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Best of NAMA 2023

Editor's note: We invited the leaders of the largest advertising and public relations agencies to provide an update on their organization's new initiatives and activities they are doing differently this year.

AdFarm, Calgary, AB
by Kim McConnell, CEO

Three key aspects of AdFarm's ongoing growth are performance leadership, greater insights into large-
production agriculture, and truly "connecting with customers." All are critical to our clients' short- and long-term success.

Performance leadership - this is the term AdFarm uses for continuous improvement. It also speaks to the firm's commitment to deliver exceptional value. In tandem with our clients, we continuously challenge processes thereby ensuring efficient and effective marketing and communications excellence.

Changing demographics - a major focus for AdFarm over the past year has been to understand the evolving needs and expectations of large-acreage/large-volume farms - the customers all our clients depend on. AdFarm developed an exclusive strategic alliance with an organization providing services to 150 progressive farmers (ranging in size from 3,800 acres to 48,000 acres). Through this alliance, we gain greater insights into their businesses and management practices. We're learning what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and the communications that they truly value.

Our new alliance began last year, and the focus was limited to one geographic area. Based on its success, AdFarm plans to expand the service offering into other regions and sectors of North American agriculture, adding further value for our clients.

Connecting with the customer - while many of our clients invest heavily in knowing their customers and what they purchase, AdFarm assumes the responsibility for developing the best path to the doors of farmers and agri-business. Our initiatives must drive to a much deeper level than simple creative, PR or media direction. They must also include how we talk to farmers and client customers. This is one of our AdFarm brand promises, and our ongoing commitment to be a catalyst for the advancement of agriculture.

Bader Rutter, Milwaukee
by Greg Nickerson, president/COO

We have expanded our service offering in three critical areas:

Digital: We brought on board John Gilbert, a seasoned interactive professional who is our Digital Solutions director. He is one of the Internet pioneers of the Midwest, founding his own firm in 1995 and building it into a 30 person operation before selling it two years ago. He has vast array of experience and has taken our offering to a whole new plateau.

Brand Asset Management: We added two professionals to this team and saw a surge in interest. Several new product introductions and repositioning assignments drove this increased business. We are also finding renewed interest in unlocking the power of brands, as it becomes more difficult to differentiate.

Public Relations: The interest in this discipline continues to grow. Reputation management, influencer relations and media training in particular have experienced considerable interest. In 2005, we added eight associates to our Public Relations Group.

Our overall focus remains the same: delivering exceptional service to help our clients build their business. With time, such a precious commodity, it's become ever more important to provide timely, efficient and effective service.

Broadhead + Co, Minneapolis, MN
by Dean Broadhead, president

Our focus is to push forward on a model that's working. We've had the advantage of building our agency over the past five years to better meet the demands of today versus ten years ago. A decade ago we all had budgets that allowed us more flexibility to cover all the bases, from advertising to direct to PR. Today, we have to be far more selective on determining campaign strategy and making budgets stretch further. The greatest impact of that shift has been determining where you focus staffing resources.

We continue to focus our staffing model on individuals who can serve as both business strategists and managers. It seems odd to be running a marketing communications agency without any full-time creative talent but, on the flip side, it allows us the flexibility to bring in a wide variety of creative resources. And fortunately, creative resources are plentiful in Minneapolis.

There are two areas in which we're seeing tremendous growth. One is business consulting. The other is expanded use of online communications vehicles, from push e-mail to online newsletters to blogging.
I cannot pinpoint exactly why business consulting is taking off. Perhaps it's an offshoot of our staffing model or that clients find more value in more closely integrating marketing and communications strategies. Either way it makes for a very rewarding relationship for both the client and the agency.

Online communications have been a real boon for the PR business from both a tracking and a customer dialogue perspective. Specifically, I think the capability to maintain a dialogue with customers has made communications more relevant and ultimately strengthened our client's relationships with their customers.

All in all, it's a good time to be focused on agriculture and rural life, specifically if you're structured to meet the evolving needs of clients.

