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Ad man a steady hand in changing world

To thrive in marketing, an executive must change with the times.

But for Jon L. Johnson, success has come from staying with the same marketing and communications agency for more than 30 years.A University of Utah accounting graduate, Johnson joined Salt Lake-based Evans-Group as controller in October 1967.

"I was given the assignment to make the first acquisition we made," Johnson said Friday.

He has since helped with more than 25 additional mergers and acquisitions, as the company has grown from about $7 million to $350 million in annual billings and from 65 to 470 employees.

Since 1986, Johnson has served as Evans-Group's chairman and chief executive officer. He said he knows not many people stay with one company for 30 years anymore, but he remains enthusiastic about his job and company.

"Survival in a marketing communications business is not easy," Johnson said. "You've got to be flexible, because things change."

Johnson himself represents a kind of change, moving up from the financial, as opposed to creative, side of the business. That financial acumen has helped him guide EvansGroup through the growth strategies that have made it one of the top 40 agencies in the country, with clients such as PETsMART, ZCMI, Ultimate Electronics, United HealthCare, Hewlett-Packard, Eagle Hardware and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But nabbing all of those clients, and keeping up with the changes of the past 30 years, has not been easy.

"In advertising and marketing, you have to be one step ahead of your clients most of the time," Johnson said.

For instance, he said, the development of the Internet led to the creation of an entirely new medium for advertising.

EvansGroup also stays ahead by increasing its scope of services. The company now offers everything from public relations and direct marketing to new media and brand identification.

"That scope of services very much requires specialists," Johnson said. "Thirty years ago, many more (marketing employees) were generalists. Thirty years later, many more are specialists."

And while marketing agencies may have been seen as havens for hucksters in the past, advertising now is more respected and followed carefully as a powerful industry, he said. An example of that change, he said, is the way TV advertisements broadcast during the Super Bowl have become a major news story over the past few years.

Even as marketing budgets and advertising options have grown, however, clients are quicker to drop an advertising agency today than they were 30 years ago. The average tenure of a client with one agency is under seven years now, Johnson said, and it will probably keep dropping.

EvansGroup has about 250 clients nationwide, and it is developing an international presence in London and elsewhere in Europe. Again, the change will be necessary for the company to survive.

"From a marketing standpoint, the globe has definitely shrunk," Johnson said. "Worldwide marketing for virtually all of our clients will therefore eventually be mandatory."

But despite all the changes, he said, a few things have remained the same. First, people still do not want to admit they are influenced by advertising, even though they are.

The other constant, Johnson said, is that creative, talented people are the keys to a successful agency.

"Those people who can do that well were stars in our business 30 years ago, and they are stars in our business today," he said. "Computers can't write an ad."