane is better because of that.”

A digital world

The advertising and media business has shifted dramatically over the years, with digital marketing being one of the most significant changes, Clark said.

“Digital marketing is challenging all the rest of the media. That doesn’t make the rest of the media less effective. But it’s a new way of reaching people,” Clark said. “What I think I found is the job of advertising has stayed the same, but it’s the delivery of the message that has changed.”

Digital marketing has ushered in more effective consumer targeting and marketing, he added.

“Before that, we had to rely on surveys like Arbitron and Nielsen to see how many people were actually watching that TV show or how many people were actually listening to the radio, and they were estimates,” he said. “But nowadays, it’s more precise. That’s the big thing. And there’s more ways to target and reach people with geofencing and other tactics and strategies that get the message to people.”

Geofencing is a service that triggers push notifications to mobile phones for coupons and deals within a certain geographic area.

However, Clark said, the message seems to be diminished amid the enormous amount of advertising and messages daily on television and the internet.

“When I was starting out, the Stanford Research Institute estimated that the average person saw about 2,500 messages a day,” he said. “But now, look at all of the messages we get with our phones and with our computers.

“It’s just astounding. We are in an information addiction and there’s so much of it that I think a lot of it gets forgotten. I am encouraged, though, with the new breed of advertising people. It’s a smart bunch of people. I think they’re doing a really good job.”

‘Where it was happening’

Annie Matlow, former marketing and public relations director for the Spokane Symphony and the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, said Clark has always been supportive of the local business and arts communities.

“In the early 2000s, after River Park Square had gotten off the ground and downtown Spokane was moving in the right direction, there was a lot happening and Ed was there at the table,” she said. “I would always say ‘Ed was where it was happening.’ Not only did he know his business, he was a business supporter.”

Matlow, who owns marketing consulting firm Let Annie Do It Project Management, recalls Clark stepped in to support the Browne’s Addition Concert Series last summer.

“We needed an emcee for one of our concerts. I contacted Ed and he said, ‘Sure.’ He came in with great gusto,” she said. “He was a great emcee to introduce the performers and talk about what the concerts mean for the community. He just jumped in and did it.”

Matlow added that Clark brought a significant amount of creativity to the advertising industry, often writing his own music for campaigns.

“I think he’s one of the giants in the advertising industry in Spokane,” Matlow said.

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