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The Martin Agency

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The Martin Agency is one of the largest advertising shops in the Southeast US, and a leading non-network agency within Interpublic. Headquartered in Richmond, Virginia - a city not otherwise noted for its ad agencies - Martin also has an office in New York. It became part of the Interpublic portfolio in 1993, but operates as a standalone unit within the group. It has been one of IPG's strongest-performing subsidiaries in recent years, attracting considerable acclaim for its multiple different campaigns for Geico, and for picking up the substantial Walmart account in 2007 (until 2016). Its run of account wins continued throughout 2008 and 2009, earning it the title of US Agency of the Year from Adweek.

Clients

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Competitors

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Brands & Activities

Despite its location in one of the country's quieter backwaters - it is virtually the only ad agency of any significant size in Virginia - Martin retains a reputation within the industry as one of the leading creative agencies outside New York. It manages a broad portfolio of blue-chip clients, but until recently billings appeared to depend quite heavily on the contribution from two long-standing clients, Geico Insurance and UPS. However, Martin scored a string of home runs during 2006 and early 2007, not least the capture of lead on the substantial Walmart account. Its lack of an international presence, however, led to the loss of UPS in 2009 (and Walmart too was finally surrendered, albeit for other reasons, in 2016).

The Martin Agency is a full-service shop, offering a wide variety of marketing services disciplines as well as traditional advertising. It has a well-established reputation for high quality creative advertising, often displaying a quirky sense of humour. The demanding Geico account, which spans at least four separate product lines, has given the agency particular opportunity to demonstrate this offbeat approach, as did the "Peggy" series for Discover from 2012 to 2014. Martin also has particular strengths in direct marketing and digital media.

In 2015 The Martin Agency won its first ever Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions festival, in the film category, with its enormously popular "Unskippable: Family" campaign for Geico.

The agency spun off a number of its specialist divisions as separate agencies during the 1990s, including Martin Direct, Martin Interactive, public relations unit Slay PR and Yellow Pages agency Telmark. However these have since been reabsorbed into the main agency to offer a fully integrated service. BrandInside was launched in 2003 as an internal branding consultancy, alongside MVP Group, a non-traditional advertising consultancy which also handles sports and event marketing. Martin's media department operates under the name Ingenuity Media. The agency acquired design shop Collins in 2007. Other satellites include creative services agency Hue&Cry, post-production shop Running With Scissors and shopper marketing unit Studio Squared.

At the end of 2009 the group announced plans to open its first outpost overseas at some point during the following year. That didn't happen, although the agency did open an office in New York, where its PR and interactive divisions are based. An outpost finally opened in London during summer 2014, but remains very small.

Martin was named as US Agency of the Year for 2009 by Adweek, and earned a place on AdAge's A-List for the year. It was one of Creativity's Innovators of the year for 2013. AdAge estimated revenues of $124m in 2016.

Background

Adman David Martin loaned his name to a string of different agencies across the Southeast over the years, but his main legacy was to The Martin Agency, still headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. During the early 1960s, Martin was working as a copywriter at Cargill Wilson Acree, then the biggest ad agency in the region, when he took the decision to jump ship and set up his own business with partner George Woltz. An early success was the campaign for Virginia's state tourism office, for whom the agency coined the long-running slogan "Virginia is for lovers". Martin & Woltz chugged along for around 10 years before the partners split, and Martin established The Martin Agency in 1975.

The shop established a sturdy reputation working for a growing portfolio of mostly regional clients and was acquired by New York's Scali McCabe Sloves, then a subsidiary of Ogilvy & Mather, in 1986. (Martin subsequently left the business, setting up smaller agency Hawley Martin Partners, which was in turn acquired by another company in 1993 to become Arnold Finnegan Martin, part of what was later to become Arnold Worldwide. He died in 2012). As the pace of consolidation within the industry increased during the late 1980s, Ogilvy & Mather was itself acquired in 1989 by British marketing group WPP. The latter considered SMS and its various subsidiaries surplus to requirements, and the portfolio, including The Martin Agency, was sold on to Interpublic in 1993.

Under Interpublic, the agency began to expand quickly, establishing offices in a number of other US cities. The IPG connection also began to introduce an increasing number of national clients. Although Martin retained its independence, it was slotted into the Lowe Group of companies. As a result, in 1997 it picked up the US representation for Saab Automobiles, then a Lowe client worldwide. Later the agency joined the Kellogg's roster, as well as picking up a clutch of important dot.com clients. However the combined effect of the dot.com crash, a shift by Saab, and a reduction in spend by core client Charles Schwab, left Martin nursing some losses. At the end of 2001, the agency cut back, letting around 10% of staff go, and closing several regional offices including one in San Francisco.

Performance has improved significantly since then. In particular, the agency enjoyed a real surge following the appointment of creative director (later president) Mike Hughes. A 2004 TV campaign for Geico Insurance supplemented that company's traditional gecko mascot with a group of cavemen at large in modern America, with the tagline "Geico - So easy a caveman can do it". The concept proved enormously popular with viewers and the cavemen have returned several times since, so successfully that in 2007 they became the stars of a sitcom for ABC TV. (The show proved less enduring than the ads, however, airing for less than a full season). The campaign cemented Martin's reputation as an agency capable of delivering a punchy and up-to-date message for an otherwise highly conservative client. That clearly caught the eye of retail giant Wal-Mart, which handed Martin its account in January 2007, after it was fumbled by Interpublic stablemate DraftFCB.

John Adams, a Martin staffer since 1975, handed over the role of CEO to Matt Williams in early 2013. Longtime president Mike Hughes passed away at the end of that year after a long battle with cancer.

There was a dramatic restructure of the management team at the end of 2017, following the abrupt, initially unexplained, dismissal of Joe Alexander, chief creative officer since 2012. It was subsequently reported that Alexander had been the subject of multiple allegations of sexual harassment (though he denied those accusations). The secrecy with which his dismissal was handled appears to have caused considerable upset within the company, prompting the replacement of Matt Williams, CEO since 2013, by Kristen Cavallo, who transferred from sister agency MullenLowe to replace Matt Williams as CEO. Beth Rilee-Kelley, appointed as president in 2016, initially retained her post in the reshuffle only to depart in early 2018.

Last full revision 5th September 2016

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