Nearly two years ago, with little fanfare, New York-based media agency Gotham Direct re-branded to Generator Media + Analytics. By that time the agency, founded in 2002, had evolved beyond its roots as a direct-focused operation to a full-service media shop.
But agency executives were concerned that the word “Direct” in the company’s moniker was keeping away mainstream brand marketer prospects.
Whether true or not, the company, with revenues north of $10 million, has grown substantially since the makeover, designed to reinforce its ability to generate results and activity. Revenues were up 23% last year compared to 2013 and annualized billings have jumped $100 million-plus in the last two years to between $300 million and $350 million.
This year, the firm has already added nearly $50 million in new business with wins including start-up airline La Compagnie, healthcare company Clarion Brands, Moberg Pharmaceutical, Absolute Software and SuperPretzel.
The shop’s biggest client is Proximo Spirits, which spent $34 million on ads in 2014. Right around the time of the rebranding, Generator won the media AOR for the company’s Jose Cuervo brand tequila. The agency continues to grow the account organically as Proximo has made a big investment in its Kraken Spice Rum over the past year—an investment that will continue to grow in 2015, says Generator President Greg Messerle.
“We’re a clear alternative for large agency refugees,” Messerle, a co-founder of the agency along with partners Chris Gilbertie and Shattuck Groome. In addition to high-touch service, he says, the shop, with about 65 employees, is nimbler and more flexible than some bigger agencies.
And while “direct” no longer adequately describes the shop’s full-service capabilities, it is still part of the offering and a number of the agency’s longtime clients continue to rely on its direct services, including Zappos and Gore-Tex. With the rebranding, says Messerle, “we’re getting more at bats” from brand marketers outside the direct space.
The agency has a small office in London to service the needs of some clients with marketing needs in Europe. But Messerle says the shop doesn’t have current plans for further office expansion.
But the shop certainly intends to grow—the goal is 20% revenue growth annually, much of it organic. Last year for example, Messerle said, two-thirds of the shop’s growth was organic. For years the company avoided the RFP process entirely, relying on referrals from satisfied clients to get new accounts.
That’s beginning to change now, at least a little bit.
The La Compagnie win, for example, came after a formal pitch in which Generator out-dueled one other finalist. But the shop prides itself on retaining clients and growing organically. “For the first 12 years [of the shop’s existence] we literally had no PR,” said Messerle. “We kept our heads down” and focused on the work. The best retention tool? “Analytics,” he replied.