40 years of adaptation: Ervin & Smith transitions leadership.

This article was originally published for Midlands Business Journal and written by Tiffany Brazda.

Starting as a small advertising agency by Doug Smith and Pat Ervin in 1983, Ervin & Smith has flourished over the past 40 years into a full-service marketing agency with notable clients from Berkshire Hathaway to Scoular under its wings.

As the world of marketing has undoubtedly changed over the past four decades, Ervin & Smith has adapted along the way. Now, Smith, executive chairman, is stepping back and handing off the business to President & CEO Leanne Prewitt and CFO Brittany Wozny.

From left, CFO Brittany Wozny, President & CEO Leanne Prewitt, CMO Ashley Bails and CCO Katie Herzog. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)


As Smith puts it, the decision to go from a copywriter position at a prominent local agency to branching out on his own wasn’t a grand vision. Rather, it was the feeling of being undervalued that led him, alongside Ervin, to start an agency of their own.

Starting Ervin & Smith just days after quitting his job, Smith put everything he could into the business, often coming into the office at 4 a.m.

“You’ve got to be willing to do some things that you really don’t want to do to be successful,” he said.

Advertising offices looked quite a bit different during those October days in 1983, a year before Apple Macintosh personal computers were introduced. Not knowing the first thing about building a client base, Ervin & Smith went all in, learning from both the good and bad experiences.

“I always say I’ve been lucky,” Smith said of the company’s quick growth.

Notable clients in the early days included First Bankcard, TD Ameritrade and Lincoln Benefit Life. Those blue-chip clients weren’t the only boost for Smith. He credits his knack for hiring the right people with finding his successors. At 76, Smith is ready to hand over the keys.

Full Circle Leadership

Prewitt, who worked stints at both Omaha and New York marketing agencies, started with Ervin & Smith in 2016 as creative director. Much like Smith, she was ready to pull from past experiences, the good and the bad, to work on her leadership development.

“I wanted something where I could make a big impact and really test out all of the things that I have learned,” she said.

Being appointed to President & CEO in 2021, Prewitt echoed the same sentiment as Smith about her path at Ervin & Smith.

“I think most success is talent and hard work, but also a whole bunch of luck,” she said. “Doug and I have that in common.”

Prewitt’s vision for the future of Ervin & Smith starts with her leadership style, allowing the team to bring their whole selves to the workplace.

“The way that we talk about the kind of environment we have here is that it is not just about what we do, it is about how we do it,” she said. “We know that the work we do will be meaningful and will be impactful.”

Policies such as 12 weeks of paid parental leave, offering flexibility for improved work-life balance and nurturing relationships in the office are a means to support the mental and emotional health of team members.

Bread and Butter

A large part of the agency’s longstanding growth lies in the hands of the executive leadership team. Chief Client Officer Katie Herzog, Chief Financial Officer Brittany Wozny and Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Bails join Prewitt to round out the pillars of running a marketing agency.

“We have four women who are at the peak of their particular vertical,” Prewitt said. “Our vision is to have a smaller expertise-filled team.”

Building a base of knowledge across numerous industries has helped the team pull insights to “connect the dots,” and reach client goals, Prewitt noted.

Executive Chairman Doug Smith. (Photography by Debra S. Kaplan)

One of the agency’s biggest project successes to date has been Berkshire Hathaway’s biBERK, a small business insurance company. Increasing brand awareness and undergoing a complete rebranding, the campaign has helped boost the company to exponential growth.

“Now we get to play on the other side of the equation, which is the brand, and seeing how the brand can help move the business forward. That’s been extremely exciting to watch that go from the tiny startup pet project to now a billion-dollar company,” Prewitt said.

Five-Year Plan?

Prewitt noted that with the volatility many businesses are experiencing at present, making a five-year plan for clients is just not feasible. Ervin & Smith has found its strength by finding that nagging problem that made a business owner say, “We need to make a change.”

“We specialize in using marketing to solve complex business problems,” she said. “We’d like to say that we partner best with the C suite because we know that we can get in and understand what is truly happening in their business. And then find ways to use marketing to solve whatever is keeping them up at night.”

As for Smith’s next chapter, he said he plans to travel, spend time with his nine grandkids (hope for great-grandkids) and write more.

Leanne Prewitt

President & Chief Executive Officer

Shaped by her background in creative direction, Leanne leads the agency’s culture and creative vision and also oversees the operations that allow a team of marketing, design and media specialists to create powerful and effective work for their client partners.

Leanne began her professional career in New York City working for some of the nation’s leading agencies. In 2016, after a five-month sabbatical around the world, she returned to her hometown and joined Ervin & Smith. Her global perspective and expanded professional experience influence the work she does today.