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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Q&A: Neil Foster, GCG Marketing hits 40

Neil Foster, GCG Marketing

Betty Dillard


After four decades providing full-service marketing and advertising services for its clients, Fort Worth-based GCG Marketing is keeping its momentum. Starting as Weekly & Associates in 1973, the firm has evolved, expanded, refocused, rebranded and changed its name a few times. As clients’ needs have grown, so has the agency. With 40 years of marketing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and across the country, the firm boasts an impressive list of clients, including small, local businesses and Fortune 500 powerhouses – Rahr & Sons Brewing, Azz Inc., Cash America International Inc., DFB Pharmaceuticals Inc. and BNSF Railway Co., just to namedrop a few. A wall full of awards testifies to the agency’s experience and expertise. CEO Scott Turner has been at the helm since 1978. Neil Foster started at GCG as a copywriter 18 years ago, worked his way up to partner and vice president six years later and to president in 2007. Foster, a Fort Worth native and journalism/advertising graduate of the University of North Texas, enjoys being the guy behind the curtain, he said. “I’ve just tried to play a part wherever we needed help. I’ve probably spent most of my time on the creative side and the creative management side more than anything else,” Foster said. “That’s where my roots are and where I’m most comfortable.” Foster’s creative mojo, among other things, helped establish the firm’s health care division in 2003. As a result, in 2004 GCG’s Healthcare Group was recognized and honored as one of the top health care agencies in the country – the only agency named in the Southwest. “I like to create things and help people and businesses solve problems in ways they never thought of before,” Foster said. “Being in a creative business has allowed me to dream a lot, and use my brain in a challenging way.”

To what do you owe the firm’s success and staying power? It’s still an idea business. The two most important factors to me are good creative ideas and good service. When you have those two things going in tandem, you can have a successful business in this industry. Scott has been here since 1978. He started as an art director. The agency has its roots in creative and that still defines us. It’s still creative ideas – that’s a driving force of what we do. Scott’s willingness to change and evolve with the marketplace is what it takes to make us successful.

What changes have you seen in this industry since you started your career? There have been lots of changes over the years and technology has dictated most of the changes in this business. At one time if you needed an ad you’d go to an ad agency because the agency had the mechanical process to create an ad. Computers came around and, of course, that changed everything. People could use software to create an ad. That naturally made us become more strategic in the services we provide clients. We started realizing that clients work with us differently and their needs are different and that led to a different marketing strategy in branding and creative campaign work. Many of our clients these days have in-house ad agencies that handle production but they hire us to do the branding and rebranding, more the big-picture creative work. Over the years it’s shifted from execution to more strategy and creative. That’s why we’ve had to rebrand ourselves and offer different services to our clients. It’s based on changes in technology and client needs. The mechanical part of the business may have changed over the years, but one thing that will never change is useful content. You still have to have good creative and good writing. No matter what happens, whatever medium is used, whatever new technology comes along, good creative, good writing and good content will never change.

What makes this agency stand out from others? I think the history has a lot to do with it. This business has been very consistent. We’ve been doing it well for a very long time. We have a vast portfolio of different clients that represent many different industries. Experience has been the real deal maker with this agency. When a client hires us they know they have a group of people who have a long history and experience in doing this. We’ve got a good, diverse staff of all different experience levels. In this business, your product is your people. It’s teamwork. You’re only as good as your team. Our success is how well we do collaboratively. That attitude has helped us. We succeed and fail together. I think the unity here is unique. Our team believes in each other, trusts each other and supports one another. You can do only so much as an individual and can only go so far. What really makes the difference are the people who are around you. My M.O. has been to surround myself with people who are smarter and better than me. I’ve tried to recruit and retain hardworking, quality people who work well with others. It’s as simple as that. Consistency, teamwork – those will create good things, and it has.

GCG’s growth looks very steady. How did the recession affect business? What are your plans for future growth? Yes, our growth has been steady. Business dipped some during the recession and we saw a change in the marketplace. You saw a lot of bigger companies try to swallow up smaller companies. Companies looking for growth in a recessionary period can only grow through acquisitions, and we’ve seen a lot of acquisitions in the last four or five years. Since the recession we’ve seen business come back. We felt the recession first and we felt the market coming back first, too. It’s been busy over the last two years. We’re increasing our new business; it’s growing and changing with new clients in a variety of industries. This year we’re projecting a 20 percent growth over last year. It was about 20 percent last year over the year before. The key to this business is sustaining and trying not to grow too fast. What makes you successful is good work and good service. If you grow too fast you’ll lose those two things. You don’t want your clients to suffer. Smart growth is our mentality and making sure we’re providing good work and good service. We also make sure the clients we take on are the right clients for us. It’s like a marriage or a relationship – you have to make sure it’s the right fit.  

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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