Marcus Thomas: Agency Business Report 2013

At the start of 2012, Cleveland PR firm Marcus Thomas relocated to a 42,000-square-foot office. The larger space allows the agency to divide its areas of practice, home and garden, professional services, B2B, and consumer packaged goods, into distinct physical units.

Principal: James Nash, managing partner
Ownership: Independent
Offices: Cleveland and Youngstown, OH, and Buenos Aires
Revenues: US: $16.1 million
Headcount: US: 120; Buenos Aires: 45

At the start of 2012, Cleveland PR firm Marcus Thomas relocated to a 42,000-square-foot office. The larger space allows the agency to divide its areas of practice, home and garden, professional services, B2B, and consumer packaged goods, into distinct physical units.

By moving into bigger digs, the idea was that the agency could also better accommodate staff increases. Before 2012, year-over-year growth had consistently been about 14% to 15%, even at the height of the recession.

But with 7% growth in 2012, it ended up being a disappointing year for the agency, says James Nash, managing partner for Marcus Thomas.  

"A lot of agencies rode the recession down and back out. But, for us, 2012 was not one of our better years," he says. "We were predicting a good year, but a lot of clients were stagnant in terms of their comms spend."

Since client teams had been staffed based on expectations, some people had to be redeployed to other accounts. A few people were laid off, confirms Nash.

While the agency didn't meet its revenue forecast last year, Marcus Thomas still grew, winning new clients including GE Lighting, Westfield Insurance, and Nestle pasta brand, Buitoni, among others.

Two Nestle brands accounted for client losses: Ovaltine and Hot Pockets.

Of all its service offerings, social media strategy and execution was the most robust in 2012. Nash attributes that in part to the agency's late 2011 acquisition of Digiknow, a locally-based digital marketing and technology company.

Digiknow also has a 45-person office in Buenos Aires that focuses on digital development work. "They have some local clients there, but 80% of the business [done in Buenos Aires] is for Marcus Thomas clients," says Nash.

Traditional media relations had the weakest growth of all service areas in 2012. Yet Nash says he has seen a recent shift. Clients are now looking for strength in media relations, employee communications, and IR, in addition to social media, content marketing, and media/blogger relations.

"Areas like traditional media relations have returned as sound fundamentals for an integrated comms approach," says Nash. "A campaign has to be as sound in traditional form as it is on social or digital platforms."

Marcus Nash has been doing integrated work for clients including Troy-Bilt outdoor power equipment, Akron Children's Hospital, and Buitoni.

While first quarter 2013 was slow, he says the second and third quarters have returned the agency to more typical growth. "Clients have become comfortable being aggressive with their marketing spend again," says Nash. "My expectations for the rolling 12 months is that business spend will be strong."

Marcus Thomas is also focusing on recruitment again. Currently, the agency has five positions open.

"It's a constant challenge to find really good marketing communication professionals, and so now we look across the US," says Nash, who says they use the city's low cost of living as a selling point for candidates who have to relocate. "We can no longer rely on the local market."

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