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Jan 31, 2024

A Decade of Distinction: Local marketing firm’s impact on business and brands

Amy Bartlett

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“While everyone’s cake is different, the recipe for success is generally the same – it’s my clients’ unique ingredients that dictate the flavor of the cake...”

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Celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Bluffton-based marketing and brand development agency group46, founder and owner Ryan Lockhart shared the secrets to success that have built his life and business – and the successes of hundreds of others throughout the Lowcountry and beyond. 

“No one tells you it takes 10 years to become an overnight success,” Lockhart said with a lilt, and dead serious about the acumen and tenacity that created, sustained, and established one of the area’s most innovative hands-on agencies. 

“It’s not about the agency, though. It’s about relationships,” Lockhart said.

Ryan Lockhart

What is today a web of bold, impactful brands began on less than the proverbial shoestring when Lockhart immigrated to the U.S. on a student visa – with nothing more than a backpack, a credit card, and a one-way ticket. What many referred to as a “knack,” Lockhart has turned into an intuitive influence and reputation for results known throughout the coastal Southeast and around the world. 

With his life and business partner Lisa Lockhart, whom he celebrates as the agency’s “promise keeper and air traffic controller,” the Lockharts form the perfect alliance of brand navigators fulfilling their mission to, “Change the course of your company, craft smart brands, create the path to success, cultivate the means to get there, and connect your brand and ideal client in the most fruitful engagement experience.” 

“Anyone can do it like everyone,” Lockhart said, quoting the agency’s mantra. “The marketing world has dramatically shifted to being transactional. It seems everyone is trying to sell their product or solution to anyone as fast as possible. What we bring to the table are true relationships for our clients – we teach them how to figure out who to have relationships with and who they need to become to be in a relationship with their ideal customers.” 

“There’s a lot of talk about a so-called ‘secret sauce’ when it comes to marketing and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Lockhart continued. “Simple things done consistently over time create extraordinary results. That requires rolling up your sleeves and doing the hard work, building equity with the client, and building the client’s equity with their audience, so that they’re continuously discriminated towards, in their favor, as an intuitive fit for their ideal target market.”

It is not a one-size-fits-all recipe.

“While everyone’s cake is different, the recipe for success is generally the same – it’s my clients’ unique ingredients that dictate the flavor of the cake,” Lockhart said, with intimate knowledge of each of the brands and personalities behind the agency’s inimitable portfolio of businesses. “I think of myself as a growth partner, having helped dozens of companies to ‘5x’ their business. I treat them all as if they’re my own and invest their resources to maximize returns.”

Those maximized returns are a consistent testimony from the agency’s notable roster of long-running local clients:

Dr. Brad Fraum of the Fraum Center for Restorative Health said that after 25 years of working in the Lowcountry, it was hiring group46 in 2018 that led to an estimated 400% growth, through developing their brand and implementing a strategy that aligned with their existing goals and values. 

Dave Miller, owner of Superior Services, the brand behind the famous yellow trucks on every local road, said, “Knowing I have a team of experts led by a highly motivated individual allows me to focus on serving the increased business they create for us. In doing so, we’ve grown 700% over the last eight years with the long-term strategy and consistency that group46 brings to the table.”

Lockhart recalled that when Callawassie Island came to group46 for a new brochure, he approached the opportunity with such confidence he could change the projected course of their community, it turned off Marketing Director Lindsey Cooler. 

“His lofty directness shocked me,” Cooler said. “I almost didn’t choose them as a vendor, but seven years into the relationship, our cost per client acquisition has halved and our marketing reach has doubled, all attributed to the long-term vision Ryan saw and implemented. We feel like we have a true partner, someone who proactively helps us achieve new heights for our community.” 

That sense of true partnership is what Lockhart calls a learned behavior from the “totem pole” of influences on whose shoulders he knows he stands. “I pay testament to people that I had the opportunity to work with in the early days and today of group46,” he said. “I was lucky enough to partner with some of the leading marketing experts in America – legends of the industry who came and worked with me to teach and mentor me, which enabled me to develop this diverse skillset of strategic, tactical execution.”

Lockhart is referring to major players like Tom Gardo, the godfather of marketing on Hilton Head Island and one of the names behind Sea Pines’ original campaign in the 1970s; Donna Thomas, whose work shaped some of the biggest aviation brands at Gulfstream Aerospace; Michael Weaver, who came with 25 years of Madison Avenue advertising experience; and the late Pierce Lowrey, who birthed CH2 Magazine, who said, preparing Ryan for success, “50% of all businesses go out of business in the first 12 months, 90% in the first four years, and it takes seven years to know if you’re going to make it or not.” 

The wealth of investment Lockhart received, he continues to reinvest. “I still strategically build my business based on valuable information I’ve taken to heart, implemented, and tried to model to others,” he said. “My vision for group46 is to continue to work as a growth partner, taking our ideal clients where they envision, or beyond what they can see, toward successes they haven’t even imagined for themselves.” 

New or established businesses alike leverage Lockhart’s influence as a coach and fractional CMO, mentoring and training clients with consistent tools and practices that “help business owners get discovered, heard, and known,” and pointing them consistently toward their true north. 

“If you’re going to start a business, it’s like giving birth to a baby – you’re going to need to be willing to make sacrifices for that baby to thrive,” he said. “If you don’t have a foundation like an MBA or a business background, that’s like a prematurely born baby and you’re going to need specialty care from a team of experts.”

At 10 years, Lockhart isn’t letting up but gearing up for new levels, looking back over a decade in which he’s built more than just businesses and relationships. He has built his character, his faith, and his home. 

“I’m not the same guy as when I started,” he said. “In the last five years, my relationship with God is what has most flourished. My most fruitful growth has been in walking out my daily faith. Who I am today is because of my walk with Christ. That comes from having an amazing wife who has pushed me to be the best version of myself that I can be, meeting and falling in love with a woman who made me, of all people, raise my game.” 

This is intrinsic marketing – born of heart, pulled from a backpack, and packing an influence measuring billions in combined client revenue, but importantly, which Ryan and Lisa Lockhart measure by the people and the community they serve, and the life they are building together. 

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