Charleston/Orwig, Inc., Hartland, WI
by Lyle Orwig, CEO

Charleston/Orwig has implemented a major upgrade of our accounting and traffic software. It was a significant investment for our agency, but one that continues to pay dividends. We now provide real-time data for project management for our staff and for our clients, up-to-the-minute project status, detailed budget analysis and customized reports for our clients. More importantly, all of our agency's day-to-day functions can now be automated. It really helps us be both more nimble and more accurate in all the business side of the agency.

Another significant new investment was our exclusive Lead-to-Sales calculator, developed by our Strategic Marketing Group. This tool takes macro economic, industry and market share data and forecasts, calculates the number of unit sales, contact wins, proposals and leads that are then needed at the national, regional and dealer levels to achieve a client's business plan goals.

We will continue to invest in new technologies to better provide our clients with the best, most up-to-date market information and analysis. Our interactive department develops Internet survey tools that provide invaluable market research and insight in a more cost-effective manner than some of the traditional research tools. This allows us to provide accurate, timely measurements for all our marketing communication activities on a more expedient basis. These tools supplement traditional market research techniques such as focus groups and quantitative studies.

Colle+McVoy, Minneapolis
by Phil Johnson, president/COO

At Colle+McVoy, we are bringing our mission statement - Involved teams. Insightful thinking. Inspired ideas - to life with a new initiative that will help us provide greater value to our clients by understanding and applying what we'll need to succeed in the future.

We call it "Inventing the Future." It's more than a program. "Inventing the Future" is really a culture shift based on the simple fact that marketing communications as we know it is in a rapid state of change. Just consider a few of the words that are now in our everyday vocabularies: TiVo, Google, broadband, podcast, dark fiber. It all means we have to get smarter about reaching and moving new audiences in new ways.

Two examples of how "Inventing the Future" has already been put into practice include:

Future 411. These 30-minute sessions each Friday morning are open to every one of our employees. The presentations include outside experts or our own internal specialists who describe the latest in communications vehicles, audience mindsets, technology advances and more. We share breakthrough ideas, some that are already working and some that are still blue sky. We celebrate brave thinking and encourage new bravery.

Invent Your Future Scholarships. A few months ago, we offered our employees $150 scholarships to be used as they wish to get a glimpse of the future. They can use the funds to invest in technology, take a class, experience new media, rub shoulders with folks representing an emerging audience. And once they've seen the future, we want to hear what they learned and how their perspectives have changed.

We've also stepped up efforts to share what's new, what's working, how media is changing, audience shifts, etc., on our Intranet site, through face-to-face conversations and on old-fashioned bulletin boards in our halls.

And, as we prepare for our move to downtown Minneapolis later this year, we're planning collaborative spaces and an open environment to encourage even more connections within and across our teams.
The end result of this agency-wide commitment will be greater job satisfaction for our employees and smarter work for our clients - work that will create their future and ours.

Gibbs & Soell, New York, NY
by Coz Mallozzi, president/CEO

At Gibbs & Soell Inc., there's an increased emphasis on professional development. Gibbs & Soell University (GSU) is an intensive, offsite, two-day training program with a special emphasis on boosting the skills of mid-level managers. About 30 to 40 Gibbs & Soell employees at a time go through the program, which includes three half-day, interactive, small-group seminars on topics such as developing leadership skills, the business side of account management, guiding employees' professional development, and win-win negotiation. The sessions are developed and taught by G&S managers with special expertise in the subject matter.

It's a big commitment to develop a really good curriculum and then to send 35 people to a facility for this kind of intensive program. But we saw a gap between the project skills that our people develop at the Acct Exec level, and the increasing management skills they need to supervise people and run accounts. The feedback we've had from participants has been very positive. They come back from GSU with knowledge and confidence that help them do a better job of serving clients and managing business.

At the agency's most recent GSU, held in April, one of the sessions was on a G&S service that's in high demand: Message Mapping. The agency facilitates a half-day or full-day meeting to brainstorm, focus and organize a client's key messages, be it for corporate positioning, a brand or a strategic concept.

The resulting Message Maps are versatile. They can help determine a company's overall strategic positioning, drive an entire marcomm campaign, guide internal communications, or be used simply to keep a media interview on track. The process gets the clients' key decision makers together to discuss, identify and prioritize the relevant audiences and the core versus supporting messages. Essentially, we get it down to one broad, key strategic statement, a few supporting "pillars," and the main supporting points for each pillar.

McCormick Co., Kansas City
by Mark Perrin, president

McCormick Company began 2006 with two initiatives - create an international component of the company built around client convenience, and create a new company to provide ideas to clients using non-traditional tools of engagement.

Rather than follow traditional international models of "agency networks" or "agency affiliates," McCormick chose to create a strategic partnership with Marston Webb International to provide media placement and public relation services for its clients on a worldwide, seamless basis.

This affiliation allows McCormick clients to domestically place and monitor media as well as implement public relations programs anywhere in the world - no international travel requirement, no language barrier, no loss of control and budgets.

This new capability provides McCormick clients with unrivalled working knowledge and segmentation/targeting of the markets and media in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

McCormick has spawned a stand-alone company, called AQUARIUM, with a stand-alone brand to infuse ideas with energy - melding direct customer insight with unexplored strategies to deliver unexpected thinking.

In addition to a think tank/brainstorming bent, AQUARIUM will utilize a non-traditional toolbox of new or "participative" media to deliver communications messages. Interactive is a key offering in this arena, but by no means the only offering of AQUARIUM - viral, experiential, buzz/WOM, stunt, out-of-home, events and personal communications are also part of the mix.

In this changing communications landscape, AQUARIUM will bring ideas to the table for its clients that can compliment traditional media approaches or completely revolutionize a client's approach to the market. AQUARIUM is headed by Kori Skinner, who moves from McCormick Company, and is staffed by new Millenial hires. AQUARIUM is based in Kansas City. Details about the company can be found at

The Meyocks Group, West Des Moines, IA
by Donna Tweeten, president

The late Dick Meyocks, co-founder of The Meyocks Group, loved the big idea. Dick was always looking for something different and unexpected. So, too, was Dick's successor, Ted Priebe.

In the past year, The Meyocks Group recommitted itself to this approach by introducing the theme of "Brands Built on Brave Ideas." It's more than just a new tagline. It's a way of approaching clients and work with the firm belief that doing something you've always done and expecting a different result is, as the saying goes, the definition of insanity.

To support this brand position, we've adopted a new methodological tool - the "Defining the Expected" work sheet. To develop ideas that go beyond the expected, you first must understand what "expected" is. This tool helps define the expected strategies, tactics and even creative executions that are all too pervasive in a category. The tool is a springboard to new ideas that build brand relationships more effectively than doing the same thing that's been done before.

In the past year, this kind of thinking led to a complete re-invention of one agricultural client's customer acquisition program. It also led to counseling another client to make the hard choice of focusing on share of customer rather than market share.

This approach is also leading to creation of a new unit of The Meyocks Group, one focused on marketing to women. At first, this might seem a little odd for an agency with a specialization in the historically male-dominated agricultural category. If, however, you believe that the consumer is ultimately driving agriculture, it might not hurt to ask, "Who's driving the shopping cart?" And, if you're reading the same research we are, you are seeing the increasing influence of women in agricultural decisions such as equipment purchases, lending relationships and other inputs.

It's a brave new world out there. We might as well embrace it.

Osborn & Barr Communications, St. Louis
by Steve Barr, CEO

Osborn & Barr Communications (O&B) has recently refocused efforts into five strategic core markets - ag, rural lifestyle, government, association and home - with each segment led by a market expert. We are continually analyzing what existing and potential clients need from O&B, assessing their markets and broader communications trends to provide new and innovative services.

