Martin/Williams takes fast break to branding

By Published on .

Most Popular
Clients may have gotten their first clue that Martin/Williams was going turbo in November, when the shop repainted its offices from conservative black, white and beige to kinetic green, orange and blue hues, conveying supercharged energy.

But the transformation was actually sealed a month earlier when the 54-year-old agency won McDonald's Corp.'s $15 million Donatos Pizza business.

It's an evolution that's been years in coming. "People used to confuse us with the Martin Agency," said Mike Gray, exec VP-chief marketing officer, referring to the Richmond, Va., shop.

Martin/Williams execs attribute the shift to the concept it calls "Turbobranding," defined as a fully integrated marketing approach to "build brands faster." That means speeding the research and planning process while deploying multiple marketing disciplines at once, which the agency claims has given it an edge in pitches.

Since it started dabbling in the concept in 1996, Martin/Williams has grown from a shop with $195 million in billings to an agency expected to bill $330 million this year. In 1992, Target Corp. and Coleman Co. were its only national consumer accounts. Martin/Williams, acquired by Omnicom Group two years ago, now counts Rubbermaid, Lincoln Financial Group, Victory Motorcycles and L.L. Bean on its roster. While the agency originally had the lion's share of work for Target, that client uses a roster of agencies and Peterson Milla Hooks, Minneapolis, now handles branding advertising. Coleman is now handled by FCB Worldwide, Detroit.

Since January, when it named Steve Collins as president and hired Internet and other specialists, Martin/Williams began offering the full turbobranding concept to clients. The $20 million L.L. Bean win in September and Donatos, won in October, represent Martin/Williams' first clients to fully commit to the concept.


Martin/Williams had two ideas for L.L. Bean during its pitch against seven contenders, including finalists FCB Worldwide, New York and San Francisco, and Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis.

Using turbobranding, the agency quickly tested its ideas with L.L. Bean devotees before taking them to the prospective client. The first concept was an extension of the "Start here. Go anywhere" adventure positioning from incumbent agency Mullen, Wenham, Mass. The other reinforced the outdoor retailer's quality and service heritage. Rather than the weeks-long qualitative testing typically used in new-business pitches, Martin/Williams used the Internet to get quantitative responses from current customers in four days.

The agency learned that consumers felt all outdoor retailer ads, which typically showed adventure imagery, were the same. They also learned that people liked and identified more with the quality and heritage message. Most convincing, 55% of those polled said they would buy a catalog based on the heritage ad, compared with the 18% intent rating from the present ads.

"It was very clear one idea was bad, so we doubled our efforts on the other," said John Karlson, senior VP-strategic development at Martin/Williams.

Mr. Collins said the client told him that his agency was the only contender to do this kind of testing. Two weeks ago, the shop finished shooting print ads based on the winning pitch as it continues to prepare other elements.

Mr. Collins also credits turbobranding for helping Martin/ Williams outmuscle behemoths-and McDonald's Corp. shops- Leo Burnett USA and DDB Worldwide, Chicago, for Donatos. While neither agency nor client will discuss the final marketing strategy for Donatos, Martin/ Williams' approach was not only created quickly, the pitch it gave to the client encompassed everything from menu and uniform design to retail-oriented strategies.

"I definitely think they're for real," said Jeff Tritt, VP at Rojek Marketing Group, the consultant who helped hire the agency for Donatos Pizza. What set the agency apart from its competition was its ability to approach the business from several disciplines. "A lot of people talk about integrating all elements of the marketing mix; fewer do it," he said. "They have the strategic smarts of some of the biggest, finest strategic planning agencies and yet have a certain nimbleness to make things happen in quick order."

With turbobranding, Martin/Williams believes it can cut planning time in half for clients. That's the exact opposite of the traditional Procter & Gamble Co. approach to research. "It's OK to start before the analysis is finished, with the understanding that you will continue to learn through the development process," according to Mr. Karlson. "You give up relatively little with a quick start."

Integration is key to Martin/Williams' work, which it has honed on Target's Lullaby Club brand. The shop's retail image-management group helped Target launch the private-label baby clothing and product line, including creating, naming and packaging the 300 SKUs of the line and creating in-store displays and a customer database. "If ever there were a 360-degree branding experience, this is it," said Mr. Collins. And it was on the shelf in five months instead of the typical two years.


Powertel, a West Point, Ga.-based wireless service provider that hired the agency last year, was impressed not just with the shop's speed but with its range of ideas to fit Powertel's small budget. Myrna Orphan, director of marketing for Powertel, said that by coming up with an integrated campaign and a Web-site design that could be implemented in-house, the agency ended up saving them money.

It helps that while the shop does media planning and buying, it doesn't take commissions on media. "You need to be selfless and media agnostic," said Mr. Karlson. "It's not a bottom-line decision, it's what's right for the situation." The shop also advises clients to measure media by reach and impact rather than frequency.

Although Martin/Williams has started to accumulate more national accounts, it still has far to go. This year, it lost the $16 million account of CNS, marketer of Breathe Right, along with the $4 million Little Tykes business, and the agency wants to fill vacancies in the retail, automotive, e-commerce and travel categories. "We'll see if this [turbobranding] initiative bears fruit," Mr. Collins said. "We just don't feel our potential is realized yet."

In this article: