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Agencies seek the high life in Denver

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Denver, a city that has weathered the ups and downs of business cycles in telecommunications, energy and real estate, is seeing a flurry of agency activity as shops realize the potential of this gateway to the West.

In the past year, Cincinnati-based HSR acquired Brozena Ripley & Partners, a b-to-b marketing communications agency in Denver; New York-based OgilvyOne acquired Leopard, a b-to-b marketing agency in suburban Broomfield; and Miami-based ad agency Crispin Porter+Bogusky opened an office in nearby Boulder.

With a population of 2.5 million and an economy that has often been described as "boom and bust," metropolitan Denver has not historically been an ad agency town.

"Denver is a second-tier market to New York and Chicago," said Rip Ripley, president of HSR Denver and co-founder of Brozena Ripley, which was started in 1988 as BSM&R.

"It is not a manufacturing center like the Midwest. It has a diversified economy," he said, pointing to the region's major industries of telecommunications, biotech, energy and professional services. "It is sort of a hidden market."

But that may be changing. With its diversified economy, healthy quality of life and a location that makes getting to both coasts easy, Denver is being spotted by agencies as a good place to set up base.

"This gives us the opportunity to enter another b-to-b-rich region of the country—the West Central area of the U.S.," said Rick Segal, CEO of HSR.

HSR's acquisition of Brozena Ripley, which was completed in December, adds local clients including building products manufacturer Johns Manville Corp., industrial parts maker Gates Corp. and Industrial Insulation Group.

"It really made sense because, like HSR, Brozena Ripley was 100% b-to-b," Segal added. In addition to local clients, HSR Denver also has clients in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"Denver is kind of a gateway city when it comes to advertising," Ripley said. "It's the gateway to the West."

A magnet for creative talent

Also, its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and several major universities makes it a magnet for creative talent, Ripley said. To bolster its office, HSR Denver is now hiring about a dozen new staffers.

Carla Hendra, president of OgilvyOne and co-CEO of Ogilvy North America, said the acquisition of Leopard made sense on several levels.

"We have been working on a common client—IBM [Corp.]—for many years," Hendra said. Ogilvy North America has been IBM's agency of record for 11 years, while Leopard has worked with IBM for 20 years, providing sales enablement and demand generation for IBM's Printing Systems division, which is based in Boulder, about 30 miles north of Denver.

Hendra said Leopard's b-to-b marketing services will be a valuable addition to Ogilvy's 360-degree marketing approach and strengthen its western U.S. presence.

"It's a great location, it's easy to get to and we can service clients like Cisco located out west and many other clients in the area we're hoping to grow," she said.

Hendra also noted that the University of Colorado in Boulder provides a good pool of potential employees for the agency. "It's a great place, it's very healthy and it's a nice environment," she said.

Cathey Finlon, chairman-CEO of McClain Finlon, the largest independent agency in Denver, also said the quality of life in the Rocky Mountain region attracts good creative talent to Denver.

"It's extremely viable to attract talent," Finlon said, pointing to recent hires from the U.K. and New Zealand.

McClain Finlon, which was founded in 1982 as Kuper Advertising and acquired by Finlon in 1988, has clients including Johns Manville (consumer and residential building products), Qwest Communications and Xcel Energy.

While most of McClain Finlon's clients are based in Denver, the agency is actively seeking clients outside the area.

The agency recently won a new Midwest account, CUNA Mutual Group, based in Madison, Wis.

While out-of-state clients are selecting Denver-area agencies to handle their business, local clients say they like having agency partners nearby.

"It's nice to be able to just run down the street for meetings," said Sarah Tholen, manager, marketing communications, commercial division at Johns Manville. The company began working with BSM&R in 1988 on its b-to-b work.

About seven years ago, it conducted a national search for its consumer and residential building divisions and selected McClain Finlon.

Moving for quality of life

Tholen said Denver has the ability to attract top-notch talent. "There's a perception that Denver is a cow town, but some of the best talent from New York, Chicago and San Francisco have moved here for the quality of life," she said.

Last year, Crispin Porter+Bogusky opened an office in Boulder with 50 employees. It is headed by Chief Creative Officer Alex Bogusky.

Crispin Porter is mainly a b-to-c agency, with clients including Burger King Corp., The Gap, Volkswagen of America and Virgin Atlantic Airways.

Agency executives said one of the key reasons for opening the Boulder office was the difficulty in attracting talent to Miami due to the high cost of living and concern over the hurricane season. They cited quality of life and the ability to attract top creative talent as reasons for selecting Boulder.

"I think it will broaden our opportunities to get good people," said Chuck Porter, chairman of Crispin Porter, in announcing the move. The agency now has 200 employees in its Boulder office.

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