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Making the pitch Featured

9:35am EDT July 22, 2002

After 28 years with Dix & Eaton, Ed Stevens knew it was time to buy his own advertising agency.

Around the same time, Selma Baron was looking to sell. So, in April 1999, Stevens bought Baron Advertising, changed the name to Steven Baron Advertising, and changed his role from employee to business owner.

Most would expect the wily advertising veteran to bust his butt in search of new clients to grow his business. Instead, Stevens expanded the scope of services offered to his existing clients.

The move resulted in a 40 percent jump in gross income in his first fiscal year as owner. Here's how he did it.

Expand your services

Stevens says he wonders whether Stevens Baron is indeed an advertising agency or if it has transformed into something else.

"You can't just have an advertising agency anymore," says Stevens. "You have to provide other services."

He added public relations services, crisis communication and Web development. The choices, he says, resulted from surveying clients to determine what they wanted.

"We wanted to hear from the clients how we could improve ourselves," says Stevens.

Clients also expressed the desire to work with one company offering wider services instead of hiring, for example, one firm for advertising and one for public relations. Crisis communication, he discovered, was in high demand among Stevens Baron's food accounts.

"In the event of a product recall or other crisis," says Stevens, "you want to be sure you minimize the damage and are forthright with the media."

Get technical

Breaking into Web development seemed a logical step in making the firm more competitive.

Explains Stevens, "You go to a PRSA conference and a third of the sessions are tied to something on the Web. It's the wave of the present."

But technology isn't offered just to clients, it's also available to his employees. Prior to Stevens' buyout, employees often shared workstations and terminals. Now, all have their own computers.

And rather than rely on one platform, the firm utilizes PCs and Macs to achieve superior text and art capabilities. Stevens also installed an on-site server and hired IT personnel and graphic designers to handle all the firm's Web site design and development.

Keep employees happy

After upgrading and expanding services, Stevens wanted to make sure his employees were happy.

"We brought in a bonus system that encourages employees to work hard and focus on client service," Stevens explains. "We weren't really competitive about wages, so I gave a lot of raises out to motivate people."

When Stevens noticed dissatisfaction among employees that the company didn't allow them additional training, he sent them to school. Employees now take classes on Web site development, direct mail, media buying and crisis communication.

"We want to get employees excited about what we're doing," he says.

And now, in a little over a year with Stevens at the helm, Stevens Baron has turned into an all-purpose advertising firm. But with all the changes, Stevens debates whether Stevens Baron is really an advertising firm at all.

"My feeling is that what we really want to be is a PR firm that does great advertising," he says. "Dix & Eaton walked away from advertising. I don't ever want to do that." How to reach: Stevens Baron Advertising, (216) 621-6800

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter for SBN.