Bailey Lauerman: What It's Like to Win Ad Age's Small Agency of the Year

Nebraska Shop Reeled in New Business, Top Talent

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Bailey Lauerman accepts the 2013 Advertising Age Small Agency of the Year Award
Bailey Lauerman accepts the 2013 Advertising Age Small Agency of the Year Award

One thing is clear: We surprised just about everyone. During the closing moments of the 2013 Small Agency Awards ceremony in Portland, the judges described the final entry in great detail to several other competing agencies. They rattled off the breadth and depth of work, as well as the specific business results achieved for clients of all sizes. And then they finished with, "And to think--from an agency ­ in Nebraska!"

Yep, that's right, from Nebraska. Where we do things our way, and that way means a firm belief in in hard work and perseverance. Nearly two years ago, our leadership team put a magnifying glass on the forces of change rapidly swirling about our industry. It led to the establishment of a new set of commitments to ourselves and to the brands we serve. Four of the most important ones:

  • Initiate change, consistently, to better reflect the world around us.
  • Re-commit to focusing on client success and growth.
  • Be prouder of our valuable perspective and accomplishments.
  • Ensure our environment lets both clients and agency talent do the best work of their careers.

While these points may appear simple on the surface, their impact and effect on our agency have been truly remarkable.

We believe these changes paved the way to our recognition as Ad Age's Small Agency of the Year, perhaps the greatest calling card we have ever had. This recognition changed our business. Well, it's changed nearly everything. Quite simply, we had an opportunity to be heard and considered by an incredibly wide set of potential clients.

In the wake of winning the award, Bailey Lauerman saw a more than 400% spike in inbound new business inquiries. It included lots of RFPs, lots of introductory phone calls, and lots of polite referrals. In those instances where we could envision true potential for a sustainable partnership, we said yes.

During this crazy eight-month run, we intensely focused on something we had really developed a knack for -- pitching business, and with a newfound confidence and capability.

We put our Midwestern work ethic to the test. In Q4 of 2013 alone, we participated in nine simultaneous pitches. NINE. That meant nine briefings, nine spec assignments, nine final presentations. And, we're not quite sure how we pulled it off, but we batted .777 against heightened national competition including distinguished agencies such as BBDO, Y&R and Heat. All while keeping our current clients more than happy -- with just 85 people.

All that pitching and all that winning meant a lot of onboarding and high-stakes, high-pressure assignments as we went to work for brands we coveted -- no easy task as we tackled entirely new categories. And, we're shaping up to have one of the best years in the 40-year history of our company as a result of all that hard work.

Perhaps most importantly, our status as Small Agency of the Year allowed us to add even more really talented, nice people. But, here's the thing: nearly everyone who has joined our team in the last eight months found us. They figured we must be doing something right to earn that kind of recognition, and, we've helped prove them right.

Thinking back to our moment on the podium accepting our award at the Small Agency Awards in Portland, we realize that values we built our agency upon were recognized by the industry, and that was gratifying. Indeed, great ideas can come from anywhere, even Nebraska.

So our advice to peers in the small agency community: it's not the award that will lead to your success. It's all those gut-wrenching, terrifying, substantial changes you've been meaning to make. The ones you haven't gotten around to and have been purposefully avoiding. The changes your largest client hasn't demanded -- yet. Dust off that to-do list. Trust us, it's worth it.

Julia Doria is exec VP-chief marketing officer of Bailey Lauerman.

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