Spong: PRWeek Global Agency Business Report 2016

Spong's leadership change in 2015 from Doug Spong to Julie Batliner came amid continued investment in the agency's in-house capabilities.

Julie Batliner, president, Spong
Julie Batliner, president, Spong

Principal: Julie Batliner, president
Ownership: Interpublic Group (operates outside Constituency Management Group)
Offices: Minneapolis and New York
Revenue: $10 million to $25 million

Longtime MD Julie Batliner stepped in for founder Doug Spong in Q4 2015. Spong later joined Fahlgren Mortine in an of-counsel role in April 2016. The leadership change came amid continued investment in the agency’s in-house capabilities, which Batliner attributes to revenue growth exceeding expectations last year. A lot of the firm’s near-13% growth last year was fueled by consumer, which accounted for 55% of total revenue.

Food and nutrition rewards
Food and nutrition was the practice area that grew most, winning The Schwan Food Co., Lorissa’s Kitchen, and Garden of Life. Spong’s retail practice won BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse and U.S. Bank. The home category secured Formica Corporation, Hearth & Home Technologies, and Michael Graves Architecture & Design.

The firm lost H&R Block due to agency consolidation and Lamps Plus.

Batliner says social engagement, content and influencer marketing, and analytics are important growth areas for the agency. The firm put the "finishing touches" to its content lab, which creates multimedia assets for digital and social media.

"We couldn’t do things as fast as we wanted in the past because we had to book an outside studio; it often took up to a week because of demand," she explains. "Now we can be nimble and react to what is happening in the world. It also allows us to test and learn with less risk to our clients because it is less expensive for us to do so internally."

Spong’s first group creative director Sheldon Clay joined from sister Interpublic Group agency Carmichael Lynch. He leads all creative, including design, content development, advertising, and messaging. Spong also promoted personnel, including Annie Riley, director, digital strategy; Beth Garcia, VP, media relations chairperson; Cavan Reagan Reichmann, partner and director, social engagement; and Erika Collins, partner and director, business development.

The agency has grown its internal committee DIAL (Diversity Inclusion Action League) from six to 68 people in five years. It helps drive an inclusive culture at the agency across areas including recruitment and leadership grooming.

Women now account for more than 55% of staff and 51% of management; people of color make up more than 10% of staff and 12% of management. Headcount increased to 70 from 60.

"You can have the best intentions when it comes to diversity, but you have to operationalize it to make it happen," says Batliner. "It is the right thing to do, but it also truly drives business results for clients. Diverse thinking leads to the best ideas."

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