Independent Agency of the Year: PMG

Many agencies boast about being their clients’ partners, serving them more as management consultants and providing them not just with advertising and media buys, but with “business solutions,” and PMG is no exception. Its DNA has always been focused on leveraging data and technology — especially the kind of “gap technology” solutions that solve explicit client pain points — have aimed more at making its clients’ businesses work better than necessarily marketing them.

This is what has attracted some of the world’s greatest technology brands — consumer ones like Apple and Beats by Dre as well as business ones like Palo Alto, Survey Monkey and GitLab — to the agency.

But it was when all of its clients — including some relatively new ones — were confronted with the existential threats of 2020’s perfect storm and especially the pandemic, that PMG transformed in their eyes from a spunky, tech-savvy independent agency into a business partner.

“If we look through our business lens at current customers and prospective customers it was a phenomenal year,” recalls George Popstefanov, who founded the Fort Worth, Texas–based independent agency 10 years ago, and was among those who were surprised by how well it performed amid 2020’s multiple challenges.

But as he explains it, it was actually because his clients were grappling with so much adversity that the agency was able to deliver above and beyond for them.

“We started getting calls from our customers that their stores were closing, and they wanted to know what we could do to help them,” Popstefanov says, referring to some of PMG’s big, retail-facing clients such as Old Navy and The Gap.

“We were asked to drive their business strategies, not just their marketing strategies,” he says.

The timing was perfect for PMG , which had already incubated PMG Consulting, a new strategy and consulting division designed to do just that.

The division — which leverages much of the data, technology and insights of the overall agency, especially its custom marketing insights platform Alli — saw its revenues more than double during the year, thanks to theneed of many of its clients to reinvent themselves by shifting from physical-world marketing to a virtual one.

“Our agility is our super power,” Popstefanov boasts, explaining that PMG was designed to help clients navigate through uncertain and disruptive times and is what attracted many of them to the agency in the first place.

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the fan and PMG began getting desperate calls from Old Navy, it quickly adapted to an “omnichannel strategies” approach that would appeal to social distancing consumers, setting up its team and technology to enable a dynamic response addressing store closures with ecommerce strategies.

When shelter-in-place orders began to lift, PMG quickly adapted a “drive-to-store” plan that agilely adjusted retail locations on a reopening-by-reopening basis.

When Old Navy decided to launch its first new product line in the midst of a pandemic — face masks — PMG crafted and executed a fluid full-funnel media plan in just 30 days that combined SEM, paid social, influencer, affiliates, programmatic, podcasts, digital OOH, PR amplification and newsletter sponsorships to drive awareness, engagement and transactions.

The effort helped drive its online sales up by 136%, according to parent Gap Inc.’s earnings report and deliver its strongest early fall sales in a decade.

Like retail, many of PMG’s travel and hotel clients were similarly challenged, and the agency focused on leveraging data, insights and technology to come up with similar pandemic response business solutions.

So when air travel was put on hold last spring, PMG helped client Omni Hotels shift from a source for long-distance travelers to accommodate local or regional road-trippers using an innovative paid search strategy.

While bookings have remained at an all-time low, PMG’s strategy helped Omni grow its search interest by more than 600%, and the brand grew its return on ad spending by more than 500% thanks to PMG’s approach.

While it did lose one big account — Cirque du Soleil, which went bankrupt due to the pandemic — it also had an impressive new business year despite — or maybe because of — the pandemic.

Among its most notable wins was fast-growing but controversial social media platform TikTok, which took notice of PMG and ultimately awarded the agency its business — its first-ever creative AOR assignment — based on how it was using TikTok for its other clients, including ones in the travel category, but also executions for Survey Monkey and Palo Alto Networks.

PMG was able to service the creative assignment, because it had already launched a new “creative studio,” which also landed business from Banana Republic, The Gap, and Cole Haan.

While the agency has and will continue to diversify its service offering as its clients and the marketplace adapt, Popstefanov says it will remain true to its core of being a “holistic media-buying, technology, data, content and strategy” company.

“Being agile has really worked well for us, and the biggest difference now is that we’re not just talking to CMOs, but to the CEOs and CFOs too. It’s not just about media and marketing. They want us to drive business results and strategies for them.

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