On Jan. 1, 1980, a small business opened on Fairview Road in Rocky Mount. As the company celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, founder and chief sunshine officer Skip Carney looks at the history and future plans of Carney & Co.
Since I now work with my dad, I asked him about the early days of the business.
“In the fall of 1979, I was the morning personality at WRMT radio,” he said. “I was ready to put down roots in Rocky Mount, so I went to my banker and told him I wanted to start a business. He said I was crazy and chances were that I’d fail within a year, but I convinced him to loan me the money anyway. Ever since, I’ve been determined to prove him wrong.”
The company began as a recording studio under the name Creative Productions.
“I told some of my former radio clients that I could help with their advertising, and several took me up on it,” said Carney. “All of a sudden, we were doing TV, newspaper ads, billboards, promotions, brochures. The recording studio quickly took a back seat to the advertising agency.”
Chambliss & Rabil was one of the first clients of the agency.
“Forty years ago, Carney & Co created a logo for our company,” said Norman Chambliss, vice president and partner of the construction company. “It’s the same logo we use today, and it’s been a major part of growing our brand. In fact, I don’t know that we would have a brand without Skip’s counsel. He pushed me to develop some marketable expertise. When we finally focused on a few markets, such as the dental and medical office fields, our business took off.”
Western Sizzlin’ Steakhouse was another key client in the early days.
“I knew Tommy Cliett to be a smart businessman and that if we could get in with his company, good things would happen,” Carney said. “On the day I finally convinced Tommy to give us a chance, his accountant walked into the room and calmly declared that advertising was a waste of money.
“Fortunately, Tommy didn’t share the same opinion.”
The accountant, a young John Bass, completely changed his opinion after seeing the results of the advertising.
“I had just started working for Western Sizzlin’ and I wasn’t a fan of advertising,” Bass said. “Skip was right though, and I was wrong. I saw the numbers myself, and started recommending Skip to every Western Sizzlin’ operator I knew. I still keep up with Carney & Co. and do my best to help advocate for them because I know that what they’re doing works.”
In the late 80s, Carney focused on Business to Business (B2B) marketing and started working with manufacturers in eastern North Carolina. Turner Equipment Company in Goldsboro and The Field Controls Company in Kinston are two B2B clients that are still on the agency roster, a reflection of the agency philosophy: above all else, take care of your customers.
Carney said he believes one of their greatest recent success stories resulted from the agency’s 16-year relationship with Southern Bank.
“Skip may be the most creative person I know,” said John Heeden, senior vice president of marketing for the bank. “He and his team believe in a ‘think outside the box/can-do’ approach. With their help, and by utilizing their ReVision tool, they’ve been an instrumental partner as we’ve evolved from a quiet community bank to a leading financial innovator in our markets and have launched some really successful programs. We never could have done that without Carney & Co.”
ReVision is a process the agency has developed over the past 11 years. It helps clients think more creatively, to see their problems differently and work on solutions more effectively.
“ReVision is more than marketing,” Carney said. “It focuses on four key areas: Operations, Products/Services, Sales, and Marketing. Most of the time, what’s really keeping a company from their goals is not the problem they think it is, and the solution is never what they think it is.”
The company celebrated a major milestone in 2018 when Jessica McKnight, Carney’s oldest daughter, joined the company as vice president, operating from Carney & Co. West in Greensboro.
She said ReVision is the key to the agency’s future.
“ReVision provides something that no other agency can,” McKnight said. “When we go through this process with a client, it’s amazing to see the ‘aha’ moments, the heads nodding and the ‘light bulbs’ come on as clients realize the insights and solutions that come out of a ReVision session.”
Long before officially joining the agency, McKnight was involved in the business. When she was 6, she appeared in her first newspaper ads and TV commercials. By the time she was 12, she was an intern for the business. After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill with a degree in marketing and advertising, she moved to the Triad and worked for the top agencies in that market.
“I learned a lot in my time at these other businesses,” McKnight said. “My dad had always not-so-secretly hoped that I would want to join the business someday —and in 2018, the stars aligned and we decided to go for it. It was just a right place, right time kind of thing.”
Which brings us to the latest addition.
As the newest member of the team, I’m excited to have the chance to work with my dad and my sister. I tell my story like this: “After graduating from (UNC-Chapel Hill) in December with a degree in media and journalism, I was working part-time with the agency while looking for a full-time job. Turns out, I liked what I was doing, so when my sister cracked a joke one day asking if I would be her ‘right-hand’ forever, I said ‘Sure’ without a second thought. The next week I got the official job offer, and that was that.”
So what’s on the horizon for the company?
“I’m having too much fun to retire,” said the founding father. “Personally, I’d like to focus more on ReVision, strategic planning, public speaking and writing. With Jessica and Spencer as part of the team, I know that I can step back from the day-to-day operations and that the company will be in good hands.”
Carney released his first book two years ago and said there are several more in the works “now that I have time to write,” he said with a laugh.
“For the future, I’m here as long as they need me,” he said. “I love working with my daughters and our clients and solving ‘unsolvable’ problems. If the next 40 years go as fast as the last, it will be one heck of a ride.”