Mississippi Business Journal
FLOWOOD – Liza Cirlot Looser turned a $78 tax refund check into a full-service marketing, public relations and corporate communications firm with more than $25 million in capitalized billings.
Known nationally as one of the top advertising agencies in the defense industry, boasting clients such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, The Cirlot Agency celebrated a recent coup: helping Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin win one of the largest defense contracts ever awarded, $11 billion over a 20-year period.
But Looser could have grown the firm into an even larger, more prestigious company.
Early on, she decided not to do business with casinos, tobacco companies or alcohol companies, three behemoth industries representing lucrative, highly coveted contracts.
“Our ethical stand in the world of business has enabled us to have the highest integrity among our peers and other Mississippi businesses,” said Looser, CEO of The Cirlot Agency. “The agency’s clients choose us because we are fair and honest, It shows in our work for clients.”
Because of her firm stance on the issue, the company has been recognized for its successes. Among its many awards and accolades: the prestigious Blue Chip Enterprise Initiative Award, a national competition that recognizes companies that have overcome adversity to enjoy great success.
“Liza’s first job out of college was at The Clarion-Ledger,” explained Rick Looser, COO of The Cirlot Agency. “Hired to do outside sales – with no automobile – Liza had to either walk or take the bus to call on clients and prospects. After proving herself as a go-getter, Liza was hired by a Jackson ad agency as an account executive. Then, in 1984, Liza decided to strike out on her own. When she approached the agency owner to impart her plans, he laughed and said, ‘you’ll never make it in this business.”‘
When Looser opened a business bank account with just $78, the bank teller had to get special permission to waive the opening minimum requirement of $100. With a wink and a nod, the teller told her, “Go get ’em, tiger!”
The first year of business was the toughest because Looser had to comply with a non-compete agreement with her former employer. She could not solicit accounts within 100 miles of Jackson for 12 months.
“Not only did she have to prospect for business outside the area where she was known, she had to work out of her home … and perform all the tasks herself, from marketing and creative strategy to artwork and account management,” said Rick Looser, an advertising executive from Tuscaloosa, Ala., who met and married Liza Cirlot several years later. “For a while, she worked in downtown Jackson, using the Eudora Welty Library as her office and calling on prospects from the library’s phone booth.”
In honor of the bank teller’s advice, The Cirlot Agency’s employee handbook, “Welcome to the Pride!” features a tiger logo.
“Our philosophy is pretty simple: get results,” said Rick Looser. “We constantly strive to provide clients with direct, non-illusive, hardhitting marketing, public relations and corporate communications that is cost effective. This is done largely by establishing close working relationships with each client, by sitting down together and learning everything possible about them and their business.
“In the same vein, we prefer for our clients to be involved every step of the way, from concept to execution. This brings us a better understanding of their objectives so that we can produce hard-hitting, direct communications that get results.”
The Cirlot Agency also has a deep sense of giving back to the community. Over the last 21 years, the firm has donated more than $7 million in in-kind service to churches, charities and non-profit organizations. Hundreds of thousands more dollars have been poured into community service projects, such as the highly popular “Mississippi, Believe It!” public service campaign, in which a series of 11 posters was sent to every public and private school and university in the state to help educate students about the wonderfully unique aspects of being from Mississippi. Nearly a million visitors have viewed the Web site.
The Loosers have sustained a fun, family-oriented work environment that fosters collaborative teamwork. Women share Girls’ Night Out while men go hunting, and everyone joins in – employees and spouses – in the Cirlot Supper Club.
“The gold standard of how the agency makes any of its business decisions is the ‘Golden Rule’ (of) doing unto others as you would have others do unto you,” emphasized Liza Looser.
Early Tough Choices Worth It as Firm Sees Success
Mississippi Business Journal