Talent and Big Ideas can come from the most unlikely places.
By Frank Compton
I have a special place in my heart for agencies and their creative teams who are "off the beaten path." Not that Atlanta is any advertising mecca itself, but I spent the first two decades of my copywriter/creative director life in Gainesville, GA, a town whose primary point of interest was a statue honoring a chicken. Life isn't easy for ad agencies in such places.
New business is especially tough. You pitch accounts because, well, they're there. Things like a big vat called The Pig Tumbler, designed to remove the hair from the backs of scalded hogs—an essential step in the process of making bacon. We actually did spec work for them. And we still didn't win.
Then, if you even make the cut in a respectable new business review, try picking up the prospect team at an airport and driving them for an hour and a half into the Georgia mountains. Think "Can you squeal like a pig?" and "Dueling Banjos." They're not real pleased to be there.
Then there's the issue of recruiting talent. You start out as an unknown agency in a place where the Dairy Queen is the center of nightlife. Unless you run across someone with a good book and reel who needs a hiding place for a while—and I actually found one—you're pretty well screwed.
Agency life off the beaten path gives new meaning to, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." Old Blue Eyes didn't have a clue. But somehow a few agencies do it. And do it well.
My old agency—Sawyer Riley Compton—I'm proud to say, is one that did. We grew into a solid 55-person agency with a client roster of Fortune 500 companies. Like other successful agencies in out-of-the-way places, we did it initially by focusing on very niche market categories. We had knowledge and skills those clients wanted and were willing to come to us to find—and pay for. And we managed to do some work that was judged on more than one occasion to be pretty good. I still proudly display our first One Show Merit Certificate signed by Ron Berger and Alan Beaver, back in the day, of course.
We moved SRC 60 miles south to Atlanta and went on to build an agency driven purely by the work with D&AD, The One Show, CA Advertising Annual
and a nice feature in Communication Arts
as testament. Great brands like The Ritz-Carlton and CNN came. And reels and books from good talent wanting to be a part of it piled up almost every day on the reception desk.
Now Sawyer Riley Compton has started life over with another agency not necessarily in the center of the creative universe either. Pittsburgh-based Blattner Brunner once again gives us the challenge of convincing clients and talent that an off-the-beaten-path agency really can do smart, good work. This time, however, I have a much better starting point.
I don't have to go to the post office to compare names on the wall with Pencil winners for recruiting purposes. There's already a solid team in place. And, there are brands on the roster like Zippo, Golf Pride, Dow and Cub Cadet that give other marketers some assurance they're in good company. What's more, rather than the long drive into the land of Deliverance
, Pittsburgh is blessed with the greatest grand entrance of any city in the country. The arts and culture are amazing, endowed with money that's the only reminder today of the steel and Pennsylvania crude dynasties that built the city.
Like the chicken tribute where I started, however, Pittsburgh does have a statue you can't miss when you fly in. Actually two statues. One is of George Washington, who began his military career on the Allegheny long before he ever saw the Potomac. The other is Steelers great Franco Harris. In Pittsburgh, like most of America's off the beaten path places, football, patriotism, apple pie and motherhood are all still revered. In such places you don't always need a focus group or planner to put you in touch with real consumers. They're right there with you every day.
So, here's to you, Mr. Copywriter in Canton, OH and to you, Ms. Art Director in Anniston, AL, who proudly slave over concepts for your own Pig Tumblers. Someday, your One Show Pencil will come.
Frank Compton is Chief Creative Ambassador at Blattner Brunner, which is based in Pittsburgh, PA.
To read more about reigonal agencies, pick up the latest winter issue of one. a magazine.