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Bob Bryant, John Dillon, Chris Flagg and Jim Lewis combined their skills to form the new agency

by Steve Nix-Ennen

SBJ Contributing Writer

Walking into the Meridian Creative Alliance is like being thrust into a lightning storm of creativity. Ideas and wit fly so quickly, one occasionally needs to duck.

But that's how these four advertising men generate marketing messages for some of the nation's top companies. If a conference with them seems dizzying, it is because they feel ideas are meant for striking for sending folks off-balance. Their motto: "Safe is for sissies."

Meridian is the creative cohesion of four veteran idea craftsmen. Each specializes in his favorite facet of the advertising and marketing industry. Bob Bryant, a marketing graduate from Central Missouri State University, is a former president of Springfield's ad giant, Bradshaw and Associates. John Dillon, a 1969 Drury graduate, is best known as the founder of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Dillon's advertising foray actually started in 1980 when a national advertising firm asked him to compose music and lyrics for Busch Beer's "Head for the Mountains" campaign. Chris Flagg is a career commercial artist with 18 years of experience. As an award-winning art director, Flagg has worked with national ad agencies in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Ohio before landing with Noble and Associates in the Ozarks. Jim Lewis, a 1976 Southwest Missouri State University photography graduate, has spent decades in television production. His experience includes production for KY3, heading Lewis Group Creative Services and, most recently, he was president and owner of Associated Video Producers Inc.

Although each team member has his strong suits, all specialize in creativity. Together they fuel each other's talent in designing ad campaigns for regional firms and Fortune 500 companies.

"I have three brothers," Flagg said. "This is a lot like sharing a room with three brothers. Only we are always working toward growth. We all conceptualize real well and have experience in different directions."

"Really, we are an agency without walls," said Dillon, who likened the alliance to the bonding process of his band. "We know a lot about each other. We motivate each other."

The alliance formed in July of 1997. They met through friends, acquaintances, clients and coincidence. Bryant and Dillon worked together on a Bud Dry campaign. Flagg and Lewis first met on a commercial shoot.

"It is sort of networking in reverse more of a networking fallout," Bryant said. "Before we founded this alliance, we would get together, drink beer and eat steaks, and talk about concepts."

They quickly found that each member's strength complemented the others.

"Bob is a great manager," Dillon said. "Jim is deep into video. Chris' and my brains are wired exactly opposite. If I see something in language, he sees it visually."

There is no power structure between them, no competition for accounts or ideas. All have equal say and equal responsibility in the function of their unit.

"There is no climbing of the ladder here," Lewis said. "We sit around the table, and if there is a problem, we solve it. If we can't solve it, we just get rid of it."

"We are all still pragmatic enough to make it work," Bryant added.

The alliance works as a creative umbrella for clients. Pitching concepts, color, creation and strategy as a team, they go for the dangerous, the unique.

"We like to present ideas that make you nervous," Bryant said.

They avoid many of the snags of the structured, national ad organizations by finding a great deal of freelance support, locally and globally. It allows them to offer their package of "ideas and execution" with quick response.

"The Springfield area has been very good to us," Bryant said. "Because we are a nontraditional agency, we often rely on outside sources to produce a lot of what we do. We couldn't do this in any other city."

"You would be surprised at the amount of national, world-class talent around here," Flagg said. He added that the Internet and technology allows the alliance access to, literally, the world's talent.

The team gets up close and personal with its clients, and focuses on the most original approach.

"We act more as partners with the clients, which is the best approach for this business overall," Flagg said.

Clients "are usually looking for a partnership, too," Dillon added.

"When clients call, they talk to us. The result is that the copywriter, the art director and the account executive are all the principals in the agency," Lewis said.

Their reach is unlimited from their downtown Ozark office. The world's largest media planning and buying firm, Carat-ICG, is an extended arm of the Meridian alliance. Through a network of media placement avenues, Meridian can channel its creations across the globe.

Bryant said media placement ability is one of the company's greatest strengths. Although Meridian would prefer to be a firm involved with a client from inception to dissemination, they work on all levels.

"We now have media planning and buying services that reach all across the world," Bryant said. "We can provide just the creative services, or just media placement services. It all does work together."

No member of the alliance brought clients with him from previous endeavors, though their reputation has spread quickly. They also prefer to not divulge their clients' names, but state the alliance handles a diverse list of industries.

"We have been in business for six months, and we are operating in the black," Lewis said.

Bryant attributes much of this early success to the dynamics of the industry.

"People who have done business with each of us in the past have moved on into other companies, other areas, and they remember us," Bryant said. "It allows us to do business with new companies, but with familiar people."

"Really, we are four guys making up stuff and doing media," Flagg said. "It seems to work."

MERIDIAN CREATIVE ALLIANCE

Founded 1997 by

Bob Bryant, John Dillon, Chris Flagg and Jim Lewis

113 E. Church Street

Ozark, MO 65721

417-581-2884

INSET CAPTION:

'We act more as partners with the clients, which is the best approach for this business overall.'

Chris Flagg

Meridian Creative Alliance

PHOTO CAPTION:

Jim Lewis, Chris Flagg, Bob Bryant and John Dillon make up Meridian Creative Alliance. Steve Nix-Ennen's spotlight on the company appears on page 10.[[In-content Ad]]

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