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Versatile and Visible: A New Advertising Age for Philly Firms

Look around, and it's pretty easy to see the advertising industry's presence in Philadelphia:

Billboards lining the Schuylkilll Expressway and I-95.

The Crown Lights messages atop the PECO building in Center City.

Classic slogans like "I Hate Steven Singer" and With Love, Philadelphia XOXO.

After all, the industry got its start in Philadelphia; America's first ad agency, N.W. Ayer, opened on Arch Street in 1869. It moved to New York in 1973 and was bought out in 2002.

Several ad executives lament that Philadelphia agencies continue to operate in New York's shadow today, despite helming the accounts of high-profile national clients. Marc Brownstein, president and CEO of the Brownstein Group (and son of Ayer alum Berny Brownstein), thinks that's partially because Philly is home to relatively few large firms that use a local shop. "I think there's not enough national companies there that are giving agencies the chance," he says.

Patrick Hardy, executive creative director at Tierney, wishes there were more local competition. "We would love if there would be 25 more great agencies in this town because the talent pool is that much bigger," he says.

But creativity can thrive anywhere, says as Annie Heckenberger, community trailblazer for Red Tettemer + Partners. And Philly's ad agencies are hiring versatile creative types that employ multiple media.

"The people that are successful now are the ones that use every tool at your disposal," says Jim Walls, executive creative director at 160over90 in Center City. "The people that we hire are specialists in as many areas as possible." This versatility is imperative in a world where traditional and new media share prominence.

Brownstein says agencies that make innovative use of digital tools have the potential to get famous quickly. "I like the trend where Philly's going, being a creative community," he says.

Getting Down and Dirty with Brands
"I know that the dirtier I am, the better my day must have been. So I wear my filth proudly because it's a badge of honor."
Football in the mud? Manly. Paintball battles? Manly. Body wash? Not manly.

Center City agency Red Tettemer set out to counteract that thought, with the ultimate goal of convincing more guys to wash up with Dial for Men.

But Red Tettemer didn't just come up with a few TV spots full of muddy men. They launched a Facebook page where guys could win a spot at Camp Dirt, a filthy weekend extravaganza of manliness in Colorado. The page received more than 100,000 "likes" in two weeks.

Managing Partner Jared Scott says Camp Dirt is one example of how effective advertising does more than shove a brand in front of customers. It invites them to interact with the brand, to strike up conversations about it.

Old-school channels still have a place. "We love traditional media," Scott says. "But we love doing non-traditional things with it."

The biggest showcase of traditional TV advertising is the Super Bowl. And one commercial break during next year's showdown will feature a Red Tettemer-produced spot for Century 21.

As Scott explains, many view the real-estate company as old and outdated. The fact that Century 21 is even advertising during the Super Bowl challenges that perception, since only the most relevant companies get those spots. Alan Tempest of the Philly Ad Club says Red Tettemer is most likely the first regional ad agency to make a Super Bowl commercial.

More News is Good News
Tierney does advertising. And public relations. And interactive design. And more.

COO Molly Watson says it's unusual for an agency of about 120 people to do so many things, but communicating a client's message is about integrating multiple methods of communication.

Hardy admits that after mastering print and TV ads, adjusting to an era of Facebook, blogs and smart phone apps was a challenge. "Then I realized that an idea is an idea," he says. "A really good idea should transcend media."

Tierney inherited TD Bank's account after it merged with Commerce Bank in 2008. Watson says Commerce had wanted an economical way to get out its name and perception as a convenient bank, so Tierney came up with TV spots just long enough to mention the time and temperature. TD now has an interactive website and sponsors single-page news summaries in the Inquirer's print edition. "What's more convenient than getting all your news on one page?" Hardy explains.

Tierney also helped PECO abide by a state law requiring utilities to meet certain energy reduction targets or face a $20 million fine. Its approach was to humanize PECO and demonize energy-sucking appliances. The animated creatures it created have monstrous faces and come in '70s-era colors like avocado. The message: These ogres can be replaced and PECO can help.

Customers seem to be getting it. A spokeswoman says PECO customers have saved $131 million in energy since October 2009, when it started selling more efficient light bulbs, recycling old appliances and conducting free energy audits.

Power of Community
The tagline on its website is "160over90 is a branding agency." And Jim Walls, executive creative director, says "branding" means influencing what the public thinks about a client. "A brand is a perception," he says. "If a company is known, that perception already exists."

About one-third of 160over90's business comes from colleges looking for new ways to differentiate themselves to high school students who receive a deluge of mail from schools of all shapes and sizes. Walls says the agency's job is to learn what makes each school stand out and find a unique way to communicate that. For the University of Dayton in Ohio, it designed a computerized wall for the admissions office that displays scenes of campus life. "When one person approaches the wall, a video comes alive. When more people approach the wall, more videos become visible," emails Kathy McEuen Harmon, Dayton's dean of admission and financial aid. "The idea is that one person makes a difference, and communities of people make an even greater impact."

One of Walls' favorite campaigns, for Nike's tennis division, also relied on emphasizing the distinct character of tournaments like Wimbledon (played on a grass court) and the French Open (played on clay).

Walls says the key to landing such household names as clients is to develop a reputation for good work. Then the good clients will find you no matter where you are. "We've considered ourselves a branding firm that just happens to be in Philadelphia," he says.

REBECCA VANDERMEULEN is a freelance writer who lives near Downingtown. She also contributes to Keystone Edge. Send feedback here.


Camp Dirt Campaign by Red Tettemer + Partners

Jared Scott at Red Tettemer + Partners

Camp Dirt Campaign by Red Tettemer + Partners

Nike Tennis 2011 by 160over90

Jim Walls at 160over90

Nike Tennis 2011 by 160over90

PECO Campaign by Tierney

Photographs courtesy of respective agencies

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