USG account win boosts HSR Chicago to next level

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USG Corp.'s selection of HSR Business to Business, a Cincinnati-based agency that opened a Chicago office in 2004, will more than double the agency's Chicago business and create opportunities for further expansion in the market.

USG, a Chicago-based building products company, last month named HSR's local office as its marketing communications agency of record following a three-month review. Slack Barshinger, Chicago, was the runner-up. The previous agency was Noble BBDS, Springfield, Mo.

Billings were undisclosed, but HSR CEO Rick Segal said the win will more than double billings in the Chicago office to $18 million this year.

Greg Salah, VP-marketing at USG, said the company was looking for a strong strategic agency partner that could help it achieve its ambitious growth plans over the next eight to nine years.

USG, which completed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization last month, plans to launch three to four new products each year for the next four to five years, Salah said.

"HSR is growing in Chicago, and they are well positioned to grow with us as we develop," he said. "They can help us launch products successfully and build a track record to demonstrate the value of investing in marketing."

HSR will handle integrated marketing communications for USG, including strategy, branding, advertising, public relations and online.

As part of the review process, the finalists were given an assignment to create a concept campaign for USG Sheetrock Plus 3, a dust-control drywall product that will be introduced at the end of the year.

"While both agencies were very, very strong, in the end we felt HSR was stronger creatively," Salah said. "They came up with some great ideas, and their media plan was very creative. The plan they gave us will be implemented."

To service the USG account, as well as other business the Chicago office has picked up under the leadership of George Rafeedie, VP-managing director of HSR Chicago, the agency plans to hire up to 25 people in the next few months.

It will hire across all areas, including creative, account services, online and PR.

"The USG win is a critical-mass milestone that enables us to put delivery resources in place," Segal said. "There is a big talent pool here, and it allows us to enrich the overall talent pool at HSR."

Since opening its Chicago office, HSR has won other Chicago-area accounts including CCH Inc., a tax and accounting software company; LaSalle Bank; SIRVA, a corporate relocation company; Gordon Flesch Co., an office equipment provider; and Zebra Technologies, a specialty printing company.

"When we expanded into Chicago, we could have attempted to do it through acquisitions," Segal said. "We made the strategic decision to approach the market organically and grow from a clean sheet of paper. Under George's rainmaking, we've gone from $0 to $18 million in two years."

Rafeedie worked at HSR in the mid-1990s as corporate communications manager. He then relocated to the Chicago area to earn a master's degree in integrated marketing communications at Northwestern University. Since then, he has worked on the client side at Andersen Consulting and Baxter Healthcare. He returned to HSR in 2004 to open the Chicago office.

Hiring additional people over the next few months to service the agency's expanded business will be challenging, but it will also be a big opportunity, Rafeedie said.

"It is a talent-rich market here, and we have networks already in place," he said. "We have a big stack of creative portfolios to look through over the next 60 days."

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