Agency A-List: Martin Agency

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John Adams
  • A shining star for IPG
  • Wins Wal-Mart
  • Gore group also signs
  • Pop-culture prowess
  • Gains online duties
Whatever you do, don't judge the Martin Agency by that caveman TV show based on its ads for Geico. As bad as that is, Martin is good, having in recent years emerged as a shining creative light with more than a little new-business firepower.

The 500-person, Richmond, Va., agency is living proof that an ad shop that pretty much still stakes its rep on TV spots -- albeit really, really good TV spots -- can be no less vital in a commercial-skipping, digital-skewing world.

The Interpublic Group of Cos.-owned agency, under Chairman-CEO John Adams, started 2007 on a high point by emerging from the train wreck of Wal-Mart's review with the retailer's $600 million account in hand. Other new clients included Barely There, BFGoodrich, Cruzan rum, Discover, Hanes, Johnson Automotive, Nascar, Seiko and Sirius Satellite Radio.

Proof in the pudding
New business aside, it's the work that really excites. If nothing else, ABC's "Cavemen" showed just how far Martin's work for Geico had penetrated pop culture. For the insurer, Martin continued its masterful "multi-storyline approach" with a barrage of humorous spots featuring the now-famous cavemen and Cockney-voiced gecko, plus B-list celebs the likes of Little Richard and Joan Rivers. The work has done wonders for the brand and the bottom line, quadrupling the size of the company in 10 years.

The UPS "Whiteboard" campaign uses a simple idea: Communicate the brand's assets with minimal distractions. With little more than a brown marker and a dry-erase board, the agency created high-impact print and TV ads.

All eyes, however, have been on Wal-Mart, a brand that needs a lot of help. Martin did its part, creating a transformative campaign focusing on what Wal-Mart's pricing brings to the consumer: savings. Transcending the vague yellow smiley face -- not hard -- Martin gave the discount giant its first tagline in 19 years, with the Sam Walton admonition "Save money. Live better."

Another biggie in 2007 came from the social-cause marketing space. Martin earned the respect of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore, who chose the agency to handle the account for his Alliance for Climate Protection. The alliance review wasn't short on competition -- contenders included industry darlings such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Crispin Porter & Bogusky.

Respect at the top
Martin's excellence is clearly being recognized at parent Interpublic, which made Martin the creative lead in the holding-company pitch for Dell's three-year, $4.5 billion account. The Interpublic bid came up short, but President-Creative Director Mike Hughes was among the core executives leading the pitch on behalf of the runner-up to WPP Group.

If there's anything approaching a weak spot, it's that Martin doesn't produce enough high-profile digital work. To its credit, Martin handled interactive duties for 80% of its clients and gained interactive-agency-of-record status for BFGoodrich and Wal-Mart. But that is still overshadowed by its 30-second spots.

Martin did make a few moves that should help diversify its portfolio, strengthening its branded-entertainment division by doubling staff there and bringing aboard Danny Robinson as senior VP-creative director. It also brought design maven Brian Collins into the Interpublic fold. Mr. Collins, formerly of WPP's Ogilvy & Mather, was part of the winning team in the pitch for Mr. Gore's business.
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