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Agency Profile: The Martin Agency

Posted on February 13, 2006 and read 3,678 times

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ignaciocreditpic 150x150 Agency Profile: The Martin AgencyIgnacio Oreamuno

Many would be quick to categorize it as “the great agency in the middle of nowhere”.

First of all, let’s talk about just how in the middle of nowhere is Richmond. I’ve been there two times and found it to be very quaint. There’s a lot of historic sites, civil war statues with guys on horses, friendly pubs, corner bookstores, a couple of very nice restaurants and piles of southern conservatives. Let’s just say I would not wear your ol’ “Kerry-Edward 2004” t-shirt here at night. Twenty meters away from The Martin Agency lies VCU Adcenter and that about sums up my report for Richmond. In one sentence, it’s a great place to raise a family, do outdoor sports and drink good wine with your friends.

Now let’s talk about how great the Martin Agency is. Founded in 1965, it has now grown to become one of the largest agencies in the Southern US. It was bought by Interpublic in 1983 and it got an extremely good reputation in the advertising industry thanks to a historical trail of award-winning work and the creative leadership of John Adams and Mike Hughes. Today they spend their days making doodles, thumbnails and ads for companies that include UPS, Coke, Geico, Nascar, Hanes, Olympus and Seiko. They’ve been named Agency of the Year five times by Adweek.

The actual agency is beautiful and surprisingly immense. It could easily be mistaken for the Richmond Municipality with its big gates, fountains and bridges. The agency is located in one of the nicest areas of town. There are a couple of nice places to eat nearby, bars to drink your sorrows away and cobblestone streets to walk on.

Twenty years ago The Martin Agency put up a sign outside its doors saying “Nobody comes to Richmond for the restaurants”. This was to serve as a constant reminder that they’d better offer something incredible to their clients, to justify having an agency in Richmond and having to deal with the hassle of flying (which unfortunately Richmond is terrible for because of bad connections) and not being able to have ‘coffee time’, like the agencies and clients in NY and Chicago have.

What to do when you setup shop in ‘the middle of nowhere’? Get a plane. A big rockstar ‘Bon Jovi steel horse I ride’ private plane. When it comes to keeping clients happy, this is no luxury. The story goes that The Martin Agency was pitching a client in NY and CEO John Adams, pulled a Wolf Blitzer live video conference from the agency to the clients and agency teams that were in NY to tell them that unfortunately he would not be able to join them for the final pitch/meeting. As soon as the video was turned off, he ran to a car that was waiting outside, got in the plane and flew to New York, where a car was waiting on the runway to take him to the meeting. Little over an hour after saying he wasn’t going to make it, John entered the meeting room and told the clients, “This is just to show you that even though we are in Richmond, if you ever ever need us, we’ll be right there for you.” Now, that’s style.

When not teletransporting CEOs to client meetings, the plane is used just like a taxi, to haul the creatives around to recording sessions, shoots, castings and client meetings. Mike Hughes told me that the plane costs off-balance the low costs of rent and space in Richmond, but that it allowed them an advantage over other agencies because it enables them to work with many different specialists and people from around the country. If are you in L.A. and you have to record a radio spot, you’ll probably go to your local audio shop to do the casting and recording. At The Martin Agency, they go wherever the best place to do the work is, regardless of where. This, according to Mike, has allowed them to work with extremely talented people that they would not have been able to, had they worked in a city like Chicago, Atlanta or New York.

Ok, so you’ve got the ‘going to the clients’ part covered, but what about when the clients come over to visit you?

Robin Leach VO: The lavish Martin Agency comes complete with a plush and luxurious client suite that will elevate their senses to new levels of budgetary constraints. No need for them to wait in the lobby when they’ve got their own private bar, kitchen, dining and living room, T.V. and a warm fireplace to cuddle up next to your creative briefs.

Planes and luxury suites aside, advertising is not about location, location, location—it’s about work, work, work and The Martin Agency is well aware that its product needs to be better than the rest.

The first thing they aim to achieve is something called passion. According to Mike Lear, a copywriter who used to work at Crispin, “we’ve never lost a pitch because of lack of passion.” Maybe due to the fact that people don’t have many distractions in Richmond, the entire agency is very focused, hardworking and surprisingly professional. Mike puts it best in the words, “Nobody bitches.” The reason for this strange behavior might be that if you don’t like your job you can’t just leave The Martin Agency, you actually have to pack up and leave Richmond because your job will not likely exist anywhere else in the city. As a result, turnover is very low and people make a real effort to be nice to each other.

Some people told me, the agency’s personality, is Mike Hughes’ personality. It’s not ego driven, quite the opposite, it’s collaborative. The actual physical design of the agency is made out to facilitate that. There are lots of meeting rooms. Let me rephrase. There are piles and piles of meeting rooms. People are expected to work together.

The most important asset any agency has is its people. At The Martin Agency, its 300+ employees are valued and taken care of. A lot of hiring has taken place here. A phenomena is happening where hot shot creatives from the big cities are leaving it all behind to move to a place that is more humane, but which still has the career challenges and excitement they left behind. The agency also takes into account that if you get bored with your job, they need to offer you flexibility. People move internally and many have rediscovered themselves, their career and their potential, by simply changing job titles. It’s a win-win situation, but a situation that could only likely happen in a place like this.

So if you are lucky enough to get a gig here you’ll start your day by waking up and saying goodbye to the kids as they head off for school. The sun will be out and you’ll decide to take the ol’ bike for a spin around the river before heading to work. As soon as you get to the office you’ll hit the showers and wash the mud off and hop across to the local café and take your laptop to the agency’s large outdoor patio where you can work with the wireless web while sipping your mocha-whatever. Before you know it, it will be time to attend the agency’s regular town hall style group meetings in the massive atrium. Everyone will be sharing the latest news on the agency, who’s pitching what, who’s doing what, who’s pregnant, who’s leaving, who’s new and perhaps you might want to raise your hand and make a point or ask a question or two about anything that concerns you. Your day won’t likely extend into the crazy hours of the night, but you probably worked hard all day long and have to take the agency plane tomorrow for a record in NY. So, you head off home at around 8 to pack and get ready for another day in your Martin Agency life.

Is the Martin Agency the right agency for you? If you are a creative, it will offer you amazing clients, opportunities, a fabulous environment and a great life style. If you are a client it will offer creatives that are happy to work for you because they have great clients, opportunities and an amazing environment. Sure, the challenge of ‘we can’t have mocha cappuccinos with each other every other day’ still lurks, but in the last years agencies like W+K, Crispin Porter, Fallon, 180 Amsterdam and The Martin Agency have begun to prove that the Madison Ave. address is no longer a requirement for making great work or to find great clients to make good work for. Who knows? Perhaps spending less face-to-face time with the clients actually helps foster better relationships and thus better work. Perhaps this actually motivates teams and clients to work harder and more effectively when they do see each other. Whatever the answer, it is clear that talent is flocking to The Martin Agency and in the next years we will very likely see a lot of amazing stuff coming from the “great agency in the middle of nowhere.”




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