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Established: 1996
Location: Austin, TX
Employees: 150

Communication Arts Featured Agency

Post Date: 1/1/2011


Author: Matthew Porter

Like the city they call home, Bryan Jessee and Mark McGarrah defy stereotype. Bryan loves to rodeo but sips Chardonnay with BBQ. Mark roots for the OK Sooners but works in the shadow of the Texas Longhorns. Their hometown, Austin, is perfect for their tastes and lifestyles. It’s got cowboys, honky-tonks, taco stands and rabid conservatives on Capitol Hill, but Austin also remains the capitol of Texas “weird”; a placid blue island in a righteous sea of red, it’s a progressive marvel, home to Whole Foods Markets and five-buck shots of wheat grass and to the Broken Spoke and ten-buck shots of The Ass Kicker (don’t ask).

It is a milieu that attracts people like Jessee and McGarrah, lured here in 1992 and leaving behind Dallas to join GSD&M (then and now Austin’s biggest Three Ring Ad Circus). By 1996 they’d launched McGarrah Jessee (McJ). A fateful encounter would propel their careers.

Dick Evans, chairman and CEO of Frost Bank, had heard of McGarrah and Jessee before they left GSD&M. He made an appointment to drop by their new, humble office. He recalls:

“It was thirteen years ago and we were looking for a new agency. Now, as you know, banks are not the most exciting places and defining the intangible things that distinguish one from another is awfully difficult. The first thing Mark and Bryan did was to show me a bunch of bank ads with their names removed so I couldn’t identify which was which. They all looked the same: an old white-haired man with a coat slung over his shoulder looking over a construction site or a nice young couple sitting by a fire petting their golden retriever. Next, they told me they’d take the time necessary to learn who we were as people and as a company. They said that would require broad access to everyone in our company. We hired them and opened our doors to them. They came back with a campaign called, ‘We’re From Here.’ It’s a phrase that captures the essence of who we are. It remains the basis of our brand message today. Why? Because it defines the character and values of those who work here.”

In the many years since, strategies, channels and media have changed. Frost Bank has grown in size and added hundreds of new technologies that have changed the way they do business. “But,” points out Evans, “people remain the core of who and what we are as a business. Mark and Bryan understood that from the beginning and, over the years, have found marvelous ways to tell that story again and again.”

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