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November 2008
Who You Gonna Call ?!
By Ellison Clary

     Who you gonna call when you want to publicize the grand opening of the latest and greatest sports coliseum?

     Do what the city did in 1988, when they called upon Steve Luquire to squire the opening events at the state-of-the-art Charlotte Coliseum.

     For Luquire, and his relatively newly minted Luquire George Andrews (oftentimes referred to as LGA) advertising, marketing and PR firm, it was a high-profile opportunity that could have spelled disaster when the 34,000-pound scoreboard came crashing down, damaging the coliseum floor boards, hours before the U.S. Olympic basketball team was scheduled to face off against an NBA All-Star team.

     Instead, Luquire, in his characteristic cool and compelling manner, worked with his clients—Coliseum Authority chairman Johnny Harris and executive director Steve Camp—to mobilize the workers. Together, the team garnered several flatbed trucks, retrieved flooring from the old coliseum on Independence Boulevard, cleared the destruction, replaced the floorboards, and carried off the event without a flaw.

     Characteristic of Luquire’s altruistic nature, he helped choreograph bringing the workers out at halftime to the tune of the Olympic theme to thank them for their Herculean effort in front of a sellout crowd.

     “They all pitched in and made us so proud. I get goose bumps just thinking about it even now,” smiles Luquire.

     So, who you gonna call to bring the NCAA Final Four to Charlotte?

     Luquire, of course. And celebrate the coup with a “Street of Champions” uptown festival, a celebratory event that heralded the beginning of uptown’s renaissance.

     You’ll be calling on Luquire to manage Charlotte’s Transatlantic Business Dialogue, an international business conference, previously held in such high-profile cities as Seville, Chicago and Rome, hosting over 120 CEOs from Europe and America, as well as Al Gore and prominent government officials, to discuss trade and investment initiatives.

     Who you gonna call to bolster the Queen City’s image as a regional center of economic activity?

     Well, Charlotte called Luquire, whose firm pulled together the “Charlotte USA” branding campaign on an international scale, touting the balance of the 16 counties’ business strength, accessibility and quality of life.

     LGA did a similar branding effort on behalf of Charlotte Center City Partners with their  “Find Your Center” campaign to promote uptown’s nightlife, dining, shopping and cultural activities.

     Who you gonna call to manage your public relations rollout of the merger of First Charter and Fifth Third Bank? LGA, if you want an extremely time-consuming and complex task accomplished without a flaw.

     If you’re UNC Charlotte and want to launch a football team? Yep, you’re going to call LGA.

      And that’s precisely what 60 Minutes did just last month when they called Luquire in preparation for a possible focus piece on banking in Charlotte.



Go-To Firm

     Though these successes of LGA are impressive, LGA isn’t resting on its laurels. They just launched a branding campaign for North Carolina State University that portrays the Raleigh campus as so far ahead of the curve that it’s “waiting for the future to catch up.”

     That N.C. State initiative was led by Peggy Brookhouse, a 10-year veteran of LGA who was named president this June.

     If you don’t associate LGA with those efforts and others such as promoting the Carolina Panthers and the PGA’s Wachovia Championship, maybe it’s because of the firm’s tendency to operate quietly.

     Brookhouse referred to the mode as “stealth” when she met with Luquire back in 1998 to find out what made his firm tick. She quickly identified Luquire’s client-first philosophy as the root of LGA’s deep relationships.

     “I think Steve has done an incredible job of becoming the ‘go-to’ person in Charlotte when there’s something that needs addressing,” Brookhouse says.

     The reason is straightforward, Luquire explains. “I just think it is our role to promote our clients and the individuals we serve,” he says. “It’s not our job to promote ourselves.”

     Brookhouse impressed Luquire so favorably that he brought her on board. He liked her background in brand strategy and brand development, and she had built a Charlotte track record with Bank of America and the former Price/McNabb Advertising, Inc.

     Brookhouse now holds a minority stake in the 24-year-old company that advises clients in brand strategy, strategic planning, marketing, advertising, public relations, creative services and new media. Luquire owns the rest of the firm.

     Capitalized billings for 2007 exceeded $60 million—marketing and advertising making up around 70 percent and public relations accounting for the rest. The firm has grown from 30 employees five years ago to 47 today. It occupies 14,000 square feet in SouthPark’s Rotunda Building.

     Those are impressive statistics for the company that Luquire, a Durham native and East Carolina University graduate, put together after paying dues with Charlotte’s Craftsman Graphics and a Hickory-based sports marketing firm.

     Luquire had long enjoyed a client relationship with Dan River, Inc. of Greenville, S.C. So he enticed Tom George, that company’s executive vice president of public relations, and Clay Andrews, a creative guru with Craftsman, to form a new company with him. For a year, it was called Creative Sports Marketing before becoming Luquire George Andrews in 1984. George retired in the early 1990s; Andrews retired last year.


Trust Is Success Secret

     If there’s a success secret, Luquire believes it’s doing whatever is necessary to build trust among clients. “If you come up with one word and that has become our mantra, that word is trust,” Luquire says.

     “Some people ask, ‘Why not creativity?’ If you can build a relationship based on trust, and clients trust that you’ll give them a creative product, that you’ll do it inside a budget, and that you’ll do it in a timely manner—people understand that.”

