By Published on .

Earlier this year, Hal Riney & Partners Heartland in Chicago sent an unsolicited pitch to a coveted account. The package was fairly simple: a folder with about 60 letters from the agency's employees, including the mailroom supervisor, explaining why each individual thought the marketer should work with the Chicago agency.

Barry Krause, the agency's managing director, got a call back-fairly quickly-and the shop is actively pitching the account.

The Riney office has been built around the strengths, passions and hobbies of its employees-the dozen or so who were there as the agency teetered toward extinction four years ago, and the 77 on board today.

When Mr. Krause and Executive Creative Director Jonathan Harries came on board to reclaim the office, they decided that without the resources of a large agency like Leo Burnett Co., they needed to create a different sort of structure. After all, Mr. Krause had more people in his McDonald's Corp. account group at Burnett than in the whole Riney/Chicago staff.

"We wanted to redefine the way agencies are viewed," he says. "We tried to rebuild ... around the strengths of the people." In hiring, he sought "advertising-driven people instead of specialists-people who weren't happy at big agencies, and mostly senior-level people." Part of the lure: a promise to let staffers work on "what they were passionate about," Mr. Krause says.

In his own case, having grown up with parents in the haircare business, that meant pitching the business of Matrix Essentials, a haircare company the agency still does project work for. Avid bikers pitched and won the business of a high-tech bike marketer.

Mr. Krause's love of the fast-food business led the agency to Subway Sandwich & Salad Shops, now its biggest client; other staffers' fascination with the longterm career of legendary food entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci prompted them to write a letter that led to a relationship with Luigino's Inc., marketer of the Michelina's brand.

Mr. Krause and Mr. Harries, whose offices are linked by a small room with a telescope, try to keep the agency "everyone's agency" with regular Friday and Monday staff meetings, one for "primal therapy" and learning, the other for account updates.

Mr. Krause also makes a point of telling staffers about every pitch the shop is pursuing. "Then they're charged with the responsibility to not talk about it," he says. "It works."

It must. From $22 million when the new management took over, the agency has grown to $134 million in billings last year and a projected $150 million this year.

Most Popular
In this article: