Even after the consolidation boom of the 1990s, Cincinnati media independent Empower MediaMarketing still gets acquisition overtures-some quite publicly, as when David Verklin, CEO of Aegis Group's Carat North America, mused to a trade publication last year that Empower would make a nice target.
Brian McHale is flattered, but entirely uninterested. The 37-year-old president of Empower is glad to keep aggressively plying the agency's offbeat approach of handling national media accounts from Cincinnati with some of the most senior staff in the industry.
"When consolidation was in its heyday five or six years ago, we kind of bet the company on the fact that we weren't going to beg out," says Mr. McHale.
Being independent hasn't always been easy. Empower lost a few of its bigger Cincinnati-based accounts in recent years, including Kao Corp.'s Andrew Jergens Co. unit in the U.S.
But the past 18 months have seen Empower pick up eight new national and regional accounts, including Little Tykes and Chattem Corp.'s Phisoderm.
Mr. McHale has been at Empower for 15 years. The agency was his third job out of college after working as a TV producer and a brief stint as a page at NBC in Los Angeles on shows like "Wheel of Fortune." He met Mary Beth Price, founder of Empower (then named Media That Works), and her husband Bill, then chairman, and they talked him into joining the shop as a buyer.
He rose to head the buying department within five years. And after Ms. Price stepped down as CEO for a professorship at his alma mater, Miami University of Ohio, Mr. McHale became president and heir apparent to Mr. Price, who is chairman-CEO.
Mr. McHale's lengthy tenure is the rule, not the exception at Empower. Its average tenure is nine years for all employees and 13 for buyers. In an industry where the youth of buyers is legendary-or notorious-it's quite a departure.
"You see ads for senior media buyers asking for three years of experience," Mr. McHale says. "I think it's sad the way our industry has gone."
Being privately held helps Empower maintain an atmosphere that prevents turnover, Mr. McHale says. So does being in Cincinnati, away from rival media shops and in a city where most of its staff wants to stay put.
Despite toiling in the shadow of uber-marketer Procter & Gamble Co., Empower gets little business from P&G. But Empower does handle work for P&G's professional business and ad hoc work for consumer brands, such as finding last-minute network TV time for Swiffer after P&G's regular buying shop, Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group, passed.
Its heavy helping of veterans hasn't kept Empower from being innovative, says Steve Lynch, VP-marketing at Clopay Corp. Empower tried a new approach for Clopay, an infomercial on E.W. Scripps' Shop@Home network, despite the fact that the marketer sells through dealers, not direct. The low-cost gambit paid off, Mr. Lynch says.
"I think [Brian's] personality really extends through the entire organization," he says. "He's looking at very innovative ideas with a quiet confidence."