By Don Bolding

Killeen Daily Herald

Killeen and its environs have grown enough in the past 20 years or so to need lots of media work, but it's not a big city quite yet.

That might mean that big advertising and public relations agencies from metropolitan areas would find a well-stocked little pond, except that there's a lot of local talent. About 20 years ago, they started guarding the ramparts by forming a Bell-Coryell County chapter of the American Advertising Federation.

Called the Central Texas Ad League, it competes all the way to the top of the market.

"We showcase creative talent and prove our clients don't have to go to Austin or Houston to find first-rate work," said current president Mary Ann Nickolai, director of marketing for Texas Partners Federal Credit Union.

A case in point is the monthly membership meeting April 6 at the Bell County Expo Center, featuring Katie Clifford, a representative of Ryka athletic shoes for women. "They're a small company, and like us, they have to deal with big competitors," Nickolai said. "Katie will tell us how they found their market niche."

The active membership of about 50 includes advertising agencies, copywriters, photographers, artists, teachers, radio and television personnel, or anyone else whose main business is advertising or marketing.

Some memberships are individual and some corporate, with different classes. Banks and credit unions are represented, as are hospitals, car dealerships and other big retailers.

The last meeting was on creating and improving Web sites. An annual August seminar on professional development and creative processes this year will feature Randy Snow of R&R Partners of Las Vegas, the firm that developed the "What Happens Here, Stays Here" campaign.

Two of the Ad League's founders were Carol Boyd and her daughter Brenda Wheeler, who is president of the Artworks Ad Agency.

Wheeler has a story about swimming with the big fish. Annual awards in the AAF are called the ADDY awards. Local winners go to five-state district competition, and winners there compete nationally.

In 1993, Artworks made it all the way to national, but Wheeler and her group, modestly considering themselves country cousins, sat near the back of the Jewel Room of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., to watch the city glitterati walk off with the prizes.

Then she heard her company's name. The announcers had to wait about five minutes for her to climb over the crowd to be recognized.

"There were 73 winners out of 73,000 entries," she said. "I was never so surprised."

Artworks won "best of show" in local competition this year for developing a "Wiz of Biz" theme with "Wizard of Oz" imagery for the annual banquet of the Central Texas Workforce Centers.

In 1991, the Central Texas group hosted the five-state District 10 convention. One of the lures was the promise of a ride in an Abrams tank at Fort Hood. At the worst possible time for that, the first Gulf War started, and there was not a piece of equipment to be found. "We did have a party dressed up as famous military leaders, though," she said.

Past president Monica Hull, marketing director of the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corp., credits connections in the ad league with landing her present job. She recalls another regional conference here in 2000 with the theme, "Elvis learned leadership here, and so can you."

She said, "It's nice to be around people who do what you do and have the same issues. It's also nice to learn what it's like on the other side; all the people you deal with as suppliers and clients are there, and you learn what they have to contend with in their jobs."

She also pointed out that the group offers student memberships and student competitions.

"We try to be mentors to young people with talent," she says, adding with a grin, "Hey, let's train the people who are going to steal our jobs."

In 2006, Hull won the first Silver Medal Award ever to be given by the local group for advancing the industry's standards, creative excellence and responsibility in areas of social concern. She was credited with almost doubling the organization's funds and increasing participating membership. She calls it her "lifetime achievement award."

At all levels, the AAF sponsors a plethora of awards for both print and electronic media and promotes ethics and professional development.

"It's a constant forum for creative ideas," Nickolai said. "The networking and education produces a collective creative power that advances the whole industry."

Contact Don Bolding at or (254)501-7557.


From her office at Texas Partners Federal Credit Union, Mary Ann Nickolai develops marketing ideas and leads the Central Texas Ad League as president.

Courtesy Photo

Members of the Central Texas Ad League ham it up at the 2007 ADDY awards banquet with the theme "The Great Gaddy," a combination of "ADDY" and the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel "The Great Gatsby". Left to right are Randy McCauley, Bentley Olsen, Erin Shephard, Clifford Fudge, Courtney Williams and Hector Maldonado. Seated is Teresa Frei.


Members of the Artworks team that developed the winning "Wiz of Biz" theme for the Central Texas Workforce Centers awards banquet display photos and table decorations. Before them are some of the awards the ad agency has won through the years. Left to right are agency vice president Sam Wheeler and graphic designers Teresa Frei and Clifford Fudge.

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