Clarian chooses small firm for big advertising account: The Heavyweights gets nod over larger agencies

One of central Indiana’s largest advertising accounts has been awarded to a relatively small but growing agency.

Clarian Health Partners this month signed what industry sources are calling a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal with The Heavyweights, a firm headquartered in The Stutz Building downtown and best known for its creative work for clients such as Procter & Gamble and Roche Diagnostics.

Officials for Clarian and The Heavyweights would not divulge the deal’s terms.

The Heavyweights will provide creative direction and strategy development for Clarian, including advertising production and media placement for its Methodist, Indiana University and Riley hospitals, plus Clarian West and Clarian North medical centers.

EchoPoint Media, a locally based media planning and buying company, will help with the account. EchoPoint is the sister company of Indianapolis-based Young & Laramore, one of the state’s largest ad shops.

“This is a really big deal for The Heavyweights and a big deal for the advertising industry,” said Promotus Advertising President Bruce Bryant. “Clarian is one of this market’s most active advertisers.”

Bryant, a board member of both the Indianapolis Ad Club and Indiana Federation of Advertising Agencies, said the deal shows there are ample resources within central Indiana to handle any local-or national-account.

“Clarian is a blue-chip account, and this choice showcases the kind of advertising and marketing talent we have in this market,” Bryant said. “This gives a lot of credence to our industry.”

But the choice of The Heavyweights, which has about a dozen full-time staffers and works with a slew of free-lancers, over Indianapolis-based incumbent Roman Brand Group and other large agencies did surprise some within the industry.

Roman Brand, which has about 70 employees, had been Clarian’s agency of record for about four years.

“It was a surprise from a size standpoint, but I respect [Clarian’s] decision,” said Walt Stutz, Roman Brand president. “They’re under new leadership in the marketing area, and they thought it was an appropriate time to make a change and move on. This certainly stings, but … [we] wish them the best of luck.”

The Heavyweights CEO John Luginbill said his firm only looks small when considering the traditional ad agency business model. Luginbill said he keeps his firm lean at the top, and while the company has fewer than 15 full-time staffers, it has an extensive network of free-lance talent.

“I would rebel against the idea that anybody has more resources available to them than we do,” Luginbill said. “We feel our project-management techniques and methodology are key to the way we handle an account.”

Luginbill said the industry’s traditional business model is changing, requiring firms to bring together specialized teams for specific projects, often with the help of outside talent.

“There’s an arrogance to believing you have all the resources within your own walls; that defies logic,” Luginbill said. “We’ve been working on our model very hard since the early 1990s.”

Luginbill said he has already pulled together a 12-person team to work on the Clarian account.

More than 50 local and national advertising agencies applied to be the hospital network’s agency of record. Clarian narrowed it down to about six finalists last month.

Clarian officials said The Heavyweights’ size had little bearing on their decision. They credited the firm’s health care experience and methods of working with clients. Clarian officials also said they wanted to work with an in-state firm.

“Our criteria included not just creative capabilities, but an evaluation of the type of relationship we want to have with our advertising agency,” said Bill Stephan, Clarian’s senior vice president of communications and community relations. “We seek an agency that becomes intimately familiar with our organization-our challenges and opportunities-and serves as an invaluable resource to Clarian staff.”

The Heavyweights was founded by Luginbill and two partners in 1991 and quickly built a reputation for its creative work. But Luginbill, who is now the company’s sole owner, has worked to make it full-service.

The Clarian account should offer The Heavyweights plenty of challenges.

“Clarian is a very large, sophisticated account, and a challenging account because of the multitude of brands,” said Paul Knapp, Young & Laramore CEO. “This speaks volumes for what The Heavyweights has done to build its business.”

Editor’s note: Greg Andrews is on vacation this week. His Behind the News column will return April 17.

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