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VOL. 127 | NO. 208 | Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sullivan Branding Celebrates Year of Integration

By Sarah Baker

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In Sullivan Branding’s new digs in the Toyota Center, matted images depicting what inspires each employee adorn the walls.

Sullivan Branding’s television advertising campaign for University of Memphis football has been extremely well received.

(Photo courtesy of Sullivan Branding)

Principal and CEO Brian Sullivan’s contribution is a picture of Mount Everest. But he’s not actually inspired by the daunting mountain itself or the 2,000 people who have climbed it.

“The thing that it represents to me is the whole idea of this massive team effort just to help one person get to the summit,” Sullivan said. “It’s not just you and your sheer will. There’s Sherpas and guides that are helping you carry the supplemental oxygen; the people that laid the ropes and ladders before you. And the actual internal fortitude that you have to have to do that and take advantage of that.”

This time last year, Sullivan Branding was in the beginning stages of integrating two advertising agencies into one business. The newly named business was the result of cs2 acquiring Thompson & Co. and its subsidiaries.

“The merger represented a catalyst for us to sort of reinvent the business,” Sullivan said. “We knew that we were going to be more than an advertising and public relations agency, so we chose Sullivan Branding as a representation of the fact that we’re doing more than just creating messages and placing them for people; we’re trying to get involved at a deeper level.”

Sullivan Branding established three goals, one of which was consolidating its entire Memphis staff of 50 or so under one roof. That was consummated last month when the remaining 20 employees at 85 Union Ave. – Thompson’s previous location – moved into the sixth floor of Toyota Center.

“It was hard to feel like a single entity when you have people spread across multiple locations,” said account planner Kate Cooke. “You don’t have the same opportunity to really get to know each other, both in a meeting setting, but also just from hanging out around the office. We’ve been in the same building now for a couple of weeks, and it already feels so incredibly different. The energy is so much better.”

The second goal was to create an environment where staff would collaborate across all clients. It’s a concept that’s similar in nature to the Mount Everest philosophy.

“Someone in PR or someone in planning may be involved in an assignment initially at a kick-off stage so their perspective can be represented and influence the outcome, but they might not have any involvement day to day to that client,” Sullivan said.

The third goal was to win one national account within the next year. Twelve months later, Sullivan Branding has done that and more, with three new national accounts added to its portfolio of clients.

One of those was Stratas Foods LLC. Sullivan Branding won a creative pitch this summer against four other agencies for the Memphis-based oil distributor, and has since worked with Buddy Valastro, also known as the Cake Boss on TLC, on ads for baking magazines.

“The process of working through that (request for proposal) was really invaluable; it was a great time for us as an agency,” Sullivan said. “It really was a proving ground for us.”

Sullivan Branding is also preparing to launch a new logger boot for Georgia Boots, which is part of the Rocky Brands in Nelsonville, Ohio. The winning of that account was a catalyst for starting two new functions within the agency – planning and digital strategy.

For the planning component, Cooke talked with 70 loggers in West Virginia, Washington, Oregon and Georgia about what factors influenced their purchase decisions.

“Rather than just throwing darts at a dart board and seeing what sticks, we’re able to actually understand what resonates with consumers, and then build messaging to that so we’re capturing those triggers that really encourage them to purchase,” Cooke said.

On the digital front, an in-depth demographic profile was created to match the message to traditional media outlets. And all the while, Sullivan Branding worked very closely with its Nashville offices, utilizing their product packaging expertise.

“We’re using the various resources across offices,” Sullivan said. “Before, it was maybe sort of run as a separate autonomous business. We started looking at this particular business as one agency versus a silo of an agency with departments.”

Yet another feather in Sullivan Branding’s cap was its University of Memphis football television campaign. The “mind your business, Dennis” and other 30-second spots have gone viral on the Internet and have been well received, garnering attention from ESPN and Sports Business Journal.

“These have just really hit a nerve with people,” Sullivan said. “A lot of times when you set out to do something funny, it doesn’t always come across that way. It’s probably the hardest thing to do well.”

Sullivan Branding has added a flurry of new hires, including creative industry veterans like Mary Cashiola and Susan Ewing. Goals for the next year as an integrated agency are continuing working toward operating as a single business while offering the planning and digital strategy platforms to more clients.

“Integration is always challenging, but it’s challenging in a good way,” said Ralph Berry, Sullivan Branding senior vice president of public relations.

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