It’s the mid-1970s. Craig Lawrence and Paul Schiller decide to leave their full-time advertising jobs to start their own advertising agency.
They sat in the car tossing coins.
Whoever wins will have his name at the top of the industry. Whoever loses is the president.
“I don’t know if I won or I lost,” Lawrence joked decades later looking back on the moment.
“We really don’t have a lot planned,” Schiller added.
But they do have the creative talent, vision and ability to bring something new to the Sioux Falls market that they already have.
Lawrence and Schiller may have been in the advertising business — but they approached it like journalists and storytellers.
“I think where we’ve really succeeded is that we’re journalists first and we need to get information for our clients,” Schiller said.
They’d listen to a business leader articulate a vision of where the company wanted to be, and then ask questions.
“How do you want people to see you in a year’s time?” Lawrence said. “Well, let’s get started then.”
That means constantly collecting data to create a “very effective messaging tool,” Schiller continued.
It also led the entrepreneur into a whole new venture, which became L&S Teleservices, then Five Star Call Center.
That’s why I recently sat down with the founders as they sell their call center business to their leadership team in late 2022. They left the marketing company ten years ago.
It was an interesting opportunity for me to reflect with two leaders I admire in my own industry, as our parallel paths in journalism and marketing share some similarities, albeit decades apart .
I love people who disrupt industries, think differently, and know how to show and tell great stories. Of course they check the boxes and all that.
“It’s still crazy all these years,” Lawrence said. But it’s a good kind of madness. In the hours we spent together, we quickly became involved in the media industry, innovative advertising campaigns, and entrepreneurship.
Some short stories worth repeating:
When Schiller worked as a photographer and reporter at the USD, they used to make $2 per photo, and Lawrence made 35 cents per column inch.From there, Lawrence went brookings register A year before entering TV news, Schiller went Yankton Press and Dakotan Before serving in Germany during the Vietnam War.
They remained friends, and Lawrence even won a German-sponsored essay contest asking for ideas on “how Berlin could build its image in America.” The would-be brand builder’s skills earned him an opportunity to go to the country his friend Schiller was serving.
At one point—and it might not be hard to imagine—Lawrence remembers driving a news van to Harrods for KSFY-TV, which was using 16mm film at the time. The rule was, whichever news station got there first got to work on its movie.
“We passed a highway patrol officer on the side of the road, but he didn’t stop us,” he said.
They both ended up working in marketing before deciding to start their own companies.
Through their Lawrence & Schiller agency, one of their clients was Ben-Hur Ford, a major local car dealer.
They decided to fill a 1,000-gallon swimming pool with red jelly and numbered ping pong balls to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“You’ll jump into the jelly pool and win prizes,” Lawrence said. “too crazy.”
Maybe, but the client sold 150 cars as a result.
When they assess the state of the industry today, they sometimes ask, “Where’s the audacity? Where’s the creativity? Where’s the ‘outside’?” Schiller says. Excellent activity. “
fair question. I struggled to find an answer, but this really got me thinking. That’s why it’s so valuable to sit down with these leaders who understand what it takes to move the industry forward.
They are role models not only for me, but for many who develop marketing and storytelling in this market. They also prove that one effort can lead to new ones, as they did at a five-star hotel, and how being with the right people can make all the difference.
“If Five Star is successful, it’s not because of Paul and me,” Lawrence said. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We lost a lot of money, and then we met Joel, Troy, and Ray—great guys with a lot of experience running Wells Fargo call centers.”
They sold the business to Troy Holt, Ray Peterson and Joel Sylvester in late 2022.
“Their perspective is very different from ours,” Sylvester said. “They’re the ad people and we’re the call center people. The things we think are easy are the things they struggle with. We’re very humble, we do our jobs, but we don’t always tell the story of our accomplishments very well. We didn’t connect with business leaders throughout Sioux Falls who helped us understand what the market wanted.”
What’s next? I don’t think Lawrence and Schiller could have followed either path to average retirement, and they didn’t disappoint.
Schiller continues to wow with his iconic photography of South Dakota’s landscape, on a mission to show the world that there’s so much more to it than “Overpass Country.” Find a coffee table book about the prairie—Lawrence, of course.
The two also collaborated on a meaningful campaign in memory of Lawrence’s son Chris, a survivor of stage four bile duct cancer. The nonprofit Hope Has Arrived helps bring hope, strength and peace to the fight against cancer. Shared stories with hope and content designed to bring peace and inspiration.
A book is being produced to compile the many stories – complete with Schiller’s photographs.
How did two people work together for so long on so many fronts? I asked, and they pointed me to a book they published a few years ago that had the answers.
In the foreword, it reads that they “learned how to adapt to each other’s habits and eccentricities, deliberately avoiding conflict.”
“It’s not because we’re great humanitarians. It’s because we’re pragmatic. We know that if we focus on conflict, we can’t focus on our mission: to grow the company.”
As much as they tell me what their upcoming time will involve, I suspect there will be more to their own stories as well.
We are fortunate that in Sioux Falls and South Dakota these two storytellers have documented so much with their words and images.
As I wrap up this column, I glance at my desk calendar — which I do multiple times a day — above the January photo of Paul Schiller under the heading “New Beginnings.” As usual, they found the right words for the occasion.
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