No nonsense. Nose to the grindstone. Dirt under the fingernails.
Those are just a few of the Buffalo stereotypes, the ones that are genuine and just, that Jim Hettich likes to embrace as he woos out-of-town prospects.
“I relish those opportunities,” says the CEO of Crowley Webb. “I love being able to look at them and say, ‘This agency is from Buffalo and we have a blue-collar, blood-and-guts attitude that is not your typical New York City, Manhattan style of advertising.”
In a business where setting yourself apart is essential, Hettich is not shy about suggesting, even boasting, that Crowley Webb is, “The hardworking ad agency.”
It’s a brand that has allowed his firm to successfully compete for national and international companies, oftentimes beating out competitors from New York and Chicago.
And he’s not alone.
Bryan LeFauve is fond of telling people that his firm, the SKM Group, is better known in Atlanta than it is in its hometown of Buffalo.
After 26 years in business, the former direct-mail company has grown into a full-service marketing and communications firm with two-thirds of its business coming from clients outside of Western New York.
Like Crowley Webb, SKM has done it by distinguishing itself from competitors that are often bigger and better known. For them, that means selling itself as an ad agency that excels at helping companies raise revenue and profits.
“Most clients would rather have a firm that boosts the bottom line than a firm that fills the awards shelf,” said LeFauve, SKM’s executive vice president. “What they care about is that we deliver.”
More and more, local ad agencies are looking out of town for business and, for many, it’s proving to be a robust market.
At Cenergy Communications in East Aurora, which has a portfolio that includes ESPN, Turner Cable and AT&T, it’s not uncommon to find its creative people traveling to Austria and Australia to meet with clients.
“Brands like that don’t care that we’re in Buffalo,” said John Cimperman, a partner in the firm. “All they care about is whether we can do the work.”
While New York and Chicago remain the gold standard for ad agencies, at least on paper, local firms are finding great success in attracting out-of-town clients.
Some of it is pricing – Buffalo remains a relatively inexpensive place to do business – but much of it is the ever-growing pool of creative talent, some of it homegrown, some of it transplanted from other markets.
“Cost is one of our main drivers,” said Charlie Riley, former president of the Advertising Club of Buffalo. “But we also have a huge talent pool. We have some extremely creative people here.”
Buffalo’s competitive pricing can be a huge advantage, but it’s never enough to seal the deal. Clients also want value for their buck.
SKM tries to offer that value by marketing itself as an agency with a “full rainbow” of strategies, from TV and radio to outdoor cinema and social marketing, and where a company’s success can be measured by clearly defined goals.
The result has been a client list that includes SunTrust Bank in Atlanta, Gerber Life Insurance in White Plains and Identifix, an auto diagnostics company in Minnesota.
“It’s an area where we’ve excelled at but always been strong at,” LeFauve said of the agency’s record with what he calls out-of-market clients.
Out-of-town engagements have always been a big part of Cenergy’s success and now represent about 80 percent of its business.
The agency bills itself as a “brand activation” firm with the ability to engage a client’s customers on a personal level and motivate them to take action.
Think return on investment.
The company is growing fast enough that it’s looking at opening branch offices in Atlanta, New York City and Los Angeles, but with the understanding that its home base will always be East Aurora.
“I tell clients that if Fisher-Price and Moog can be headquartered in East Aurora, why not us,” said Cimperman.
There are a lot of reasons why firms like Cenergy, SKM and Crowley Webb can attract clients from the far corners of the country and sometimes the world.
One of them is technology, which makes it easy to communicate face-to-face with a client without leaving the office, and the other is an airport that makes travel to and from Buffalo a pleasure compared with places like New York and Chicago.
A one-day trip here is likely to be a two-day trip almost everywhere else.
The ease of air travel is huge for people like Cimperman, LeFauve and Hettich. And one of the biggest reasons that goes to the very root of their success.
“We’re a relationship-based business,” Hettich said. “We travel a lot. We’re in our clients’ offices a lot.”
In short, there’s nothing that can replace real one-on-one, face-to-face contact. Not even Skype.
It’s also a truly Buffalo thing to do. Just like dirt under the fingernails.