Reflections from Doug on 40 years of E&S.

As of October 17th, 2023, it’s been forty years for Ervin & Smith. That’s forty years of change, forty years of challenges, of victories and failures, of learning on the job, of having fun, of breaking new ground.

And forty years of building careers and livelihoods with some the smartest talent in Omaha and beyond.

As I look back, that’s what means the most. Building a business that’s been part of the success story for 285 employees and their families. We set out to stay in business and feed our families … and look what happened.

I want to thank the leadership team in place today for making this transition possible. And I want to thank the long line of talented leaders and thinkers that got us to today. And you, reader – thank you for being part of our success story, whatever role you’ve played.

Making change matter.

In any small business, failure is always looming. In advertising, it lurks around every corner. You have to learn to work faster, smarter, and more creatively – and actively take on the larger, more established competition. Change often looks like a challenge.

Sometimes, the challenge come from within. I made my share of dumb moves over the years – partnerships that didn’t pan out, ideas that should have stayed in the notepad – but I learned the importance of moving forward. Quickly.

Sometimes change is out of your control. Losing major clients to mergers or global pandemic, you know, that sort of thing. That speed, creativity and expertise I mentioned come in handy every time you’re handed something new.

But change is valuable in the right hands. That’s how we’ve thrived, and how it will move forward. As a parting gift to the new leadership of Ervin & Smith, this is a look at how we got this far.

How to get to 40.

Hire wholesome, emotionally mature people.
Wholesome? How corny. Nobody uses that word anymore. But we are a wholesome, well-adjusted group. We once had a guy have a big melt-down, denouncing budgets and deadlines. Everybody looked at him for a minute, then went back to work.

You can beat the big guys.
It’s not that hard. Big agencies are big, self-loving bureaucracies. We have outperformed huge, global agencies. We were better, faster, cheaper. And they reeked with condescension toward Omaha, our beloved city.

There’s too much fraud in our industry.
Instead of conning the client, let’s work together to make the client truly successful. One tip – never charge the client for cigarettes and whiskey.

Fix mistakes!
There’s a popular notion that mistakes are great because you learn. I don’t believe that. But you will make mistakes. Fix them quickly – especially hiring mistakes.

Don’t complain about the clients.
We are lucky to have them. They deserve our respect and loyalty. Offer everything you can strategically and make them someone you couldn’t dream of complaining about.

There are difficult people with talent.
There are wonderful people with talent. Guess which you should hire?

Be thankful.
Thank your clients, colleagues and everyone else along the way. Even if they didn’t really help you, they were a part of the opportunity that got you where you are today.

Read non-fiction. You’ll learn more about business by reading about Julia Child, Steve Jobs and Frank Lloyd Wright than you will by being in business. There are several books out by and about Julia Child. They are all terrific.

What happens next:

Leanne, Brittany, Katie, and Ashley: take these lessons and the countless others you’ve learned in your careers, and take care of Ervin & Smith. Current and former staff of the agency: carry on the legacy of being smarter, faster, and more creative – and know that I am proud of you.

See you at happy hour.


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.