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Agency Profile: Tom, Dick & Harry

Posted on December 15, 2010 and read 6,066 times

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brettcreditpic Agency Profile: Tom, Dick & HarryBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2

Over the years, one of the most favorite features on ihaveanidea has been our growing collection of agency profiles — glimpses behind the walls of ad shops big and small, written from our usual casual perspective. And one of our favorite ways of going about gathering these profiles has been the old-fashioned road trip. After all, why go to a city to visit one or two agencies when you can take some serious time and visit a whole bunch?

It’s been quite some time since ihaveanidea has had the chance to pack our bags and headed off on one of these junkets, but in the summer of 2010 we had the great pleasure of visiting the city of Chicago to check in on the ad scene. We hadn’t been to the Windy City on a multi-agency trip in about five years, and in that time, a lot has changed in the ad industry, both generally speaking and in Chicago in particular. A year or two ago, you would’ve thought the town was on its last legs; layoffs left and right, a tragic incident at one of Chicago’s most respected firms that dazed the community, and JWT Chicago, once the global network’s largest office, reduced to a mere outpost of a few staffers.

Yet here we are in 2010, and Chicago is definitely getting some of its mojo back. Agencies are hiring, expanding their offices and winning big accounts. And the city that used to be the domain of the big multinationals has made some elbow room for smaller, nimbler shops. ihaveanidea saw all of this on our Windy City excursion, and we’d love to share our travels with you.


tdhlogo Agency Profile: Tom, Dick & Harry

Tom, Dick & Harry: a phrase used to describe average, everyday people. Like Jane Doe or John Q. Public, the term refers to everyone, anyone and no one at once. This would seem like a perfect name for an advertising agency, and in March of 2002, a trio of former big-Chicago-agency people did just that. But to say that the name was inspired by the casual phrase isn’t exactly accurate. “The name Tom, Dick & Harry actually came from the classic Steve McQueen film from 1963 The Great Escape,” says Bob Volkman, Creative Partner and Founder. “The characters in that movie were WWII Allied prisoners if war who dug tunnels codenamed Tom, Dick and Harry in order to escape from a German camp. We felt that it was the perfect metaphor for what we do with brands. We like to help them courageously escape to a better place.”

greatescape Agency Profile: Tom, Dick & Harry

Situated in an ever-expanding (7,000 square feet and growing) office in the River North area of Chicago, Tom, Dick and Harry and its staff of about twenty fits into a rare niche In the Windy City market: the ‘not huge’ agency model. “Chicago’s a funny kind of ad town,” says Bob. “It has always been known for the huge multinationals, and there really has never been a boutique to thrive here. The one that stands out, to us at least, was an amazing agency called McConaughey Stein Schmidt Brown. They folded in the late 1990s, and there hasn’t really been a shop to fill that void. But times are changing in Chicago, and there are a number of good small agencies, with more opportunity than ever before. I believe we can fill that gap. That’s a place I think we’d really like to be.”

But if you’re going to stand out from the others, in advertising or wherever, you’re going to need a philosophy that sets you apart. “We’d like to say that we don’t have a strict philosophy or mission statement, but we do, and is ‘Creativity and Courage’,” explains Bob. “Creativity, of course, is what we deliver to our clients, and the only way a brand can separate itself. As for courage, we ask our client partners to have the courage to do things and go places they haven’t been before, and we ask our staff to have the courage to think in ways they haven’t thought before.”

So what type of person fits into the Tom, Dick & Harry mold? “In keeping with the movie theme, we look for people who are escape artists, if you will, people who are restless and like to reinvent themselves and things,” says Bob. One such person at the agency is Amy Markley, one of the creative directors. Where most CDs develop from long careers as copywriters or art directors, Amy comes from a world that many TD&H-ers find fascinating. “I used to be a lawyer, graduating from Michigan Law School,” explains Amy. “I had this whole other career path laid out ahead of me, but one day I woke up and said ‘I hate being a lawyer!’ I had this pent up creativity that I just had to unleash.” Amy’s lawyer ways haven’t completely disappeared though — “she is the best person here at doing their timesheets,” jokes Bob.

There aren’t a lot of really late nights or weekend projects at Tom, Dick & Harry, and this is due to the agency’s structure. “A lot of big agencies are vertically structured, where we are horizontal,” says Bob. “David Yang and I are partners, but we still work as a creative team, and we take our work to our juniors to get their thoughts and feedback, just as they do to us. We’re all on the same level, and that makes us very efficient. We aren’t here until 10 PM because we’re waiting on some Group CD to weigh in and move work up the ladder.”

The agency/client relationship is often very interesting in smaller shops, as they usually stem from personal relationships. Tom, Dick & Harry are no different. “Many of our clients are also our friends,” says Bob. “They are often either great clients we worked with at other agencies or agency friends and colleagues who went client side. This makes things very comfortable and informal.” This also allows for a lot of room for experimentation with various business models. Case in point: Tom, Dick & Harry have had an ongoing relationship with Fatheads, the company renowned for full sized decals of sports stars and other celebrities. Rather than setting a specific fee for work done, Tom, Dick & Harry receive a commission based off of each and every Fathead sold through social media — a perfect incentive to create work that actually works!

Outside of the office, there isn’t as much crazy socializing as you might find at other agencies. This is due to the fact that Tom, Dick & Harry has been a bit of a ‘baby factory’ as Bob puts it, with many staff members skipping the bars to spend time with their families. “But we do have our Forced Fun Parties,” laughs David. Forced Fun Parties are send-ups of the compulsory-attendance outings of larger companies, with the art directors and designers creating mandatory T-shirts for everyone to wear.

So what’s the coolest thing about working in a place like Tom, Dick and Harry? I mean, fun — forced or unforced — can only carry you so far. Stephen Para, Director of Digital, provides us with an interesting answer. “One thing that has really blown me away at Tom, Dick & Harry is the sheer amount of work that gets produced. Yes, the timelines can be tight and the budgets can be small, but I’ve been in places many times the size of here that don’t create as much work that sees the light of day. And really, that’s what’s most rewarding, to see the work you create out in the real world doing what was intended to do.”

Thanks to Bob, Amy, David, Stephen and the rest of Tom, Dick & Harry for inviting us into their space.




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