Banner Biz QandA
Madison Avenue in New York is considered to be the original site for the establishment of the nation’s advertising industry. However, black-owned agencies might be launched anywhere. According to the Black Enterprise Magazine’s account of the nation’s largest black businesses, there are now only 10 firms that qualify as major advertising agencies. They are located in such remote places as Emeryville, Calif., El Paso, Texas and Birmingham, Ala.
Not one firm on the list was founded in Boston, but there is a black-owned advertising agency located here that is struggling to make the top 10 list. The following interview with George Irish, the CEO and founder of Strategis, a marketing communications company, should provide some insight as to what it takes to be in advertising.
Q: How did you happen to launch an advertising agency?
As a student at Northeastern University I had to find a job. The most promising opportunity at the time was to work in accounting and administration for a firm that designed and placed help wanted advertisements for its clients. I really liked the business so I took it upon myself to learn everything I could from accounting to sales, from strategy to creative design. That’s how I got into the field. Eleven years ago when I finally left that agency, my wife, Dolores, and I began our own agency that is today Strategis.
Q: How long did you work for others?
As a student I worked part-time, but then I discovered that those involved in business development received substantial pay checks. I decided to switch to sales, and found I was good at it. I pursued this line of work after graduation.
As a political science major I had planned to go to law school, but I had begun to make so much money in advertising, that I put law school on hold. I ended up working for others for 19 years before I started my own agency.
Q: Did you establish a full service agency?
No. Originally our agency was named Hire Ads, and it was a recruitment agency because that is the area I knew best from my former agency days. But the nature of that industry was changing. Employers were turning away from print ads for help wanted and were looking to the Internet. Monster, CareerBuilder, BostonWorks, Craigslist and other Internet firms were killing the business. We had to get really smart to keep up.
Q: How did you meet this challenge?
Our first step was to change the name of the agency. In 2007 we became Strategis. I chose this name because we had to become a very smart, very strategic agency to keep up with the changing state of media. This is why we made it through the rough times while so many others didn’t. We became a multi-purpose agency.
Our main goal was to create measurable results for clients. Our recruitment accounts started turning into marketing accounts. Now only about 5 percent of the business is for recruitment. We went from identifying ourselves as a recruitment agency to battling well-known area agencies to become a client’s Agency-of-Record.
Within this area, we foresaw the shift in media coming once again. We knew that in order to service our clients properly we needed to understand the relationships between marketing, public relations and social media. We created a concept we call social communications — using marketing, PR, online and interactive tools to develop more effectively that coveted one-on-one relationship between a client and their audience.
Q: What techniques do you employ to establish that your advertising campaign has been effective?
We measure everything. No one can afford to get by on their gut instinct any longer. If you are going to spend money on an ad, a tool or a publication, you need to know if it is working.
Website traffic and pay-per-click campaigns are numerically measurable. We report these numbers back to our clients on a weekly or monthly basis. By comparing these results over other similar time periods, we can determine whether a promotion is effective.
Social media initiatives might not be easy to measure numerically. The approach is to define goals and deliverables. Then we later evaluate results on the basis of those benchmark expectations. Additionally, we are constantly monitoring for any overflow from our campaign.
We pride ourselves on being communicative and transparent, and we make it a point always to share all of our findings with clients. In most cases results, whether positive or negative, shine light on an opportunity that we didn’t see before.
Q: Is Strategis now capable of handling all of the design and creative work for print, radio, television and Internet?
Absolutely, from soup to nuts: Concept, creative, copy, production, editing, tracking and measuring. We have a staff of 11 and other independent contractors on call to work on any project, no matter how complex.
Q: What has been the impact on your business of being a black-owned firm?
None positive or negative. At least that is what I can discern.