02 Sep Creative group thrives on promoting Arkansas
By Stefanie Brazile
The founders of a prominent Little Rock advertising agency were raised in the 501 and love telling the stories of businesses that are Arkansas treasures. Eric Rob & Isaac is so passionate about Arkansas that they only take on clients within the state.
As one would expect, the business is named for the men who incorporated the creative company in 2005. To borrow a line from their website, the team “was curated” from the beginning, with Rob Bell being the common denominator who pulled them all together.
Rob met Isaac Alexander in the fourth grade in Searcy (White County). Laughing, he recalls their adolescent pranks. In seventh grade, Isaac was creating humorous, expertly rendered caricatures of teachers and Rob was marketing them to students. In high school, their band “The Screaming Mimes” played venues around Searcy and the guys even offered concessions and merch.
“We were a funk and soul band – classic ’60s and ’70s complete with horn sections,” Rob said. “People were walking around town wearing our T-shirts. We were doing marketing but didn’t know it.”
From those early adventures, a lifelong friendship has flourished.
“We were creative types in a small town,” Rob said. “We weren’t the greatest in sports, but we had a passion for making movies. Isaac has always been an amazing illustrator and I’ve always been his wingman.”
After high school, Rob moved to Memphis and graduated from Rhodes College with an English literature degree. Within a year, he landed a job at a prominent Little Rock advertising firm.
“My first job was in PR, though I never had one marketing class, but I had great mentors,” Rob said. “It was like training on the fly.” He was moved to the account services side of the business because the firm’s leadership thought that selling was a good fit for him.
“I saw it as a performance,” Rob said. “I was passionate about it, but I had to believe in what I was selling. It was more about hearing a client having a problem and giving solutions. That was gratifying to me. More than selling, it was building a relationship.”
While working for that agency, he met Eric Lancaster who was on a similar path at the same company. Eric grew up in Sherwood (Pulaski County) and earned his degree at the University of Arkansas. “We started having conversations about how we’d like to serve customers differently and I mentioned Isaac,” Rob said.
Isaac had earned a graphic design degree from Harding, then worked at a marketing firm in Memphis before making his way back home to Arkansas, where he worked as an art director for the state’s top agencies. He and Rob had never stopped talking each week and both wished they could handle things differently in their current jobs.
In 2004, the three men were all around 30 years old when they realized that they each possessed complementary strengths, that they were all Arkansas boys and proud of Arkansas’ brands. That’s how Eric Lancaster, Rob Bell and Isaac Alexander decided to create their brand, Eric Rob & Isaac.
“Our first client was First Security Bank, which was broadening their footprint and expanding into Little Rock,” Rob said. “We’re proud that they’re still our client.
“When you look at our website, you’ll see that ‘We build Arkansas’ favorite brands.’ It’s our mission statement.”
Fast forward about 17 years and the three men each carry the title “Principal” at their agency in downtown Little Rock’s River Market District. What started with three guys, one client, and one desk has grown to employ a team of 19 other creative types and now represents “dozens of other Arkansas treasures,” according to their site.
Their goal is to brand great Arkansas companies.
“When we started [in the industry] in ’99, it was a challenge to get people to understand what branding was,” Rob said. “We define branding as an essence. When you say the name of this entity, how do you feel? To get people to feel that way, there’s a whole lot of things you must do consistently over a long period. All of these clients have allowed us to permeate every facet of their identity, so we can help them build it.”
Part of the company’s culture is an attitude of respect and a value for collaboration, both with the client and with fellow team members. The founders have established these phrases to complement their mission statement:
“We” means a collective, team mentality. “Build” means to constantly strive for the next greatest thing. “Arkansas” represents that they don’t work for companies beyond the state. “Favorite” refers to their clients being well-run, treasured companies. “Brands” means they want the whole enchilada, or permission to run an all-encompassing brand excursion.
Additionally, they focus on the core value that culture is everything.
“We believe our culture is what’s held us together,” Rob said.
Eric, Rob, and Isaac have these goals for themselves and their team. “We have handpicked them because they’re all so important,” he said. “There’s no hierarchy. Most of them are multi-disciplined.”
He said they are enjoying a golden age among their hard-working team, but it’s taken time to get there. “We screwed up a million times. Some hard decisions are paying off now.”
While the company serves clients of all sizes, some pro-bono, Rob is partial to Conway clients.
“I love Conway,” Rob said. “My wife grew up here and we moved back in 2008. I’ve known from day one how unique Conway is. Our agency has done project stuff for the [Conway Chamber of Commerce] for 10 years. It’s neat because they want creative stuff and they allow us to be really creative. I’ve always believed in the secret sauce of Conway.”
The team of Eric Rob & Isaac has been working remotely for a long time and had hoped to reopen the office after Labor Day. Because the virus is affecting a lot of people again, they have delayed that.
“We worry about how long we can run on those fumes in a business that has to be collaborative,” Rob said. “We want to get back and our people want to get back because we like each other.”
Surprisingly, because all conversations have to be scheduled, they are communicating even more. “There’s been a lot more intentional, 15-minute meetings and I think when we’re back together we’ll keep that,” he said.
The secret sauce of the agency is the closeness of the founders.
“My partners are like brothers,” Rob said. “That’s where businesses break most of the time. We’re a three-headed monster. We have heated debates and have been through everything. We can talk openly, candidly and have a united vision.
“We are so proud to represent the brands that we have. They are treasured Arkansas institutions. They have been around and thrived. They already have a great story; we’re just telling it. I never imagined we would get to work on the kinds of brands that we have. That’s the biggest thrill — that they trust us.”