GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. — When Ryan/Sawyer Marketing reached its 30-year milestone in 2020, president Dan Ryan hesitated to commemorate the occasion. “We were deep into the pandemic and like so many small businesses, our future was uncertain. Our clients were focused on navigating their way through unprecedented circumstances, we were scrambling to adjust to the new normal, and marking our 30-year anniversary just didn’t seem important or even appropriate. But we managed to ride out the storm, and though the pandemic is still with us, we feel better about where we are today and about now honoring our legacy. So, we’re calling this our 30-year +1 anniversary.”
The firm was founded in Grand Junction by Ryan in April 1990 as Ryan & Associates Advertising. “To be honest, the ‘Associates’ part of the name was a little hyperbolic as my ‘associates’ consisted of one part-time graphic designer,” Ryan laughed. “But I was optimistic that I could grow the business and too naïve to realize that I could fail.”
The company didn’t fail and by the mid-1990s had a half-dozen team members providing graphic design, print advertising, television and radio production, media buying and account management services. “We managed to land some of Grand Junction’s most prestigious businesses as clients and service them with a great staff of smart, creative people,” said Ryan.
By the late 90s, however, Ryan began to feel the pressure of being the sole owner of a growing business. “I began to realize my own limitations,” he said. “I was basically a creative director running a boutique shop and didn’t have the capacity to provide a full array of marketing services. I needed help and I wanted someone on board with some skin in the game.”
At the time, Ryan was working on a collaborative basis with Lee Whitney, a marketing professional and owner of L.A. Whitney & Associates. “I would bring Lee’s company in when a client needed marketing and business development strategies and he would bring me in when his clients needed creative work. I realized that Lee was the partner I was looking for, so we sat down over a beer and scratched out a deal on a paper napkin.”
Merging their companies, the pair launched Ryan, Whitney & Company, LLC in 1998. They were the first commercial tenant in the newly renovated St. Regis building in downtown Grand Junction which served as company headquarters for the next seven years. In 2005 the partners purchased a vacant building at 652 White Avenue and refurbished it to support and reflect the firm’s creative style.”
In 2009, serial entrepreneur and business strategist Tom Sawyer entered the scene. “Tom was writing a book on financial models for technology startups and needed a quiet place to work,” Ryan said, “so Lee and I rented a small office to him. I got to know Tom and began tapping into his vast experience in financial planning and business management. In return, Tom developed an interest in investing in our business.”
In late 2009 the trio struck a deal to bring Sawyer in as a partner and renamed the company Ryan, Sawyer & Whitney, LLC. In 2011 Whitney was ready for retirement and Ryan and Sawyer bought him out, renaming the company Ryan/Sawyer Marketing. In 2014 it was Sawyer’s turn to retire, and Ryan was once again the sole owner.
“I’ve come full circle,” said Ryan, “from starting out on my own 31 years ago to having two great partners for a number of years to being back on my own, it’s been an amazing ride. I was blessed with the opportunity to partner with Lee and Tom and learn so much from them both. Today I’m fortunate to have an exceptional team of people who are adept at working in both traditional media and digital marketing, and now I’m learning from them.”
Ryan said that the changes he’s seen over the past 30 years in the field of marketing and advertising have been astounding. “Obviously, the advent of the internet, digital marketing and social media has profoundly changed the way we do marketing,” he said. “What has also radically changed is the framework from which we produce the creative work. The technology has evolved so dramatically that the way we did things even a few years ago now seems laughably quaint. But what hasn’t changed is the objective behind the execution and the basic process of bringing that to life. Regardless of the medium we use to deliver the selling message or the technology in place to produce the advertising material, there is one purpose that remains constant: Give Lucid Statements to Strong Ideas. This has always been my mantra. And while the years have rendered the old mechanics of execution obsolete, this core principle remains timeless. Thirty years from now, with whatever new technology comes along, I hope that Ryan/Sawyer Market is still around with a new generation of creative people still honoring this principle.” Learn more about Ryan/Sawyer marketing at www.ryansawyermarketing.com