AGENCY EXECUTIVES EXPLAIN THE MERITS OF OPENING BRANCH OFFICES
Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
Smooth moves. That's what some agencies are making when they strategically open new offices - whether they're doing so to serve existing clients, beef up business or acquire other agencies.
Below, three agency executives reveal why they opened additional offices and why these branches are valuable to them and their clients.
O&B RUNS WITH DEERE
When Deere and Company decided to create the North American Agricultural Marketing Center in Lenexa, Kan., back in October 1998, St. Louis-based Osborn & Barr Communications seized the opportunity to establish a nearby office.
The purpose of the Kansas City, Mo., office is twofold, says Michael Turley, vice president of O&B and general manager of the agency's second office. "First and foremost, we're here in KC for Deere," he explains. "Our responsibilities for Deere continued to expand, so we decided to move our Deere creative, account service and production teams in order to be closer to our client. We wanted to offer a better product, greater service and build on our 11-year relationship with the folks with the No. 1 brand in agriculture.
"But we also viewed Kansas City as a great new business potential," Turley continues. "It's a vibrant advertising and PR market with a lot of great talent. We wanted to tap into that."
So Turley and five other staffers opened the Kansas City office in April 1999. Today, the office has 27 employees serving the agency's foundation clients - Deere, John Deere Credit, VantagePoint and Agris. (They've expanded so quickly, they've already had to move to larger space.)
Turley expects the office to expand its clientele fairly quickly. "Although Deere's Lenexa needs have been our primary focus during the first year of operation, we'll add new clients to the roster," Turley says. "We see a lot of opportunity in Kansas City, with a great blend of agriculture, consumer and association account possibilities."
The Kansas City office is a completely full-service agency, although its brand management and media services are handled in St. Louis. "We're not really a branch of the main office," Turley explains. "In many respects, we operate independently, but we're still Osborn & Barr. We have collective organizational and profitability goals."
The agency had to make a major commitment during the startup of the office, especially in the area of technology. A wide-area network (WAN) was installed to provide a fast, reliable channel for communications between the two offices and their clients.
"We've made a tremendous investment in the new location and are confident about assuming the risks involved - you have to be," Turley says. "The two largest expenses are salary and space. It's real simple: You have to make payroll and keep the lights on first. Then we work toward our profitability goals."
Turley and other Kansas City staff members attend quarterly meetings in the St. Louis office and maintain regular contact with the media department and other O&B staff via conference calls and email. Video conferencing will be installed in the next 12 months.
"The O&B culture we built in St. Louis is the foundation of our venture in KC," Turley says. "We're extending that here, but with new people joining the staff, we're developing our own character."
Two tips Turley would offer agencies opening an additional office: Make great decisions on the people you find, recruit and hire. They are the keys to success in a new environment. And consider your long-term business objectives. Focus on what you want to be and what type of client you want to pursue.
EXPANDING A TEAM
It's not unusual to find team members of Meyocks & Priebe Advertising Inc. humming along I-35 on any given day. The Des Moines, Iowa-based agency even has a fleet of three cars to make traveling easy for staffers at its home office and its locations in Minneapolis and Madison, Wis.
"The two remote offices are not branch offices and are not profit centers," notes Ted Priebe, president and CEO. "They're two additional offices that exist for different reasons."
Meyocks & Priebe opened the Minneapolis office in 1995. "We wanted to tap the incredible creative talent of the Twin Cities," Priebe points out. "And then because we had a presence there, we were invited to make pitches for clients in the area."
Today, the office has eight team members and lots of freelancers working on two major local non-ag accounts and a host of the agency's other core accounts located outside of Minnesota.
The Minneapolis office also serves as the major spot for TV and radio production. "Our creative director, Burke Johnson, is based in Minneapolis, but he works for all of our clients," Priebe notes. "He's in Des Moines quite often."
The Minneapolis office produces a lot of creative for the agency's ag clients. "For instance, creative for Intervet (based in Delaware) is produced in Minneapolis, while account service is handled in Des Moines," Priebe notes. "A lot of the Minneapolis overhead is in Des Moines."
The Madison office opened two years ago to attract ag and non-ag business that agency executives didn't think they could get without having a presence in Wisconsin. "The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is a major client and an example of an organization that will work only with people who have offices in Wisconsin," Priebe says. "Account service is handled in Madison, while creative work is done in Minneapolis and media is based in Des Moines."
Account service for Wisconsin Farm Credit Services, Madison, is now based in Madison, although the agency had handled the account from Des Moines since 1997.
Meyocks & Priebe will watch the Madison office closely for another year. "If it's as successful as we think, we'll look at opening offices elsewhere," Priebe says. "We'll especially consider cities where we already have a client because we can have a team member there who is billable."
Part of the agency's culture that especially comes into play with the remote offices is keeping everyone in the loop. To do this, an all-agency meeting takes place every Monday morning at 9 a.m., with Minneapolis and Madison team members hooked up by phone. We share agency news, discuss weekly travel and do 'brand moments,'" Priebe says.
The entire agency gets together in person in Des Moines for quarterly meetings and social events. "It's important for everybody to see everyone else," Priebe says. "The remote offices don't have separate holiday parties or summer socials. We want them to be part of our annual events so they can get to know everyone and meet each other's spouses."
Priebe acknowledges that having remote offices costs more, but they're a way to grow business. "They've been instrumental in our growth and are contributing to our overall profitability. That's how we can justify the expense."
Morgan&Myers' core business strategy for opening an office has been driven more by clients and employees than by geography. During the past 15 years, the Jefferson, Wis.-based agricultural public relations firm has acquired three Midwest agencies and established them as branch offices.
"Our goal has been to invest in the best communications technology and create a process that helps employees and clients work seamlessly with our creative, research and accounting resources at our headquarters in Jefferson," says Max Wenck, senior counselor, agricultural practice director and partner.
The agency's seamless process is based on these guiding principles:
1. Give employees the best communications technology tools and training. Branch office staffers maintain daily dialogues with the home office through e-mail, faxing and conferencing. Face-to-face planning meetings take place when needed.
2. Encourage employees to build relationships with peers in other offices.
3. Give clients access to your best team, regardless of location. "We share communications tools and processes to cross-communicate and cross-pollinate clients with ideas and counsel," Wenck notes.
4. Bring employees together frequently to celebrate success and grow professionally. "Firehouse Tech" is the agency's two-day, off-site professional development program.
5. Recognize employees more for what they accomplish with a team than what they accomplish by themselves.
6. Measure business success client by client, not office by office.
The agency established its first branch office in 1985 when it was just three years old. M&M acquired a Waterloo, Iowa, agency doing public relations for The Upjohn Company (now Pharmacia & Upjohn).
"We made the acquisition because it enhanced our agribusiness portfolio," Wenck says. "Upjohn was comfortable with the Waterloo location, so rather than moving everyone to Jefferson, we established a branch office so employees and their families could stay in their communities."
The goal was to have a seamless process between the two offices. "We integrated the counseling and communications services for our clients and created a career development program for new employees that rewarded delighting all M&M clients and not just the clients the office served," Wenck says. "Janine Whipps is a great success story of that program. Today, she's a partner in the firm and manages the Waterloo office and its six employees."
In 1989, the agency decided to diversify its mainly agricultural portfolio and acquired a Milwaukee agency to create Morgan&Myers/The Barkin Group. "The move enhanced our media and reputation management practice areas," Wenck says.
The seamless processes that were working well for the Waterloo employees and clients were implemented in Milwaukee. "But the office culture was outdated and out of step, so Linda Wenck, senior counselor and partner, took over as president and CEO of M&M/TBG to nurture employees and clients"
Today the office has 21 employees and its own creative department. "The diversification strategy at M&M/TBG has worked," Wenck says. "The clients we have added like Case IH, Monsanto and Kraft Foods look to us for the advice, strategic thinking and solutions that our seamless approach sponsors."
M&M's business strategy to become preeminent in agriculture and food practice areas led to the 1996 acquisition of The Thoms Group, a food public relations firm in Minneapolis. The office, led by Senior Counselor and President Mary Rosenthal, has 23 employees, its own creative department and test kitchen.
"The process of seamlessly integrating the expertise of "foodies" and "aggies" is growing careers and client business," Wenck says. "It's synergized the passion our employees have for food and agriculture. And it's given our clients new insights and strategic counsel on biotechnology, their growing interdependence in the 'food chain' and their relationship with the emerging 'CEO farmer.' AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.