Shift Communications: Agency Business Report 2013

In August 2012, Shift Communications restructured its leadership and launched an employee stock ownership plan to give staffers a stake in the firm.

Principals: Todd Defren, CEO (pictured); Jim Joyal, partner
Ownership: Independent
Offices: San Francisco; Newton, MA; New York
Revenue: $14,225,795
Headcount: 100

In August 2012, Shift Communications restructured its leadership and launched an employee stock ownership plan to give staffers a stake in the firm.

Cofounder Todd Defren became CEO as part of the changes. President Amy Lyons joined its board of directors, Paula Finestone was promoted to COO and board member, while principal Jim Joyal remains a partner and a board member. 

“We had been approached by holding companies and large agencies, but there is so much more we wanted to achieve as an independent,” explains Defren, who adds that he chose to give stock to employees, rather than sell the firm because “they were the ones who got us here.”

The agency experienced top-line growth in 2012 with US revenue reaching $14.2 million, up 17% from the prior year. The majority of this growth came from new business, including Toyota, H&R Block, and Wayfair. In 2013, Shift has thus far picked up Credit Karma, RocketSpace, and Tango. Account losses include Wildfire, Zeo, Overstock.com, and StumbleUpon.

Shift's Boston headquarters grew headcount by 35% last year to reach 61. It also started a new healthcare practice, which Defren says is already profitable, picking up the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society. Shift's b-to-b/b-to-c hybrid team, which launched last year in San Francisco, is also profitable. The firm recently set up a second b-to-b tech team in Boston, focusing on emerging business opportunities. It is led by VP Karl Scholz.

Shift had a 17% staff turnover in 2012. Aaron Heinrich, MD of the San Francisco office, left after one year. His role will not be replaced, owing to Defren's permanent move to that office.

Developing a new strategy
Shift also implemented a new strategy in 2012 called Earned Media Hub. It is based on the firm's belief that the credibile-boosting power of earned media can become the hub of a broader marketing communications strategy, with a focus on research and analytics.

“We recognize paid, owned, and earned media are converging across the media landscape like never before,” says Defren. “We've developed our strategy to take advantage of that. We will talk beyond share of voice to share of search and return on investment in terms of conversion.”

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