Best small, pure-play b-to-b agency

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Jeff Kellar worked with some of the biggest ad agencies in the world, including Young & Rubicam Inc., when he was marketing director for Molson Brands in the mid-90s. Multimillion-dollar ad budgets abounded for marketing the popular brew. But as VP-plastic packaging systems for Tetra Pak Inc., a liquid food processor and packaging company based in Chicago, Kellar now operates with less than a $1 million annual ad budget.

Although his spending is limited, Kellar said Slack Barshinger & Partners Inc., a b-to-b integrated marketing communications agency also based in Chicago, has helped Tetra Pak to enhance its marketing through a print campaign. Perhaps more important, the agency has encouraged Tetra Pak to think outside the box. This included adding something new and unusual to Tetra Pak’s marketing mix—booking the company’s top executives to speak at industry conferences.

"They can turn on a dime to help me put together a strategy," Kellar said. "If I were working with a big agency I couldn’t get the time and attention the way I do from Slack Barshinger." Kellar said the print campaign Slack Barshinger developed not only raised awareness about the company’s various products, but has also highlighted the different markets Tetra Pak is in, such as dairy, juice and natural foods packaging. "It’s a comprehensive strategy," he said.

Staying aggressive

Gary Slack managing partner of Slack Barshinger, said that in the current business climate, b-to-b ad agencies have two choices. "They can either hunker down, ride it out and come out weaker, or they can take the plunge and try to capitalize on the current marketplace and come out with greater share," he said.

Slack Barshinger is clearly taking the latter approach, despite its small size. Revenues hit $5 million in 2000, while billings climbed to $7.5 million, up from $3 million and $5 million, respectively, in 1999. The company projects revenues to grow to at least $6 million in 2001, despite the sluggish economy.

Major clients added to the agency’s roster in 2000 included Arryx Inc., Silgan Containers Corp. and Jones Lang LaSalle IP Inc. Principal clients include ACNielsen and Nabisco Food Ingredients.

In May, Slack Barshinger captured 30 Tower Awards, including 14 Gold statuettes from the Chicago chapter of the Business Marketing Association, on behalf of several clients.

Slack attributes the company’s growth within the last year to his ability to "get out there and retain the top b-to-b agency" talent in the Chicago area. Additionally, he pointed to Slack Barshinger’s own branding as raising the level of awareness and understanding in the marketplace about the company.

Slack said the company’s Web strategy has also helped to drive the growth. The company has built extensive integrated marketing programs for most of its clients in the last year. "The Web is the glue upon which the total program is put together," Slack said. "It can enhance print campaigns, trade shows and, to a degree, even public relations."

In building online campaigns, the agency promotes the use of the "procure panel" format, a multi-touch point banner ad created by B2B-Works Inc., which Slack Barshinger co-founded in 1998 and owns a 12% ownership stake in. Slack said the procure panel will be a key to the company’s future. "We need the Internet to power one-to-one marketing which, in an era of revenue scarcity, can only explode," he said.

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