The Callis Story

OUTdrive, the Callis story

A Rural America Marketing Niche and the Evolution of OUTdrive

OUTdrive Episode 1: Solocast with Cliff Callis

This is an exciting week for us. At Callis, we’re launching our new podcast OUTdrive. If you have never been to rural America, you may be in for some big surprises when you hear stories about the way we live out here. If you already live the rural America lifestyle, you know how great it is. I hope you pick up a nugget or two each week that can help you in your personal or professional life. If you are marketing to us out here in the country, we want to help you better understand who we are, what we’re all about and how to better communicate with us.

Some people think of rural America as just that, rural. The flyover zone. But we believe that rural America is less about a geography and more about a mindset and a lifestyle, wherever you live, and it’s a pretty good one at that.

Each week, I’m going to introduce you to someone who has a real connection with rural America, whether it be through their job, their life or both. And they’re some of the best marketing people you’ll ever meet. Our early guests include David Coffman, who grew up in rural America and now lives in Houston. David is the co-founder and managing partner of Enermark Consulting, and will share his perspective on marketing to the rural American audience. Nip Neidert joins us to share tips on what it takes to be a sales success. Nip is one of the best relationship people I know and he has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in media sales. Kari Mergen, marketing director of the Missouri State Fair, talks with us about growing up, living and working in rural America. Mark Russell, executive director of the Missouri Beef Industry Council, shares his thoughts about the challenges of farming and ranching in today’s environment, and Steve Dust, CEO of the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, discusses doing business today. But before we start down that road, I want to introduce you to our advertising agency and how it came to be.

I founded Callis Advertising in 1987. I grew up in the retail business, a department store, working alongside my father and brother. We lived in the country on my mother’s family farm so I started working at an early age – mowing grass and driving a tractor until I was old enough to work in our store, where I worked in every department. I got my degree in business and after college, I came back to our stores and got involved in merchandising, marketing and management. I liked it a lot. The travel – the people – and the new merchandise that we bought each season. But retail changed and I wasn’t ready to commit the rest of my life to 7 days a week and the grind of a retail career. So I decided to do something else. I looked around and realized that Sedalia, Missouri, where I live, didn’t have a real advertising agency. At the time, agencies from St. Louis and Kansas City were coming into the market, and working with the area’s leading businesses and organizations. So I made up my mind to leave the retail business and create something special… Callis Advertising. So here’s nugget number one; follow your dreams…you never know where they will take you.

When I first got started, I would truly do anything for a buck, but I focused on market planning, creating ads and buying media, and the business took off! Soon, clients were asking us to do other things like public relations and sales promotion. Then along came desktop publishing and we jumped into that – buying a little bitty Macintosh computer with a tiny screen and asking our art director to learn how to use it – and she did. The business was going well and we were working with a variety of local companies in a variety of industries. Nugget number two: listen to your customers and you won’t have to sell them, they’ll buy on their own.

In 1991, one of our clients, Septagon Industries, a contractor and developer, was in a diversification mode and was looking for ways to grow. I had always been impressed with their organization and I loved the idea of everything I could learn from them, so we merged our companies, and Callis began to draw off the talent and resources of Septagon, as well as helping them grow and diversify. It was a great partnership that lasted 12 years. Nugget three: jump through the window of opportunity when it opens…you can usually jump back out later if you want to.

Not long after, Sierra Bullets, a bullet manufacturer, relocated to Sedalia from California, and we were soon working with them as their creative agency. For the next twenty plus years, we worked hand in hand with them to help build one of the most iconic brands in the industry. They exposed us to outdoor sports on a national level and over the years, we worked with some of that industry’s leading brands! We also expanded geographically and vertically into financial services, health care, senior living, insurance and a variety of other industries, including tourism. In 94, Callis was selected as the Agency of Record for the Missouri State Fair, which took us into the agriculture and entertainment industries, and we have served the fair for 23 of the last 25 years. So here’s nugget four: long term relationships built on mutual benefit and trust are the best!

It was about this time that another significant event occurred; the founding of the Internet. I still remember when one of our clients called it a fad. Who knew what a change the Internet would make? We jumped in early, registering domain names and building simple but effective websites. was one of our first. We also partnered with Publishing Enterprises during this time to create Meridian Student Planners, which we would later sell to focus on our core business. Nugget five: multiple revenue streams can offset the normal ups and downs of the business cycle and help you weather financial storms.

In the mid 2000’s, we joined as a member of the Agency Management Institute, AMI, where I have had the opportunity to share ideas and best practices with other small agency owners from around the country. Nugget six: have some people you can talk with about anything and everything – everyone needs a peer, a supporter and someone to hold them accountable. I really believe that if I had not joined up with them back in the day, I’m not sure I would be in business today because that’s where I first heard about Google, Search Marketing and all things Digital, and that brings me to nugget seven: when you hear about a company that has a product or service that you believe will change everything, buy stock in it! It can make you millions. Digital marketing truly changed our business for the better and I’ve been lucky in my career to be able to lead our agency through the digital revolution. Nugget eight: Have gratitude. It will cause you to be humble and understand that we have all been blessed. Early on, as we began to hear and learn more about digital, we recognized the significance of what was happening, so we invested in the staff, technology and training to position the agency as a digital marketing firm. I’m so glad we did. We started our blog, Callistetics, back in 2009, to help build the SEO on our website, learn how to do content marketing and position our agency as a thought leader. Over the past 11 years, we’ve written nearly 400 articles to help our clients and friends have a “marketing workout of the mind”, ie. Callistetics. We later changed the name of our blog outreach to OutThink, to better reflect our focus on the outdoors. We also adopted use of the phrase Marketing to Rural America to reflect our branding for who we are, which brings us to nugget number nine: Discover your niche and become an expert. People will value that.

So that brings us to nugget 10: Podcasts are one of the fastest growing marketing strategies that companies are using today and the growth curve is going straight up – it’s not too late to get started. For us, OutDrive is our next initiative to help our clients stay ahead of their competition, our friends to enjoy rural America even more and others to discover something new – learning from each other – sharing best practices – and leading their businesses into the future. As we talk today, our world is challenged by Covid-19 in ways we never dreamed of. Hopefully, we’ve been able to successfully guide our clients through this crisis and on to the better days we know are out ahead.

We at Callis thank our clients and friends for their support, encouragement and friendship over the years and we welcome newcomers into our life. We hope you’ll be with us every week and find OutDrive to be entertaining and educational. I look forward to spending some time with you, driving down the roads of rural America with some really great people. Sit back and enjoy the ride…and we’ll see you next week!