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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Bandwidth of Brothers

Companies make choices all the time — some big, some small. Jon Ruthenburg and Tom Lewis made a big choice one year after opening Gray Loon Marketing Group in May 1994. They embraced the Internet.

“It was the smartest business decision we ever made,” says Lewis.

As a result, the Evansville firm that began with four employees is celebrating its 20th anniversary this spring with a staff of 24 and an eclectic array of more than 60 clients ranging from Mead Johnson Nutrition to Duck Commander — yes, the same Duck Commander made famous by the Robertson family of ‘Duck Dynasty’ fame.

Gray Loon’s employees also are celebrating their 20th with new awards for their second floor offices at 300 S.E. Riverside Drive. They earned the Platinum Winner award at the 2013 Marcom Awards for a design the agency created for the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. The competition, administered by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, is one of the world’s most prestigious marketing contests.
Earlier this year, Gray Loon brought home four gold, two silver, and two bronze Addys from the Advertising Club of Evansville awards ceremony, and earned the ACE Best of Show award for an integrated marketing campaign it created for Deer Creek Lodge.

Credit “this www thing” for much of Gray Loon’s creative success.

“In 1995, the Web was not yet an established marketing vehicle,” Ruthenburg points out. “Clients would call us and say, ‘We need a Web page on this www thing.’ We would ask questions about what they wanted to accomplish, and why they wanted to go on the Web, and they’d say ‘Well, we need a home page, whatever that is.’ It’s amazing that in 20 years, websites have gone from ‘whatever that is’ to the No. 1 marketing communication vehicle for business. And we were one of the first agencies in the region to embrace Web development.”

Gray Loon is a full-service digital marketing agency that specializes in website development, web usability, hosting, e-commerce, social media integration, and a range of other custom digital solutions.

Clients include many locally recognized names, including the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp., the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, and Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn, along with international companies such as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana, Accuride, Alcoa, and Mead Johnson Nutrition.

Since its early days, one of Gray Loon’s niches has been the outdoor industry. Clients such as Benelli USA (firearms), Realtree (camouflage patterns), and Hoyt Archery (archery and bowhunting) are the result of Lewis being an avid outdoorsman and Ruthenburg being a former executive at Escalade Sports (Indian Industries).

It was Gray Loon’s connection to Benelli and Realtree that attracted Duck Commander in 2004, long before the world became familiar with Si, Phil, Jase, Willie, and the rest of the Robertson clan. Gray Loon first developed Duck Commander’s website 10 years ago.

“After their ‘Duck Dynasty’ fame, they saw the need to really expand their online presence,” explains Ruthenburg. “In 2013, our staff developed a new website and e-commerce platform to sell their products for both Duck Commander and Buck Commander. They liked our work, and that’s a reflection of our excellent team.

Lewis adds, “Not long ago, websites were being built by programmers. They were bland and sterile. They weren’t very user friendly, and they weren’t very attractive. And they were extremely weak in terms of marketing message and strategy. We always pride ourselves on taking the marketing side and marrying it with the programming/technical side.

“Either you were a marketing firm, or you were building websites. We were able to merge those two, with the combination of outstanding creative people and outstanding customer service,” says Lewis.

Gray Loon’s longest client relationship is with Columbus, Ga., based Realtree, dating back to 1995.

“Gray Loon built our first website to promote our (camouflage) patterns and videos, and now our website has grown into one of the largest in the industry,” says Scott Hughes, director of electronic media at Realtree.

“The staff at Gray Loon are pretty much an extension of our marketing department. They know as much about our business as we do. Plus, they keep us up to date on new technology, and train us. I can’t say enough about their commitment to us. I communicate as much with their staff as I do many of the people internally here in Georgia,” says Hughes. “They have certainly had an impact on our growth. I feel like they are co-employees with us.”

So what’s ahead for Gray Loon? Lewis and Ruthenburg are more technically savvy than many of their contemporaries, but smart enough to count on their younger team members to blaze the newest trails.

“Our success has been built on our great, young staff that has really made it happen, in terms of knowledge, intelligence, and their desire to learn new things,” says Ruthenburg. “It takes that environment of a team of people who want to continue to learn new technologies, because it’s changing every day. It takes a strong staff of people who are driven in that way.

“But I also believe that our core will never change. That begins with our marketing foundation — our ability to develop relationships with clients focused around what their strategic marketing visions are. Then it’s customer service — being focused on responding to customer needs. And third, we’ve always prided ourselves on our creative abilities. We have a highly talented creative staff. Combine them with our programming capabilities, and we’re able to generate effective sites and digital communications that are both visually appealing and user friendly. That’s what it’s all about.”

A member of the staff since 2006, Account Executive/Marketing Strategist Brita Lewis (no relation to Tom) is one of those thinking constantly about the company’s future.

“We don’t know what will change in a year or two, and that’s challenging, but those challenges also make the job exciting because we need to always be ready for change,” she says. “For example, over the past couple of years, the percentage of people accessing websites with mobile devices went from 20 to almost 60 percent. And we see the trend in using portable devices continuing to expand. Regardless, you know that whatever does change, we will be on top of it. We won’t be the last company in the industry to adapt. We’ll be one of the first.”

For more information on Gray Loon Marketing Group, Inc., call 812-422-9999 or visit grayloon.com.

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