What is the history of GWL?
GWL Advertising was founded in 1993 by Gary W. Lay. Fast forward to October of 2019, when Gary sold the company to two of his most trusted and tenured employees, Creative Director Christy Vandergriff and Senior Account Manager Julie Barnett.
We never anticipated taking ownership of a thriving business five months before a global pandemic. However, we adapted quickly, remained flexible with our staff, and their needs, and continued to focus on the success of our clients.
The GWL media footprint stretches across 18 states, with over 60 clients in over 20 different industries. From state fairs to country clubs, medical providers to sparkling seltzers and funeral homes, GWL really covers the full spectrum when it comes to client diversification. We also remain a major player in the automotive industry where we first cut our teeth.
Who is GWL?
We are a quirky, boutique-style agency right in the heart of Little Rock. We are proud to be a women-owned company in an industry that is most definitely male-dominated. GWL prides itself on creating brands, campaigns, and strategies that cut through the “clutter.” You can see our thought and creativity in our work and in our company as a whole.
Our creative minds and unique personalities make us who we are today. We’ve worked very hard to build a team of just the right people. It plays a critical role in our ability to serve our clients at the highest level and to continuously set new standards in our industry. Agency culture is another key aspect of our business model. It’s paramount to us that we take time to focus on having a fun, engaged agency culture that works hard and plays hard together.
What is the best part of being a business owner?
Starting this journey as long-time employees ourselves, we have a unique perspective and we’re now able to make calls that we know are best for the future of the company and our employees. We’ve been able to create the environment that we’ve always wanted to provide as leaders.
We are also both working moms who have worked hard to find that work/life balance – for ourselves and our fellow moms and dads in the office. It has become our goal to cultivate a “village” in which other hard-working women and men are able to thrive in the workforce but also be great parents too. Here at GWL, we truly believe in putting family first.
Lastly, our ability to be impactful in a positive way where we work and play is extremely important to us. We’re always working to find ways to give back to the community through pro bono work and community outreach. We want to share the “G-Dub Love” with those organizations that are near and dear to our hearts as well as the hearts of all of our employees. And that is a huge part of who we are as a company.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
Gary has given us a lot of advice over the years, but two pieces of advice that have stuck with us are “Take care of your people” and “eliminate debt.” We have stayed true to both of these, which has allowed us to expand and grow securely.
What advice would you share with other entrepreneurs?
Invest in your people. We believe that no matter how conservative you are fiscally, insulating your company with the best people–those who will step up to any challenge and jump in wherever needed–is the most important key to success. You have to take care of those who care enough to bring their best.
How has your business grown over the past 5, 10, 20 years?
The biggest area of growth in recent years has been our effort to diversify. We started out in the automotive industry so many years ago and that’s really where we cut our teeth. After taking over the company in 2019, we have really championed diversification.
We began our business-ownership journey five months before a global pandemic; however, building upon the strong foundation established by Gary gave us the tools we needed to power through a challenging time. In fact, our agency only grew stronger and better during that time, increasing in profitability and in people during the pandemic. GWL Advertising is going to great places and we are ecstatic to be able to share our talent, creativity, and experience along this journey.
12921 Cantrell Rd Suite 100, Little Rock | 501.228.6900
Owners Julie Barnett & Christy Vandergriff | Photography by Jamison Mosley