QA Wexley 'school' something completely different

The "Wexley School for girls" on Nickerson Street near the Fremont Bridge isn't actually a school, and it doesn't have anything to do with refinishing pianos or antiques, as a painted sign on one window seems to indicate.

Instead, it's an advertising agency that uses humor in 80 to 90 percent of the ads it pumps out, explains Chris Lohman, an account executive and lead producer for the company.

So what's with the name? It turns out company founders Cal McAllister and Ian Cohen were thumbing through a phonebook four years ago when they started the business and came upon the name, Wexley, which had a ring to it, Lohman said. And the "School for girls" bit evoked an image of a posh, private, East Coast educational institution, he added.

Normally, ad agencies are named after company principals, Lohman noted in a crowded office space cluttered with papers, laptop computers and props.

As for the furniture-refinishing bit, Lohman said Wexley decided to keep the window signs of the former business that occupied the space. That sly branding of the company name has carried over to the ads it produces.

The primary focus of the Wexley School was creating a full-service agency that works on branded content for print, television, radio and Internet ads, often on a multimedia platform, he said.

Print and video examples can be found on the company's Web site, (, and one TV ad for Nike illustrates the approach. Part of Nike's "You're faster than you think" campaign, it features two teenage guys who are both named Steve, and their coach tells them that only one can use the name.

To decide which, they have a footrace, the winner comes from behind, wins the race, pumps his fist and says, "Steve. I'm Steve!" Nobody even mentions "Nike" in the commercial. "It's entertainment sponsored by a major company," Lohman said of the spot, "but it doesn't feel like traditional advertising."

Among other clients are ESPN, a Portland car dealership, a bottled-water company, T-Mobile, xBox, Microsoft, MSN and nonprofits such as People for the Puget Sound, he said. "We also produce video games with company names branded into them."

Advertising agencies often target specific demographic groups, and Wexley is no different. "Without question, we're strongest producing marketing for 18- to 34-year-olds," Lohman said of a prime consumer group.

But some of their ads also target groups as old as 54, he added. "What they [clients] like is, we can think and produce in a tone that's relevant to a target [group]." Still, humor works for all age groups, Lohman stressed.

When the company lands a project, it tends to designate a creative director, usually one of the two founders, along with a lead account executive or producer, he said. Those are supplemented "with what we call creatives," Lohman added.

It's a pop-culture environment, and ideas can come from anybody on the creative team for a project, he said.

"We all do each other's jobs at times."

Currently, the company has 14 full-time employees, and freelancers and interns push the number of staffers to around 20, Lohman said.

And the company continues to grow. The first two years, Wexley brought in around $1 million each year. But that figure had climbed to $5 million last year, and Wexley hopes the number will reach the $10-million mark this year, he said.

The Wexley School for girls is also expanding and plans to open a new office in Belltown in July, Lohman said. The new digs will be the equivalent of a branch campus, though, because the company is going to keep its original office on Nickerson Street, he said.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.

[[In-content Ad]]