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Smiths use arts background to build brands: Through LKS Associates, couple channels passion into successful marketing and events for clients

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Don Jay Smith, partner, LKS Associates, a PR team that markets and promotes performances.
Don Jay Smith, partner, LKS Associates, a PR team that markets and promotes performances. - ()

New Jersey City University had changed its name from Jersey City State College more than a decade ago.

The university, however, was still struggling to create a new identity.

So, it turned to Don Jay Smith and Linda K. Smith, co-founders and partners of LKS Associates in Tewksbury. The company created events to let people know about the new identity — in style.

“By creating recurring events, we brought a lot of attention to and shone a spotlight on New Jersey City University, not only helping to establish the university as a place for the arts, but, also, making it much more recognizable,” Don Jay Smith said.

Several years ago, LKS Associates assisted New Jersey City University in creating its free, annual Alumni Jazz Big Band concert on the J. Owen Grundy Pier at Exchange Place in Jersey City, and partnered with the Liberty Science Center to help establish and promote the New Jersey City University Presidential Speaker Series, featuring popular speakers ranging from Olympic athletes to best-selling authors to renowned scientists.

Creative brand reinvigoration is what LKS Associates does best, Smith said.

“We help organizations, especially nonprofits, rebrand themselves through marketing, public relations and special events,” Smith said. “Even when we work with organizations unrelated to the performing arts, we still find ourselves putting together concerts or a speaker series for them.

“So, we continuously find ourselves doing what we really love.”

Don Jay Smith began his career as an English teacher and a drummer with a touring jazz band.

“I discovered I didn’t much like being out on the road and constantly traveling,” he said. “I loved playing the drums, but I didn’t love living out of a suitcase.”

Smith returned to New Jersey after a few years to become a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Linda Smith, meanwhile, had been working for various record labels and advertising agencies.

“When Linda and I met, sometime in the 1970s, she said to me, ‘You know, we really ought to start an advertising agency with all of the stuff that you’ve been doing,’ ” Smith said.

That’s exactly what they did. Their company, Wordsmith Communications, at one time had more than 20 employees and clients such as AT&T, Pfizer and Honeywell.

Linda Smith left the company after the Smiths had a child together, and rekindled her passion for the arts by taking an old movie theater and transforming it into the Community Theatre of Morristown — or, as it is now known, the Mayo Performing Arts Center.

Smith would then create and become executive director of the New Jersey Hall of Fame for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, while Linda Smith became the executive director of the New Philharmonic of New Jersey.

“Finally, Linda and I put our heads together and said we’d like to partner again, using our expertise to rebrand and relaunch our company,” Smith said.

Though LKS Associates was incorporated in 1992, Smith said it was the experience they gained over those 20 years that led them to their focus in 2012.

“We bring a tremendous amount of experience to this business, and a very deep Rolodex,” Smith said. “We always can pick up the phone, draw on the resources that we recognize are needed to make a project successful, and get the help that we need.”

The Smiths continue to run their company by consistently utilizing a large network of consultants for specific projects. 

“Clients are not paying to run a big company — they are paying for our expertise in putting the pieces together,” Smith said. “We often work with other entrepreneurs who have been in business for a long time, often times from the television industry or from a production or media company.”

LKS Associates works with nearly a dozen clients today, including Seton Hall University, for whom it is developing an executive suite speaker series in an effort to attract alumni back to campus, and the Morris Museum and the Bickford Theatre, where they assist in season programming and marketing.

Growth has been steady, Smith said, at about 5 percent each year.

But the use of social media, he added, has made his job so much more exciting.

“When people Facebook Live broadcast an artist at the Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival, for example, more people are going to know about it,” Smith said. “You can have a very robust website, but people still have to choose to go there. On Instagram or Snapchat, if someone posts something about the event, suddenly, so many more people are seeing it on their newsfeeds.”

That helps LKS Associates overcome one of its biggest challenges, he said: reaching the right people with the right information.

“It’s not like there always is a dedicated television station or newspaper where you can get the message out to everyone interested in the arts,” Smith said. “The channels of communication are very splintered.”

Regardless, Smith said his ultimate goal for LKS Associates is to continue to gain trust and confidence with the clients he’s grown the business with.

“We like to build longer-term relationships with our clients so that we always know what their needs are, and they know our capabilities,” he said. “We want to continue to see our business grow through the retention of people that we are working with now on multiple projects.

“New Jersey is where we work and know our audiences — our long-term goal is simply to have people continue to turn to us because they know that we know what we are doing.”

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