40 Years in the Making: Wynne Angell’s Rise From Sales to Senior Living Innovator

Angell Marketing’s 20th Anniversary

40 Years in the Making: Wynne Angell’s Rise From Sales to Senior Living Innovator

From her early days as a senior living sales counselor and bold leap into entrepreneurship with her own consulting firm to her evolution into an aging advocate and founder of an award-winning senior living marketing agency serving 30 communities across the nation, Wynne Angell has helped shape an industry.

This month marks a momentous time at Angell Marketing as we celebrate 20 years of enhancing the lives of older adults and their families, and our CEO’s 40-year career in senior living. We recently spoke with Wynne about her passion for working with older adults, career insights, how failure led to success, and her plans for the future.

You grew up in Ottawa, Kansas, and spent summers working on your family’s multigenerational wheat farm before your first job at a large retail store. What was that experience like?

Even though I was ringing up things as a cashier, I loved the transaction part and talking to people. Many salespeople naturally gravitate toward helping people, which is all it is. That played into working with seniors later on in my life.

My parents, now in their 90s and living in California, have been sources of inspiration throughout their lives. My dad was a college professor who was ahead of his time. He raised my sister and me believing we could achieve anything we wanted and empowered us to be strong and independent. He had quite a career beyond academia and was appointed to a position in Washington, D.C., because of his vast economics knowledge. My mom, who was adopted and grew up around older relatives, was often involved in helping seniors in our community and giving them rides to church. Early in my senior living sales career, I was intrigued by the opportunity to help people with such a significant decision. I wondered why the role felt so fulfilling and realized my upbringing influenced it.

You studied elementary education at William Jewell College before switching to business administration and marketing at Arizona State University. Tell us about your “pivotal” first post-college job.  

In the mid-1980s I sold engagement rings and was a manager in training for Gordon’s Jewelers in Kansas City, Missouri, which solidified my sales and management career path. I’ve always been goal-oriented and motivated, and it wasn’t long before I was managing my own store in Minnesota. I loved it!

It’s unbelievable to think that I was leading teams when I was in my mid-20s. I was all about trying to inspire other people to be their best and would hold motivational Saturday morning sales meetings. I had my Zig Ziglar’s “Secrets of Closing the Sale” book, which is now torn and tattered.

How did you transition from retail to senior living?

I wanted to get into health care marketing and interviewed at a Phoenix hospital. They didn’t have any openings, but because of my sales and management background, they offered me a pre-sales counselor role for a new retirement community under construction. It was supposed to be a temporary position, but I saw it as a chance to prove myself. I fell in love with senior living!

The combination of getting that sales experience and prior management experience played into my becoming marketing director for Friendship Village in Tempe, Arizona. I had a business administration degree but had only taken a few basic marketing classes. One of my responsibilities was writing marketing plans, which was a new aspect of my career that I was unsure I could do. It turns out I excelled in strategy and analysis, which helped me become more well-rounded in both marketing and sales. That experience led to me becoming a regional marketing and sales director for Life Care Services®, one of the leading management and development firms in senior living.

You spent the next 12 years traveling nationwide, overseeing up to 10 sales and marketing teams at senior living communities. What made you shift to consulting in 2004?

I was a single mom to my 10-year-old daughter and wanted to travel less and have more control over my schedule. I met with Pam Koester, then acting CEO of Arizona Association of Homes and Housing for the Aging, now Arizona LeadingAge, who suggested I go into consulting.

I didn’t think I was qualified at the time, but Pam was confident I was. She was influential in me starting Angell Consulting in 2004. I’d meet monthly with her and several other women to talk about the trials, tribulations, and successes of being independent consultants. I admired them greatly, and they were sounding boards and sources of encouragement.

The consultancy thrived even better than I could have imagined, and my first consulting client was Beatitudes Campus, right here in my backyard. Peggy Mullan, the CEO at the time, was overseeing a community expansion and wanted me to set up her marketing department. I was a contracted employee that first year, acting as VP of marketing and sales. Peggy, who had a reputation for hiring consultants and then converting them to employees, wanted to hire me, but I was committed to being self-employed. I consulted for them for 20 years, with Angell Marketing handling their sales and marketing since 2011.  

You went from consulting to running a full-service senior living marketing and advertising agency. How did that happen?

In my previous roles, I helped clients choose advertising agencies and assessed their lead generation effectiveness. Joy Ricci, a friend and colleague in the senior living industry, referred two of our biggest clients to us. She wanted to handle the sales consulting but not the strategic side. We were great partners because we’d go in as a team to conduct sales and marketing audits for communities. I’d write the audits and present our findings, which were a combination of not having good sales or generating enough leads.

I told the board of directors they needed to hire an agency that understands senior living and its unique competitive challenges and opportunities. I thought I’d have the chance to recommend they hire my firm for their advertising needs, but I didn’t even have to. They said, ‘You have an agency. Could you handle this for us?’ That’s what sent Angell Consulting off to become full-fledged Angell Marketing.