     LGA fosters such trust, Luquire believes, by listening and learning the business of each client. Placing the client first, he says, helps LGA accomplish what many marketing companies fall short on—delivering on promises.

     “I think about the people I trust and I call friends,” says Johnny Harris, president of Lincoln Harris and a longtime Charlotte civic chieftain. “I think about those people you can always count on: Steve is one of them.”

     Luquire defines his first association with Harris as a seminal moment. It was 20 years ago when Harris was enveloped in plans to open the Charlotte Coliseum. Harris remembers civic colleagues advising him to sign up Luquire.

     “Steve has an unbelievable ability to evaluate people he’s going to be making a presentation to. He figures out what they need to hear to understand your position,” Harris says. “He’s truly the best I’ve ever seen at that. He’s got an uncanny ability to get a message across.”

     The two men continue to work together, Harris says. “Any time I have a thought, however crazy, I’ll pick the phone up and call Steve. He’ll say, ‘Well, what if we did it this way?’ All of a sudden it takes on a life of its own.”

     Luquire has cultivated his stealth image purposely, developing strong personal relationships and maintaining several client relationships    for decades.

     He is proud of the firm’s newer clients—including North Carolina State University, Babson Capital Management and Prudential Carolinas Realty—and those for which LGA has expanded services—including Novant Health, National Gypsum, Curtiss-Wright Controls, Piedmont Natural Gas and American Tire Distributors.

     He is proud of the firm’s public relations successes, which include the merger of law firms McGuireWoods and Helms Mulliss & Wicker, the merger of First Charter and Fifth Third banks and the purchase of fast-food chain Bojangles by Falfurrias Capital Partners.

     They all bear out Luquire’s aspiration for LGA: “to be the best strategic partners for our clients with a shared goal of achieving business growth.”


Defining LGA

     Luquire is obviously excited about LGA’s future. He cites the foundation for that future as LGA’s large roster of clients in categories as varied as automotive, real estate/development, engineering/construction and entertainment/ sports. Such diversity is a long-time trait.

     “We have a rule,” Luquire says. “We let no client represent more than 15 percent of our business.” It’s a big reason LGA has never had to lay off anyone, he adds.

     Another defining characteristic of LGA is its pro bono work. Luquire cites his upbringing in Durham and the examples set by his father being a church deacon and his mother teaching Sunday school.

     “I have seen through the years when people invest in their families and their communities, that it comes back to them,” Luquire says. So LGA counts pro bono clients such as the American Cancer Society, Belmont Abbey College, Levine Museum of the New South and McColl Center for Visual Art.

     “It’s a part of who we are,” Luquire says of LGA’s contributions. “I think it has benefited us and, hopefully, the people we serve.”

     Soon to turn 60, Luquire thinks he might slow down a bit in the next three to five years, but he shares his pride in forming a management team for the future.

“The staff and organization we have created is almost beyond the expectations in my wildest dreams,” Luquire marvels. “They’re all terrific people.”

     Brookhouse, 46, leads the team. A native of a Nashville, Tenn., suburb, Brookhouse earned a bachelor’s in advertising at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She professes a strong belief in the power of new media. She emphasizes forging more “integrated opportunities,” which means using the full range of LGA’s advertising, marketing and public relations services for clients.

     “I think my role has evolved into being a champion for department integration,” she says. Quick to praise the firm’s talent, she adds, “Everyone on the staff has excellent experience and capability. They also have a heart for the business, a passion for what our clients do and what they need to make it happen.”

     She plans to keep LGA in the vanguard of firms seeking novel promotional approaches. “With the evolving nature of our business, there is always something new to learn and get out in front of,” she says. “We have a responsibility to counsel our clients on how to make new   opportunities work for them.”

     She envisions finding more clients outside the greater Charlotte area throughout the Southeast, and targeting prospects larger than those LGA is currently servicing.

     The firm can get to $75 to $100 million in billings in another five years, she feels, relying on an LGA hallmark, which is keeping senior people in touch with each client.

Senior leaders recently hired from the outside include: Steve Dunkley, senior vice president and executive creative director; Todd Badgley, senior vice president and director of client service; Judi Wax, senior vice president and director of public relations; and Ken Gepfert, vice president of public relations.

     Each of the new executives quickly point to shared values and goals as a big reason for signing on. And they aspire to build the business on them.

     Luquire says he’s promised these executives and other associates that he will not sell the company. More likely, he says, others in the management team will buy ownership stakes.

     “When we find people that we feel are going to bring something unique to the table, or something that’s going to enhance capabilities that we currently have, we bring them on board,” Luquire says.

     Luquire points to his recent reading, The Breakthrough Company: How Everyday Companies Become Extraordinary Performers, which has many dog-eared pages tagged with particularly apt thoughts. A lot of people think that companies create cultures. But Luquire subscribes to the tenet that companies create “character”—so that people know the company and appreciate how it performs. He liked the book so much he gave copies to his staff and clients.

     He has never hired anyone who promised to bring a large account with them, Luquire adds. “Because they’re gunslingers,” he says with a serious stare. “That’s not what we are.”

     Asked to name his firm’s greatest victory, Luquire muses more than a moment. His short answer is, “In the community, people recognize the character of our company.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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