Jajo keeps its X-factor

An advertisement in the program of April's Gridiron show at the Orpheum Theatre was odd:

It listed different ways to pronounce the word "Jajo." It might be jahjoe, zhayzhoe or hayhoe.

"'What does it mean?' That's the question I get most often," said Jajo founder Steve Randa.

It's a question Randa and partner Shawn Stuckey are asked more and more these days as the firm has grown.

The two are trying to shepherd 5-year-old Jajo (pronounced Jay-joe) from a one-man design shop to a full-service ad agency -- without losing the X-factor that made the place special to begin with.

The firm now has 23 employees and recorded $12.1 million in capitalized billings 2007. Both measures likely put the firm among the longtime big guys of local advertising.

The agency is located in a kid's playhouse of an office in the Orpheum office building, at 200 N. Broadway. It had to push out the walls last year as it nearly doubled its work force.

Randa and Stuckey are working furiously to keep the place fun and spontaneous while they add bodies, services and systems to allow the company to function better.

They also like the fact that they're getting big enough to shake up the Wichita advertising world.

For more than a decade, it has really been the big agencies and a cluster of smaller shops. This gives companies another choice.

"We're another box on the ballot," Stuckey said.

An evolution

The two worked together at Craghead and Harrold, a longtime ad agency, for more than a decade.

Randa was laid off in 2003 and decided to start his own agency. And in January 2005, Stuckey joined him, not long after Janet Craghead and Shirley Harrold made Stuckey a partner and put him on the masthead.

At the beginning, Randa and Stuckey joke, their office was locked just two hours a day; Randa liked to come in early, and Stuckey liked to stay late.

They prospered through talent and good luck.

Randa turned around a logo job from Raytheon Aircraft's hangar store fast enough and well enough to make the company happy. Today, Hawker Beechcraft is Jajo's biggest client.

The marketing director of another major client, Menasha Corp., a Wisconsin-based green packaging company, is an acquaintance from the Craghead and Harrold days.

As Jajo has grown, it has moved from design work only to add media buying, interactive development and public relations to become a full-service agency.

"In the beginning Steve and I would work all night and all weekend to get something out the door," Stuckey said. "Now it's more us being strategists and dealing with the clients."

They are looking to hire an operations manager for the agency.

They want to move beyond working project to project to being retained on a regular basis.

"They get the benefit of all the full-service -- and then maybe a little bit of a price break," Randa said.

The firm is still plenty hungry, the partners say, although they're getting to the point where they can afford to turn some work away.

Adriene Rathbun, communications director for Farha Construction and a former Jajo employee, said the firm is different.

"They've tried to keep the client at the center," she said. "They're still small in that they offer above-and-beyond customer service."

Linda Brantner, president and chief executive of Delta Dental of Kansas, agrees.

"I've worked with them since it was just Shawn and Steve, and they've been able to keep the boutique agency feel," she said.

The meaning of Jajo

And as to the name. Randa spent five or 10 minutes saying that it stood for nothing in itself.

It means whatever the various people at the firm want it to be.

"It's about us -- the collective us," Randa said.

It allows the employees decades from now to not live in the shadow of the firm's founders.

"We didn't want it to be names of these old guys on the wall after we're gone," Randa said.

Andy McGinnis, Jajo's director of public relations, describes the two as naturally humble and reluctant to boast.

But after being pressed, Randa admitted that Jajo did once mean something personal: When it was just him in his basement, he named his new agency after his children, Jack and John.

"But," he protested, "it's a much bigger thing now; it's not about me."