Principal: Rick French, chairman and CEO
Offices: Raleigh, NC; Tampa, FL; Los Angeles; and New York
Last year was unique in one particular respect for French | West | Vaughan: After 17 consecutive years of growth, revenue remained flat at the firm. However, founder, chairman, and CEO Rick French says he isn’t sweating it.
"We’re pleased with where we are," he explains. "Growth is not something that drives me. We have had great success during the past 18 years, growing into a midsize national agency."
The Raleigh, North Carolina-based firm’s quarter percentage point revenue dip was primarily the result of a slow H1 2014 and a continued evolution in the scope of work clients demand, says French.
"We saw a shift in client spending, not necessarily a reduction, but definitely a shift toward digital and social, a degree away from traditional PR spending," he explains. "It changed the composition of the income we earned and the way we earned it."
Shift toward digital
The agency made some adjustments to capitalize on the industry’s continued slope toward digital by formalizing content creation as a practice and recruiting with an eye toward digital natives, French says.
The firm lost its chief creative director, Glen Fellman, after less than a year, but recruited Dawn Marie Strzepek from Petco to lead the creative department.
French also sold his controlling interest in Regan Williams Licensing Group early last year, which impacted the firm’s overall revenue and cut its headcount by eight.
French | West | Vaughan is known for its strong consumer product expertise, including apparel and retail, sports and entertainment, food and beverage, and travel and tourism. Marquee clients include Wrangler, Hood River Distillers, which manufactures Pendleton whisky; and ABB, a Fortune 500 Swiss-based international energy company.
It picked up new accounts from Smithfield’s Chicken ’N Bar-B-Q, a 35-store restaurant chain; a Napa Valley winery brand; and TyraTech, an insecticide company that just scored a deal with Walmart.
Losses included Elevation Burger, whose contract ended within the year, and project work from existing clients who pulled back spending on certain products.
The agency remained profitable with a 9.7% margin compared to 14% the prior year, and French expects a return to revenue growth in 2015.
"We’re significantly ahead of where we were on the comps a year ago," he says.
Late last year, French acquired an ownership stake in a sports publication that he and his partners remade into a digital property, MovesMagazine.com. He expects it to be a "valuable new business tool," given the number of consumer brands and athletes the firm represents.
"When you talk about investments, we’re doing it in some non-traditional ways," he says.