How Independence Helped Hanson Dodge Successfully Navigate COVID-19

As nearly all holding companies have announced layoffs and furloughs, Hanson Dodge, a 30-year-old independent agency based in Milwaukee, has not only been able to stay afloat, but has emerged stronger post-pandemic.

This success can be attributed largely to its independent status, says agency president Stacie Boney. For one thing, leaders successfully applied for a PPP loan available to companies with fewer than 500 employees. The agency had previously evaluated more drastic options, including layoffs and severe pay cuts, but thankfully this loan enabled them to table those discussions.

The key advantage for independent shops is the ability to move quickly, Boney explains. “We can invest in people” without worrying about the next quarterly earnings, she states.

Boney’s arrival from ad agency Energy BBDO in Chicago three years ago signaled a significant turning point for the agency as it evolved from a smaller, digitally focused marketing firm with expertise in ecommerce and technology to a more full-service agency.



Independent status enabled agency leaders to react quickly to COVID-19-related market changes.

The agency was already accustomed to working remotely, with some employees working from locations outside the state.  Now, as leaders reevaluate returning workers safely back to the office, Hanson Dodge benefits from the fact that its founders own the building. 

In another twist of luck, they have extra unused office space so they “literally do not have to move work stations” says Boney. That said, Boney intends to still offer summer hours, closing on Fridays from Memorial Day through Labor Day Weekend.

The recent decision to double-down on its in-house media practice has proven to be a helpful. in December, the company hired Michelle Millar to head up this service full-time. In just a few weeks, agency leaders luckily realized how this added service enabled the shop to act and adapt quickly to adjust media buying and planning, as warranted, during the pandemic. 

For instance, the agency expanded its programmatic and native buying capabilities to add new partners, shift ad unit types, use more cloud-based services and dashboards and shift media inventory both globally and domestically.
Hanson Dodge has also benefited from widening its expertise within eCommerce.. Some clients have needed to develop an entire website in a very short time, while others have needed to jumpstart an online sales channel.  Taken together, these opportune capabilities have enabled the agency to add three new pieces of business in just the past few weeks.

Another bet to build an in-house production studio has paid off in enabling the shop to shoot new footage despite broader industry shut-downs. Last week the agency filmed content for client Keen Utility that showed off the brand’s shoes and boots. 

“We’ve benefited by being in the right place at the right time:  independent, nimble and knee-deep in the expertise and services clients most desperately need,” Boney said.


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