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Agency Profile: Captains of Industry

Posted on July 29, 2011 and read 2,383 times

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brettcreditpic Agency Profile: Captains of IndustryBrett McKenzie
Chief Writer, SBN2
ihaveanidea


Boston is one of the oldest cities in North America, and it’s evident nearly everywhere you go. No fancy grid system for the oldest parts of town, that’s too newfangled 18th century for most folk. The streets seem to careen in whatever direction they wish, and smack dab in the middle of them all is Union Street, said to be the oldest continuously used street in the US. On that small, unassuming lane you’ll find the Bell In Hand, the oldest tavern in the US; The Union Oyster House, the oldest restaurant in the US; and the original location of the Green Dragon Tavern, “the headquarters of the Revolution.” It was this place where the Boston Tea Party was planned, and where Paul Revere started his famous ride to warn the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms – or so the story goes.

Tiny Union Street is also home to one of Boston’s best kept secrets, a small agency that has been making noise as well as interesting approaches to marketing and branding. By no means is Captains of Industry the oldest agency in America, or even in town, but they are looking to leave their mark on the industry as much as their neighbors have on history.

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Captains of Industry has its beginnings in 1992, when co-founder Ted Page made the trip from New York up to Boston in a career change. “I came to Boston after working at McCann Erickson New York, and decided to become a freelancer,” Ted explains. “When I was here I met my future business partner Fred Surr, a filmmaker with a video production company. We had a mutual friend who had invited us to share an office space, and it ended up being like those old commercials for Resse’s Peanut Butter Cups where the chocolate and the peanut butter make a great combination. By 1996, we were working together in earnest, and not long after that Captains of Industry as we know it today was formed.”

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From the very beginning, Ted and Fred were fascinated by the possibilities of the ermerging technology known as the internet. “We came together in the early days of  the dot-com bubble,” reminisces Ted. “I was working as a freelance copywriter, creating copy to guide people to my clients’ websites. It soon occurred to both of us that I was guiding people to websites that were pretty horrible, virtually static brochures. Then around 1997 you started to see the first videos on the web. It was low quality and jerky, and you had to toy around and choose settings on your media player, but Fred and I were really excited about this, and we felt this was going to radically change th market. And so we brought together Fred’s filmmaking experience and my advertising and marketing experience to create this new company. We didn’t think of it as an ad agency, per se, we just wanted to make web experiences that were so engaging that people sought them out and told their friends about them.”

While the heady days of the dot-com bubble showed a lot of promise, it still wasn’t easy to get new concepts off of the ground. “I think we were a number of years ahead of our time,” says Ted. “I remember we approached The Boston Globe and we were proposing to do videos for their boston.com website. They looked at us and asked ‘why would we ever want to have video on a website?’ Fast forward a decade later, and two of ten case studies in a Business Week article on online video are work we did.”


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Is it tough to be a small shop in a city known for big, towering agencies? “It can be a bit if a challenge,” says Ted. “We like to think that we are nimble enough to not only move around the legs of these great beasts, we can also bite them on the legs with great relish!”  Ted reflects on one such story from a few years ago, when they approached the very large client of a big Boston agency. “We told them they needed something other than TV commercials, that their website could be a channel for lots of fresh content. We basically constructed a white paper for them, detailing what we think they should do and how we could help them do it… and we won the business from this agency. It was kinda like The Lord of the Rings when Sauron realizes that Frodo is about to win.”

The idea of concentrating on website content rather than more traditional advertising avenues is the core of what Captains of Industry claim to be about. “I don’t mean to diss advertising agencies, but I feel their model is in disarray,” says Ted. “For years, agencies made a little money on creative work, but the bulk of their earnings on media. That’s why all of the big networks own all these big media buying companies. We feel that a company’s own website can bypass most of those media channels, especially if it’s creative and compelling and on strategy. People will seek out your message, and when they do, you don’t necessarily need a million video hits, just the right ones from the right people.”

revolting Agency Profile: Captains of Industry

Captains of Industry have made a very interesting case for this line of thinking. Back in 2009, the agency wanted to land a solar energy account – green energy is a passion amongst the staff – but found it to be a rather difficult challenge. “The economy was down, and most companies were trimming their marketing budgets,” says Ted. Undaunted, he made a pledge to his staff: they will win a solar energy account or he will literally eat his shorts. They created a blog as a channel for this message and made an amusing video stating this promise.


Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.


The result, within a week a major solar installer was bringing Captains of Industry on as their AOR. “We went from six months of pitching companies and sending letters, banging our heads against the wall for lack of response, to creating our own content and our own channel and getting a response within a week,” says Ted. “I’d like to say that what we did was unusual, but the reality is that it’s the way the business is headed. Technology has evolved to allow companies to connect with consumers directly. It’s our job to show them how it can be done.”

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Lest you think that Captains of Industry are all about philosophy and procedure, it is a place with a tight-knit crew of about ten human beings that do their best to keep their days fun. They all generally arrive at 9:00 AM, and because the team is small, they are all working together throughout the day. There are frequent brainstorming sessions in the office’s loft, and there are a lot of great restaurants in the area for everyone to grab a delicious lunch (the agency fave i the nearby Kingfish Hall) On Fridays the Captains have something they like to call “beer o’clock”. As the name suggests, the brew flows freely, as do the ideas; they use this time to ponder the week that was, to celebrate things that went well and to discuss things that went wrong. Regardless of the day of the week, this is an agency that prides itself on work/life balance, and it’s rare to have people in the office past 6:00 PM.

So what do the Captains of Industry have in store for the future? “I can imagine that we’ll be bigger, but not too big,” says Ted. “I have a friend who does business with companies in China, and I understand that these companies insist on you having a one hundred year plan, an extreme long term goal for your business. I would like to think that our core values, bringing together the power of motion picture storytelling and the reach of the internet and other channels that may come along, that’s something that could last long after we are gone.”

On a Boston street filled with this much history, it all seems entirely possible.

Thanks to Ted Page and Chelsea Hobgood for all of their help in bringing the Captains of Industry to life for us.

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  • Mark Kammel

    Awesome write-up! And thanks Brett.


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