COURTESY MCNEIL WILSON COMMUNICATIONS
David Wilson, left, and David McNeil, who fought their way up in the public relations and marketing business, wore boxing gloves and robes presented to them by the staff at the company holiday party Sunday night at Pearl nightclub.
Public relations pugilists party on
The destiny of two Davids: 25 years and counting
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Kamaaina British ex-pats David McNeil and David Wilson have just celebrated 25 years as partners in McNeil Wilson Communications Inc.
The Hawaii-based public relations firm is part of Anthology Marketing Group Inc., formed earlier this year with its purchase of Starr Seigle Communications Inc.
Other partners and senior managers excluded the Davids from part of the planning for the holiday party Sunday night at Pearl nightclub in order to surprise them with 25th, or silver anniversary gifts.
They included silver boxing robes embroidered with "Dapper" David McNeil and David "Dynamite" Wilson; boxing gloves signed by staffers; a chromed fight bell on a plaque inscribed with a logo riffing on the Everlast emblem that reads, McNeil Wilson, Est. 1982, Answering the bell for 25 years.
"The committee planning this felt the tribute to them as fighters fit their rise as a PR firm," said Patrick Dugan, a senior vice president.
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COURTESY MCNEIL WILSON COMMUNICATIONS
Together for a quarter century, the public relations team of David "Dynamite" Wilson, left, and "Dapper" David McNeil wore the commemorative gear they were presented at the company holiday party Sunday night. Dennis Christianson of Laird Christianson Advertising Inc. is the referee.
David McNeil and David Wilson established McNeil Wilson Communications Inc. on Dec. 3, 1982, and started with three people, the two Davids and assistant Janet Hyrne, who went on to captain the Aloha Festivals.
McNeil and Wilson surveyed the 200-some people at the company's holiday party Sunday night and agreed they never imagined 25 years ago that their little company would grow quite so large.
Not that they weren't ambitious, they were and still are.
They and their partners in Anthology Marketing Group Inc. employ 150 people and many work specifically for the Davids' division.
The two were looking for each other unknowingly all their lives and finally met in Hawaii in 1980, they said.
McNeil was born in India, the son of a British Army officer in whose footsteps he would follow.
Wilson was born in Britain and also became an officer -- in Her Majesty's Royal Navy.
McNeil spent part of his youth "living just outside Manchester (England), where I was born and raised," Wilson said.
Their fathers, both Scotsmen, their mothers, British. They were born four months apart.
"The comparisons go on and on a bit," McNeil said.
McNeil moved to Hawaii Jan. 1, 1976, and worked at the old Margo Wood Advertising agency where he became president of its Pacific Public Relations division.
Shortly after May 1 of 1980, when Wilson arrived in Hawaii married to television reporter Carolyn Tanaka, McNeil learned of him from a media buddy and called him.
The call got McNeil invited to Wilson's home and the two Davids clicked.
Wilson got hired at Pacific PR and the two talked casually about starting their own firm. Eight months later the ad agency went bankrupt "and this created the opportunity" to do just that.
They had nine clients. "We were tiny, but they agreed to give us a shot," Wilson said.
The Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association (then the Hawaii Hotel Association) and Marriott International were among them and have remained with the firm all this time.
"It's been a great relationship for us," said Murray Towill, association president. "I think they do it more as a labor of love. I'm sure we're not anywhere near one of their biggest clients," he said.
The relationship predates Towill's now 15 years with the association, and while the arrangement has come up periodically for review, "we have always been very comfortable and happy with the service and support they've given us," he said. "There's never been any reason or desire to change."
"We frankly recognize ... that there is definitely a business relationship, but there's also more of a labor of love on their part. We probably -- we do get more support from them than we pay for," said Towill.
The company grew an advertising division with the additions of Buck Laird in 1989 and Dennis Christianson in about 1991, McNeil said.
Then the economic downturn started.
COURTESY MCNEIL WILSON COMMUNICATIONS
The marketing duo set out to conquer the known universe (or at least the Hawaii portion) when they hung out their shingle 25 years ago.
"We all went through difficult stuff in the '90s," Wilson said. "As much as we didn't like going through that long period, those that are still standing, people like Ruth Ann Becker and people like Ruth Limtiaco weathered that long storm and those that are still standing are strong."
"We never missed payroll, we never laid anyone off and never asked anyone to take a pay cut," said Wilson. "And I hope I'm not bachi-ing this, but we always pay our rent, which is horrendous."
The company takes up almost two floors at 1001 Bishop Street. It could find cheaper digs, but "you make a statement by being on Bishop Street and you can't put a price on that." It is important to be convenient to clients, both agreed.
In 1999 Laird Christianson merged with Smartcomm, led by longtime maverick ad-man Doug Harris in 1999. It was a relationship that had the whole ad community talking and which ended in 2004 when the partners parted and kamaaina New Zealand ex-pat Harris again hung out his own shingle.
It wasn't a Brit-versus-Kiwi thing.
"We all love Doug ... he is an extremely motivated and bright guy. His path was just different," Wilson said.
That the Davids are on the same path becomes clear, listening to them talk about each other and their families with friendship, respect and admiration. McNeil's wife Helen Hanohano, "is an extremely neat lady," Wilson said.
"I found somebody I can talk to ... he's like my brother," Wilson said of McNeil. "We just hit it off and spoke the same language," albeit with a slightly different British accent.
The company takes up so much downtown square footage because in March, McNeil, Wilson, Laird and Christianson acquired Starr Seigle Communications Inc., once Hawaii's largest integrated marketing company.
The intricate, multilayered dovetailing of the companies' various parts took a multipage news release to explain.
There were no layoffs, a promise made to employees on both sides.
McNeil solidified a travel and tourism specialty for his company, which was also a strength at Starr Seigle. Wilson has specialized in corporate accounts and the political arena, as did retired Starr Seigle Chairman Jack Seigle, a so-called "kingmaker."
Starr Seigle divisions including StarrTech Interactive and QMark Polling and Research make Anthology Marketing Group the new largest integrated marketing company in Hawaii, with enough firepower under one roof to tackle a client such as the Superferry.
"Being in that room with everybody putting their challenges on the table and coming out with a fully integrated plan, where everybody's considering the other disciplines, it was an awakening for me," Wilson said.
The Hawaii Superferry has not enjoyed smooth sailing, but one of the firm's specialties is crisis communications.
Asked about the company's biggest achievements, like bringing American Idol auditions to
Hawaii, or helping to get the USS Missouri homeported at Pearl Harbor, both Davids demure, praise each other and point to the teams of talented professionals of which they were merely a part.
McNeil believes a distinguishing factor for the company is its 25 years under the same owners.
Wilson said, "When we started out, we had a fresh sheet of paper" on which to create the kind of company and corporate culture where employees would "spend some time talking to their family about what they did today."
McNeil and Wilson both draw upon their military experience for leadership. Wilson recalled receiving sage advice as a young officer, "Look after your troops and God will look after you," he said. "That carries over into this business because we look after our people."
Pressed for some quick milestones, Wilson said, "We just wanted a culture where people feel safe here, that they could feel ambitious without anybody stepping on anybody's toes. That's our big achievement."
McNeil Wilson's clients include:
» Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Assoc.
» Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau
» Hawaiian Air
» Kauai Visitors Bureau
» Marriott International
» Prince Resorts Hawaii
McNeil Wilson helped:
» Bring American Idol auditions to Hawaii
» Homeport the USS Missouri at Pearl Harbor
» Honor the Little League World Series Champion Ewa Beach Little League Team
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: email@example.com