Small Agency 2010

International Small Agency of the Year: Hot Tomali

Rapidly Evolving Technology Allowed This Start-Up to Make Its Mark as Clients Sought Out New Digital Tools

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CHICAGO ( -- No, the Tomali in Hot Tomali isn't a quirky Canadian misspelling of tamale. It's actually a mash-up of the first names of agency founders Thomas and Alison Stringham, who started the shop in 1998. The shop has grown slowly in the years since, with recent ones being the most fruitful: The agency's 2009 revenue was $1.3 million, up 52.9% from 2008.

EA PROFESSIONALS: Hot Tomali created an incentive program for gaming-store staffers.
EA PROFESSIONALS: Hot Tomali created an incentive program for gaming-store staffers.
But back to 1998. Thomas Stringham, then a 23-year-old working an entry-level job at BBDO Vancouver, decided to launch his own agency.

Now the president and creative director at Hot Tomali, Mr. Stringham credits rapidly evolving digital technologies with helping him to start a shop so early on in his career. "We were the first generation coming out with internet knowledge," Mr. Stringham said. Our roots in digital marketing allowed us to gain momentum very quickly."

He added: "There was such a divide between digital and traditional agencies. I always viewed the web as just another medium. Integrated is the big thing now, and shops are getting growth from digital and social media. It's really natural for us."

Hot Tomali applied those tenets to its work for Electronic Arts. EA approached Hot Tomali to develop its first-ever business-to-business website to encourage video-game retailers to promote games to customers. It dubbed the incentive program for staffers the EA Professionals Program.

EA salespeople participate in a training program for each game, and take quizzes that test their knowledge of that game. Sales staffers then receive points, which they can redeem for EA games, limited-edition merchandise, clothing and other prizes.

"This was a paradigm shift for EA. They didn't have direct communications with the retail staff," Mr. Stringham said. Now the retail employees are getting more engaged." Since EA Professional Program's February 2009 launch, 3,000 Best Buy employees have registered for the program, and 50% of all Best Buy's U.S. locations have at least one sales associate registered for the program.

Another project Hot Tomali launched recently is, a U.S. website that's an extension of a project for Vancouver-based Cientis Technologies, which creates online communities that help medical practices compare, select and implement electronic health records and related health-care technology products.

Cientis originally approached Hot Tomali in 2006 to convert a health-care-technology blog into an EHR comparison site and selection tool for Canadian physicians. Over time, the client-agency relationship morphed into a partnership.

Cientis CEO Alan Brookstone said it made the decision with Hot Tomali to invest in the U.S. market together -- a move that bodes well given the news in 2009 of U.S. laws that allocate funds for the adoption of electronic medical records for physicians and hospitals.

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