New ad agency expects to have 'greater depth' Gray Kirk/VanSant foresees role as a national player


The pending merger of Gray Kirk & Evans and VanSant Dugdale, creating Baltimore's second-largest advertising agency, will give the resulting firm "greater depth, a more distinguished client roster and a lot of emphasis on the creative product," Gray Kirk Chief Executive Roger Gray said yesterday.

The merger, which was reported Saturday in The Sun and is scheduled to be completed by July 1, will create Gray Kirk/VanSant, with annual billings approaching $80 million. It is the first consolidation in the Baltimore advertising community since Gray Kirk & Evans was formed in 1989 with the merger of Smith Burke & Azzam and Evans/McLaughlin.

The newly created firm would have about 105 employees, but Mr. Gray said yesterday that layoffs are inevitable because of overlapping skills. All employees will be interviewed before cuts are made, he said.

Mr. Gray, 41, an avid sportsman with a strong financial background, will serve as the new agency's president and chief executive officer.

Graham Kirk, 50, an expert in product development and currently executive vice president of Gray Kirk & Evans, will be the senior vice president and chief operating officer.

Kenneth Mayhorne, now the chief of VanSant Dugdale and known for his broadcast writing and production skills, will serve as chairman of the firm. Mr. Mayhorne, who is 60, said yesterday he is preparing to retire within the next two years.

Guiding advertising creativity at Gray Kirk/VanSant will be award-winning copywriter Michael Diliberto of Gray Kirk and award-winning art director Jeff Millman of VanSant. The two have worked at the same advertising agencies before but "haven't spent a lot of time doing ads together," Mr. Millman said.

Ironically, Mr. Millman and Mr. Gray had a falling out in 1989 when Mr. Millman jumped Smith Burke's ship and went to VanSant.

But Mr. Gray says those tensions are behind the pair now.

"Business is not an emotional thing to me. I need the talent, so we'll work together," Mr. Gray said. "Michael and Jeff working together will be able to bring a lot of other talents through the door."

And Mr. Millman? "This is what I have wanted all along back three years ago. I'm looking forward to this. Roger and I are on the same page," he said.

"The same page" is in a book whose theme is becoming more of a national player, according to Mr. Gray and Mr. Mayhorne.

Mr. Gray said that it makes sense for Gray Kirk, which derives more than half of its billings from the Choice International hotel chain, to diversify. However, Choice will still be the merged agency's largest client, with annual billings of roughly $24 million.

The chief executive already has set his sights on cruise line, theme park and casino clients on the West Coast and in southern Florida.

Other areas Gray Kirk/VanSant wants to focus on are agribusiness, high-tech, fast-food, health care, travel and financial services. Independently, Gray Kirk has established its strengths in consumer, retail and entertainment advertising, and VanSant has been a leader in business-to-business advertising.

Mr. Gray said that a potential client list, which once included up to 1,500 names, has been whittled down to a group of 50 or 60 as a result of the merger. "We are going to be more selective. We're not going to go scrambling around for small accounts," Mr. Gray said.

He said the new agency will most likely be headquartered in the World Trade Center -- now VanSant's main office -- rather than Gray Kirk's offices in the Brown's Arcade building at 326 N. Charles St.

Mr. Gray said yesterday that although he considers the move as a "merger of talents," in actual accounting terms the agreement may turn out to be an acquisition.

He did not say whether it would be Gray Kirk doing the acquiring or VanSant.

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