Slack and Co., Chicago, which is marking its 25th anniversary this month, has kept its focus as a pure-play b-to-b agency while expanding its client roster in a variety of industries.
“We launched the agency as an IMC [integrated marketing communications] agency working exclusively with b-to-b marketers, and we haven't veered from that one iota,” said Gary Slack, chairman-chief experience officer at Slack and Co., which, along with partners Stuart Lasky and Jim Brown, he co-founded in 1988 as Slack Lasky Brown.
The agency's first account was NutraSweet, and it quickly added more food and beverage business, including the National Soft Drink Association and the U.S. division of packaging company Tetra Pak.
In 1995, the agency changed its name to Slack Barshinger to reflect the partner status of Creative Director Don Barshinger.
“Our client list started to diversify, especially in the dot-com era,” Slack said. “Around 2000, we started developing quite a base of business around Silicon Valley.”
The agency picked up technology clients such as eBay—helping the online auction company roll out eBay Business—Google, LinkedIn and PayPal.
The agency helped Google introduce Google Analytics Premium, an analytics service aimed at large enterprises. It also worked with online payment company PayPay on the rollout of PayPal for Business.
Since then, the agency has added clients in industrial manufacturing, professional services and office products. Its roster now includes Dow Corning, Fellowes Inc., Gates Corp., General Electric Co., Ingredion and Jones Lang LaSalle.
“Early on, we drew a line in the sand when it came to b-to-b versus b-to-c,” Slack said. “We will do consumer work, but only for b-to-b clients. We have a very crisp image as a b-to-b agency, and that is really important to me.”
In 2010, the agency changed its name to Slack and Co., following Barshinger's retirement.
Slack, who served a two-year term as chairman of the Business Marketing Association from 2009 to 2011 and has been the BMA annual conference organizer since 2009, noted some key changes in b-to-b marketing over the past 25 years.
“One thing I've seen, having founded the company as an IMC agency, is that IMC is evolving into demand management,” he said. “When IMC was first developed, it was a term that described what you did at the top of the funnel to create interest. Now, we are increasingly helping clients with demand management from the top of the funnel all the way down to closing the sale.”
Slack said another key change in b-to-b marketing is the evolving role of the CMO.
“We are seeing our clients' roles and responsibilities expand,” he said. “It really is true that senior marketing leaders now have a seat at the C-suite table and are spending more time influencing, if not controlling, IT spend.”
A third change Slack noted is the increasing importance of employees in marketing efforts.
“I really envision a big battle shaping up between HR and marketing,” he said. “As marketers increasingly understand how critical the workforce is to building a strong brand and creating demand, marketing increasingly is going to want to influence internal communications and play a much bigger role in talent acquisition.”
“The big question is, will this evolve into a partnership or a battle?” he said. “In a way, HR sits on the most powerful marketing resource a company has, and that is its people. But for too many years, marketing has not looked at its workforce as a resource. Employees create multiple impressions every day, and the quality is much higher than any kind of impression quantity you could generate.”
Slack said smart agencies need to work harder to stay connected and relevant to their clients, and one of the best ways to do that is to stay connected to CMOs.
“How connected are you at the top?” he said, “It is more important than ever to stay connected and meaningful to the CMO.”