In mid-2007, Rick Milenthal saw the writing on the wall to where his industry and the economy were headed.
“Even before the recession was official in name, we had a major challenge on our hands,” says Milenthal, president of Engauge. “Recessions, invariably, turn marketing expenditures into a discretionary expense, often to the detriment of the long-term growth of brands.”
So Milenthal and his team reinvented Engauge that year, emerging with a vision of a new kind of agency.
Milenthal was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and Blue Technologies. We asked him about how he faced that challenge, what Engauge does to innovate and the importance of giving back to the community.
Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
In late 2007, clients were slashing budgets and within our industry, competitors were losing accounts and cutting staff. We were ready, though. In mid-2007, we reinvented ourselves, emerging with a vision of a new kind of agency – one focused on results and measurement, unafraid to embrace untraditional forms of advertising, such as mobile, digital and social media. With this new structure, what has been an economic headwind for most agencies has been a tailwind for Engauge.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
Innovation, especially at an advertising agency, doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you allow a group of dedicated people to push boundaries, challenge conventional thinking and experiment. That’s why in mid-June, we formed the Digital Innovation Group, referred to as “DIG.” The entire 15+ (and growing) team does nothing but focus on the evolving segment of digital marketing that covers social marketing, emerging technology and other innovations that impact brand marketers, including such applications as mobile marketing and augmented reality. This group is also responsible for sharing this knowledge across the agency network in order to realize innovation across the entire agency.
By having a dedicated team, focused on what’s next rather than doing things the way they have always been done, we have been able to work with some of the best brands in the U.S. on innovative marketing campaigns. DIG works with such brands as InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Perkins Restaurant Group and regional grocery chain Food Lion. The group’s early success also led to Chick-fil-A® naming Engauge Social Media Agency of Record.
Some recent efforts include:
- The creation of the first hospitality brand “check-in” program for Gowalla, for IHG brands Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza
- Established and quickly grew a social marketing program for grocery chain Food Lion that integrated the elements of their existing online and offline initiatives
- For a new product launch for International Delight, leveraged targeted outreach and focused couponing efforts to grow the brand’s Facebook fan base from 1,000 to 110,000 over the course of only two weeks
How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
Despite a challenging economic environment, Engauge has grown and prospered during the recession. Today, Engauge has $275 million in capitalized billings with offices in five cities: Atlanta, Austin, Columbus, Orlando and Pittsburgh and employs nearly 300. As CEO of Engauge, I have been actively involved in community and philanthropic organizations. I served as the 2009 Chair of the American Heart Association Start! Heart Walk, raising close to $1 million and recruiting more than 20,000 walkers on the day of the event. I have also served in many leadership roles in the United Way of Central Ohio including Chairing the Marketing Committee and serving on the Leadership Cabinet. I am on the Board of Trustees of Marburn Academy, a Central Ohio school that addresses the learning and personal development needs of bright children who learn differently because of learning disabilities. In addition, I have been involved in Jewish Federation campaigns for over 30 years. I am a past chairman of The State of Israel Bonds campaign in central Ohio and has Co-Chaired for AIPAC. I am a past board member of Tifereth Israel Synagogue and served on the board of The Ohio State University Hillel Center.
How to reach: Engauge, http://www.engauge.com/
The Smart Leaders class of 2010
In August, 2010, Smart Business and Blue Technologies recognized 14 business leaders for their commitment to business excellence and the impact their organizations make on the regional community. Treated to a keynote address by TechColumbus CEO Ted Ford, these 14 leaders composed the honor roll:
- Michelle Adams, president, Prism Marketing
- Jeff Brock, general manager, The Loth Co.
- Tom Dailey, president, 2Checkout.com
- Jennifer Griffith, president, Commerce National Bank
- Darla King, owner and president, King Business Interiors
- Elizabeth Lessner, CEO, Betty’s Family of Restaurants
- Rick Milenthal, president, Engauge
- Michelle Mills, CEO, St. Stephen’s Community House
- Janis Mitchell, founder, president and CEO, Precise Resource
- Neil Mortine, president and CEO, Fahlgren Inc.
- Debra Penzone, president, Charles Penzone Family of Salons
- Joel Pizzuti, president, The Pizzuti Cos.
- Bea Wolper, partner, Emens & Wolper Law Firm
- Eric Zimmer, CEO, Tipping Point Renewable Energy