Indie Butler Shine reconfigured itself for success

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When BMW sent congratulations via an English bulldog with a cryptic license plate around its neck to a one-time Liberty Ship factory on the edge of San Francisco Bay, it was affirmation that a 13-year-old independent advertising agency had taken the right course.

Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, now the agency for Mini, was founded by three former Goodby, Silverstein & Partners executives who originally tried to eke out a living with freelance work. "We were a glorified hit team," as Co-Creative Director John Butler put it, and the agency sauntered along until the dot-com years. Picking up clients such as eStamp.com and Allbusiness.com, it hit a big bump when those clients went out of business, and there was a temptation to sell out.

`Not convinced'

"For years, holding companies sniffed around. We listened, took the meeting and thought about it. But we were not convinced [being bought] would be for the better," said Mr. Butler.

The agency reformulated itself as a holding company, Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, and began acquiring the resources it thought it would need going forward. It purchased SF Interactive, then added a design unit, now called Gargantua, and later a strategic consulting practice. The shop also moved to make a play on a national stage when Mr. Butler became president of the prestigious New York City One Club.

Today, the shop has 100 employees and revenue of $15 million from clients including Converse for general advertising and Coke for interactive, according to CEO Greg Stern. In the end, it was the agency's media capabilities that came into play in the BMW decision.

"They reconfigured themselves to do well," said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. "I'm proud of them."

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