When it comes to launching an advertising agency, a first step is deciding where to locate the new company. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, or maybe San Francisco come to mind. After all, those are the advertising epicenters -- right?
At Factory Design Labs, we took a different approach and chose Denver as our headquarters. And it wasn’t by accident.
Founded in 1997, Factory chose to set up shop in Denver for a variety of reasons. First and most importantly, we wanted to live and work in a place where our client’s core customers live and work. Our clients are outdoor and lifestyle brands, and we knew we would be able to best understand their core customers by riding, climbing, golfing, skiing, and running among them.
But above and beyond this desire to understand our clients’ core customers by living among them, we chose to locate Factory in Denver for other more practical reasons. Denver has a thriving creative infrastructure of technology and creative services companies, video production houses, and printers that every agency needs to succeed. And they offer their services at lower costs than found in New York or other big cities. We pass this cost savings onto our clients.
Secondly, it’s easy to attract the right talent in Denver, because a lot of creative people want to live here to enjoy the mountain lifestyle. They choose to live in Denver and work at Factory because they love outdoor sports, a sustainable lifestyle, and working on some of the most iconic brands of our generation. A majority of our employees stay at the agency for five-plus years, moving up into ever-more senior roles.
Then there are the more intangible reasons for running an agency outside of the main advertising corridors. For one, we don’t feel compelled to define what we do in terms of “traditional,” “digital,” or any other label. In New York, Chicago, LA, or San Francisco, agencies are often defined by the work they do, classified in a hierarchy, and valued against the largest players. We don’t play into that classification game, but execute the specific needs required to build our brands -- whether that’s print, digital, video, social, in-store, or other methods.
By locating outside the typical ad agency cities, we don’t have to play by the industry rules. Being mavericks makes us different, and differentiation is critical to survival in the high-stakes agency world.
Going against the grain has its drawbacks. The biggest challenge to running an agency in Denver is that you don’t mingle with dozens of global brands on a daily basis. We have to work extra hard to find clients, because we don’t have next door-neighbor relationships with large global lifestyle brands. And our biggest enemy is the misperception that Denver is not in the center of the ad-industry action –- which limits our reach with potential brands and employees.
The reality is, it doesn’t matter where an agency is located -- but setting up shop outside the advertising epicenters does require you to define clearly what you stand for and why.
In my opinion, the future of the agency business will be defined by authenticity and relevance. Amid the massive waves of consolidation in the past few decades, the agency business is more concentrated in the hands of the “big four” than ever before. But good clients don’t care how big your ad conglomerate is -- they just want authentic brand-building creative, and effectively brilliant solutions that deliver new and more revenue.
I would argue that huge agencies have lost touch with what matters most -– the consumer. More brands will soon realize that a smaller, more focused and nimble agency has a more direct connection to their customers and with their brand. Because whether you set up shop in Denver, Portland, Austin, or New York, the future of marketing is about creating a soulful, personal connection between the brand and its consumer.