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Just call them “Ad Persons Of The Year.”

Richmond Ad Club names Dubuque, Neathawk Ad Persons of the Year

Susan Dubuque once climbed out a window and onto a roof to save a cat.

Maurice Davis, a 30-year employee of the advertising firm Dubuque started with Roger Neathawk, recalled the kitty caper when asked why he’s stayed with the company all these years. 

In the firm’s early days, Davis and Dubuque shared an office, and one day they got to talking about a cat on the roof next door.

“Mo kept telling me there’s a cat starving on that roof,” said Dubuque, using Davis’ nickname. She didn’t believe him at first, but another day went by and the cat was still there. Concerned, she knocked on the home’s door and asked the occupant if she could see about the cat. It turned out it was stranded and starving.

But Dubuque saved the fraidy feline and walked up and down the street until she found its owner. 

Dubuque’s get-it-done gumption is a contrast to Neathawk’s soft-spoken steady demeanor — and together the two have been at the helm of one of the region’s most successful advertising firms for 32 years. 

The Richmond Ad Club on Friday night honored the duo as the Mike Hughes Ad Persons of the Year, named for the longtime president of The Martin Agency who died of cancer in December 2013. The club promotes the advertising community and offers networking events and other resources. 

The Hughes Award is selected by the Ad Club. Other awards presented at the event, held at the Residences at the John Marshall, were selected by a panel of professionals from the advertising community. 

“Their contributions to the advertising industry and our community are so important,” Richmond Ad Club President Christina Dick said in a prepared statement. “Roger and Susan have dedicated their lives and the resources of their firm to improving the lives and well-being of others, especially those in the nonprofit sector.” 

Dubuque and Neathawk said prior to the ceremony that they were humbled by the honor.

“I can’t think of any higher recognition than recognition from your peers,” Neathawk said.

“I’m very touched. I feel like it’s the capstone on my career,” said the former hospital executive who left that career in 1984 to start the advertising agency with Dubuque.

He was a hospital CEO and she was in the marketing department when they combined their talents to start an advertising firm and sought out clients, including hospitals that were just beginning to embrace marketing to tout their services.

“Even though the honor is for us, it’s an honor for the agency and all the people who work here,” Neathawk said. “It’s for our clients, even for our vendors who have been so good to us. You don’t stay in business for 32 years and get an award like this by yourself.” 

In recognizing the firm, the Richmond Ad Club noted the firm’s pro bono work last year for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ popular Japanese tattoo art exhibit.

That work included bus wraps, posters, coffee cup holders and even “tattooing” the exterior of the firm’s offices at 1 E. Cary St. with an eye-catching tattoo-like mural.

The past several years have been a time of transition for the firm.

Neathawk stepped down as CEO and from day-to-day management of the firm in 2014, and became non-executive chairman of an expanded board of directors. 

More recently, the company rebranded itself from Neathawk, Dubuque & Packett to ndp, with a logo that includes a circular doodle that resembles an airy ball of string.

“It’s also an easier name to say and remember,” Neathawk said of the new moniker. 

“And easier to spell,” added Dubuque, who has gotten used to creative misspellings of her last name.

The logo, she explained, is a nod to the creative process: “Not thinking in a straight, linear line, exploring all options,” she said.

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