Midway through your career, you considered leaving the senior living industry, but a failed franchise, coupled with your resiliency and resourcefulness, reaffirmed your commitment to working with older adults and their families. Tell us about that experience.

On a flight, I read an entrepreneur magazine article about PRstore, a franchise that helps small businesses with advertising and marketing, from website development to brochure design.

It struck me as the perfect fit for the senior living industry, so I contacted the franchise for more information. Then I set the idea aside and filed away the magazine. A year later, I visited one of the franchises, which reignited my passion for retail and customer interactions. I loved the concept of having a storefront where people could walk in and say, ‘Hi, I need a logo,’ or ‘I need to launch a new product.’ I thought it’d be fun to sit down with them, learn about their business, and come up with a plan to help them. 

One of my biggest pet peeves with agencies was not knowing costs upfront and having to sift through invoices to understand budgeted versus actual expenses. I also loved the idea of implementing a different pricing model and was so sold on this methodology that I signed a contract and a five-year lease for retail space in 2008.

Shortly after, the franchise I had invested all this money into dissolved. I still had to pay rent on the office space and couldn’t afford to break the lease, so I had to be resourceful. We used the franchise playbook to set up Angell Marketing, focusing solely on our senior living clients. The woman who owned the building wouldn’t let us turn the office into a different business, so we put shades on the windows and a ‘by appointment only’ sign on the door. When our lease finally ended, we had grown to four employees.

Today, Angell Marketing has 40 full-time and contract employees who provide solutions to dozens of senior living communities nationwide. The original franchise may have failed, but it was instrumental in solidifying my career path. While I ventured off briefly, senior living called me back 100% and I realized my heart was in serving older adults. My faith is unwavering and I believe in things working out for a reason. If it hadn’t been for my PRstore experience, I would’ve never started an advertising agency by myself.

Over your career, you’ve weathered three major financial challenges — the Savings and Loan Crisis, Great Recession, and COVID-19 pandemic. What’s been the key to navigating tough times?

In addition to my faith-based moral compass, I’ve been anchored in core values from the start of my career: authenticity, honesty, passion, good listening, adaptability, relationship focus, intuition, positivity, perseverance, teamwork, and humor.

Client loyalty and commitment have helped me build solid, supportive relationships. I’ve also relied on staff, colleagues, mentors, and trial and error. This field has introduced me to remarkable colleagues, professionals, and older adults who inspire me with their resilience and determination.

I’ve always taken it one year at a time with my business and am so fortunate and proud we’ve never had a down year or had to let anybody go during the pandemic. Angell Marketing’s growth chart has been an upward arrow.

You’ve spoken before about how senior living has changed over the years. What makes working in this industry so rewarding?

Senior living communities offer safe, enriching places for older adults. Senior living marketing combines lifestyle, health care, and end-of-life planning for a long, emotional buyer journey. Those in this field share a common bond and camaraderie to help older adults and their families find the right place.

I’ve always been motivated by a sincere desire to support and work with seniors. It’s so rewarding to have people say, ‘If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have moved here.’ I’ve also spoken at national aging associations and on-site marketing events, welcoming any opportunity to change perceptions about aging. When someone says, ‘I had to put my mom in senior living,’ I use that to dispel the myth that it’s a negative thing.

Most of Angell Marketing’s clients are nonprofit organizations that return revenue to the community’s programs and capital improvements. How do you and your firm give back?

I love everything about living in Phoenix — from the weather to the big Midwest conglomeration of people — so I make it a priority to pay it forward in both a professional and personal capacity. Angell Marketing contributes to fundraising events to ensure a community’s residents can continue to live there for life, even if their financial resources are depleted.

I worked with Beatitudes Campus CEO Michelle Just for 20 years. I was involved in the original capital campaign for their expansion and am a founding committee member of their Power of the Purse campaign.

I’ve been an Arizona LeadingAge member since 2010 and was appointed to their board of directors in 2022. The Angell Marketing team volunteers for their annual fitness event for local senior living communities. I’m also active with my church and personally support Young Life/Young Lives, which aids teenage single mothers.

At this point in your career, how are you preparing for your and Angell Marketing’s future?

I still enjoy working and am not ready yet to retire. It’s my name on the door, and I take that very seriously, which is why I’ve been working on my succession plan for the last couple of years. Our agency unquestionably needs to continue because there’s so much opportunity for our clients and the people who work here; it’s just a matter of who will be leading it.

Over the past few years, I’ve been developing a robust leadership team, and I’m continually amazed by the fortune of being surrounded by others equally dedicated to excellence and client success. It’s the perfect scenario for me because I work less now than I did for many years. With the confidence that our clients are well-cared for, I can focus on Angell Marketing’s brand and future, while still having time for fun activities like pickleball, Pilates, hiking, and traveling.

When retirement does come, where will you live?  

I’m super close with my daughter and her newlywed husband, who I adore. They live in Long Beach, California, so I’ll want to be nearby once they start having children. I won’t give up my Phoenix home anytime soon. I envision splitting my time here and in one of the stunning senior living communities we help market — after all, I’m well-versed in retirement lifestyles and the unique communities made for it!