Eleven years ago, Tonia Wright founded Grace Advertising in Lexington, Mo. Today, she and her staff are proud to offer clients top-shelf digital, branding, and marketing services on par with big city ad agencies, but with results driven by small town values. Their key guiding principle? A passion for nonprofit and health care marketing, and an intense work ethic.
It all started when Wright incorporated her home-based enterprise, designed business cards, hired contractors, and launched her website. “During the startup phase, I leaned on my incredible mentor, my husband, Walter,” Wright said. “He kept me going. Eleven years later, he remains my mentor and silent partner. Without his love and encouragement, running this business would be extremely tough.”
Still in the early years, the quality of the agency’s work was being noticed. Wright said she will never forget landing her first major account, with Independence (Mo.) Power & Light. Grace Advertising was competing with agencies across Kansas City. “I’m talking about endowed agencies with crazy budgets and huge staffs,” she said. The request for proposal process was incredibly complex, and Wright put her heart and soul into crafting Grace Advertising’s response.
The morning the decision was to be made, Wright was up and at it early. “I got my workspace ready for the day – this was before we moved into our office. Walter was getting ready for work; it wasn’t quite time to get our daughter Tempest up to start homeschool.” Wright booted up her computer, checked email…and there it was: a letter from Independence Power & Light awarding the contract to Grace Advertising.
“We beat out all the large agencies! Walter, Tempest and I were ecstatic. It was like David slaying Goliath – it was huge!”
In 2009, Wright moved Grace Advertising to 325 Broadway Street, its present location in Lexington. Her team continued to expand as clients sought out her agency’s expertise. “Health Care Collaborative (HCC) of Rural Missouri is a client we’ve had for over a decade,” she said. “That particular relationship happened after a good old-fashioned cold call, when we asked if they had someone to take care of their marketing. They were just getting their wings behind them.”
Fast forward 10 years, and the HCC has transformed from a two-person office to a staff of more than 50 people. “They are a nonprofit, the only rural health care network in the country with federally-qualified health clinics,” Wright said. “To watch their incredible journey has been extremely rewarding.”
Wright’s ad/tech agency provides integrated marketing services for a variety of nonprofits and health care facilities throughout the Kansas City area. The agency’s roster also includes an international electronic health record firm, as well as various municipalities.
In December 2017, Wright was nominated to the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City’s board of directors. “They do incredible work in several counties throughout Missouri and Kansas, focusing on individuals with unmet needs and providing grant support to nonprofits. They help individuals live better, do better, and get necessary resources to facilitate lifestyle changes that could conceivably be generational.”
A significant portion of Grace Advertising’s efforts are dedicated to what they term Advocacy Marketing. “Ad agencies are fun and they do cool things,” Wright said. “I would say Grace Advertising is fun and cool, but we’re not selling, you know, trendy shoes. Instead, what we do is indirectly impact the health and wellness of people we will never meet.
Through Advocacy Marketing, we have the opportunity to write an article about human trafficking. Or domestic violence. Or risk factors for diabetes. Or any cadre of health care issues or public health issues, like the opioid epidemic. We have the capacity to not only drill down to the nitty-gritty, but to educate individuals about what’s going on beyond a 15-second sound bite on the evening news.”
“To have a platform like that to educate people and let them know what resources are available, that surpasses the superficial stuff. That means so much to me and to our team.”
Forging and maintaining a great team is another priority for Wright. “I believe when we work together and support one another, it truly becomes a work family,” she said. “That’s what I strive to create, whether it’s in-house staff or our remote team. We are all just folks who work hard with tremendous work ethics.”
So, how does Grace Advertising stay relevant in this era of constant change and evolution of services? “We must always be ready to relearn what we think we know,” Wright says, “and we must be eternal students of our craft.” She says Grace Advertising will always be powered by humanity, making sure that people who are underserved have the education and awareness tools they need to live better. “That will never change.”
As Wright looks back over the past 11 years, she appreciates each client who has trusted Grace Advertising to serve on their behalf. “They all have incredible missions, and we are pleased that we had a part in helping them.”
As for Tempest, she is all grown up and part of the agency’s team. As the marketing manager, she is the agency’s principal artist and photographer, and supports the writing team. The agency employs nine additional professionals – including Executive Assistant, Rian Souders of Richmond, Mo., who is passionate about public health.