NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Sigma was formed back in 1986 with modest ambitions: to serve the business belt of Northern New Jersey with a lot of rather unsexy marketing collateral work. Nearly a quarter-century later, it's become a steward of at least one category killer, Panasonic Toughbook, and other national brands such as Famous Footwear and Hunter Douglas.
Sigma has grown thanks to integrated solutions, strong marketing case studies and a quality all too uncommon in the agency business -- straight-up business smarts, which have been on full display during the recession. Sigma actually got out ahead of the downturn back in April 2008, months before the financial meltdown that has seen other agencies clean house frantically in the months since.
"We sat down and took a look at the pipeline and decided to make some minor cuts," said President-Partner Shannon Morris. That paid off because, in 2009, she said, sales, profits and employee count, now at 58, are all up.
By Ms. Morris' account, Sigma has run in the black each of its years, has never borrowed a dollar, and doesn't take big risks, a culture handed down by founder-CEO Vladimir Chronis who runs the financial side of the business while Ms. Morris, who joined in 1999, oversees operations.
It's not surprising then that Sigma is best known for effective, results-oriented client work rather than abstruse positions often adopted by agencies. Toughbook, made by Panasonic, Sigma's largest client, is a case in point. Supported with a range of print, TV and online ads, the extra-durable laptop brand has seen its aided brand awareness increase more than 131% and its product consideration jump 206% since 2006. And Panasonic has 85% market share within the public-safety sector.
Marca Armstrong, VP-marketing at Panasonic, counted among the benefits of working with Sigma easy access to creative leadership and nimbleness. She said that the small geographic footprint -- one office -- hasn't been a hindrance at all in building out Toughbook as a national or international brand.
"People often say that bigger is better, but that's not the case here," said Ms. Armstrong, adding that Sigma is aiding a Toughbook push in Latin America, particularly Mexico. "Their creative has helped us make tighter what's been a disparate brand internationally."
Another standout campaign has been Sigma's digital work for Famous Footwear, which received high praise from Ad Age critic Bob Garfield.
Its microsite features a Famous Footwear ice-cream truck that actually distributes shoes to women who squeal with delight. The act of equating grown women with overexcited girls could have easily registered as chauvinist, but, thanks to a light touch from Sigma, it's charming and funny.