Digital marketing was an area we had been watching closely. We made the decision last year to build a digital marketing group around the leadership and experience of Mark Green, who has been recognized with numerous industry awards for his leadership and innovation. He has a unique combination of entrepreneurship and vision in digital marketing, which combined with a solid understanding of the ag market, made him a natural for O&B and our client-base needs. Mark has developed a winning team of digital professionals, with expertise in one-to-one marketing, search engine optimization, Web design, development and reporting. (Be sure to read Mark's New Media column titled "Integrated Marketing: The New Traditional Advertising?"- page 36 - in this issue, and future articles later this year.)

At present, we are integrating our digital marketing expertise across all functions of the agency to ensure we provide the best and most cost-effective solution to our clients. We have found our clients to be as excited about this new integrated service as we are at O&B.

Rhea & Kaiser, Naperville, IL
by Steve Rhea, president

Rhea & Kaiser (R&K) is taking a much more aggressive approach toward developing international business.

We see global service as a key area of expansion for Rhea & Kaiser. These opportunities are especially true for our global agricultural clients.

We continually see global expansion by our clients as an important strategy in their growth. Our goal is to seamlessly provide global integrated marketing communications strategies to make these clients' efforts successful.

One strategy for accomplishing this goal was joining Worldwide Partners Inc. (WPI) earlier this year. The largest global network of independent marketing communications agencies, WPI represents 75 independent agencies in 36 countries with a total 4,000 people generating $2.4 billion in billings. Founded in 1937, WPI represents agency partners on every continent with the exception of Antarctica.

Rhea & Kaiser remains an independent agency but becomes a shareholder in this pool of independent marketing communications agencies, which have category expertise matching a multitude of client global needs. We will now have access to and can select from agency partners from throughout the world. WPI also provides a tremendous opportunity to bring overseas accounts to R&K.

Throughout the year we will meet with executive management of the other WPI agencies, which are equally committed to the success of other network clients. R&K can interact with partner agencies via a centralized or decentralized relationship as it relates to strategy, budgeting, marketing and/or decision-making.

WPI has agency partners with experience in ag, B2B and consumer markets. One major advantage of our membership will be speed to market. We will be able to make instantaneous inquiries of network partners and acquire local, cultural and business knowledge within as few as three days. We see this as a tremendous advantage to our clients who are requiring immediate answers from around the globe.

Quarry Integrated Communications, Inc., Waterloo, ON
by Alan Quarry, president

It's safe to say that "shift happens" and that most of the players in the agri-marketing field can attest to the truth of that statement. Organizations that are going to be successful in the future are those that balance the risks and the benefits of being innovative with the perils of staying stuck in a comfort zone. Playing it "safe," outdated thinking and adhering to old ways of doing things, just for the sake of doing so, will be the most dangerous strategy for the future.

Our brand building mantra at Quarry Integrated Communications is: "think and feel like the customer .... always anticipate ... and have fun." We are definitely committed to that thinking as we move forward into 2007.

In the coming year we will be pursuing a number of initiatives in support of our mantra including enhancements to our customer insight services and capabilities. One example of this is the expansion of our North American Rural Roots (RR) market and customer intelligence network. This network helps us to monitor and take the pulse of key stakeholders and constituents to anticipate shifts in the needs and wants of the agricultural marketplace. Key insights and learning gained through this activity can then be utilized to make our clients dialogue with their customers not only more relevant, but also help to ensure that it resonates with them in a positive and appropriate way.

Our sales builder initiative is used to help our clients integrate the talents and energies of their marketing and sales teams. This digitally-based, interactive coaching tool has been very successfully deployed with clients in other categories and sectors and is starting to garner more interest as a business building tool for agri-business clients too.

Finally, as the Internet continues to grow as a valuable tool for all aspects of business, we intend to stay ahead of the curve. Our work in the area of search engine optimization is one example of the newer services we are providing in this area to help our clients meet their business objectives. AM

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