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Borshoff is latest communications company to diversify: Firm known for public relations seeks creative growth

March 10, 2008

An Indianapolis-based firm long known for public relations and crisis communications work is now trying to make its mark as a full-service advertising agency.

Borshoff, formerly Borshoff Johnson Matthews, last month hired Art Haynie, a veteran Los Angeles-based creative director, to bolster the effort.

"Public relations has been our handle for a long time," said company founder Myra Borshoff Cook. "Now, we have to get the word out that we're just as strong in other areas. To grow we feel we have to be diversified."

Borshoff is not alone, said Ball State University advertising professor Bob Gustafson.

He said many shops are diversifying because of uncertainty about the economy and the addition of e-mail and the Internet to most marketing strategies.

"Locally, Hirons and Hetrick have made the leap from public relations to marketing and advertising and you're seeing a lot of firms nationally do the same thing," Gustafson said.

Borshoff's effort to diversify actually dates back several years. In 2003, it formed Twofold, a creative arm within the agency. But last August, Cook and the firm's other principals-Erik Johnson, Susan Matthews and Jennifer Dzwonar-decided to tear down both real and perceived walls that separated the company's creative and public relations divisions.

"It was perceived as almost two separate companies, and we didn't want that," Matthews said.

Part of the makeover involved shortening the firm's name and killing the Twofold moniker. The Borshoff name was chosen because it had the best brand identity in the market, Matthews said.

The firm also expanded within the Majestic Building at Pennsylvania and Maryland streets, where it had occupied all of the fifth and part of the fourth floor. It took over the entire fourth floor last year to accommodate the growing creative department.

Capital expenses and staff additions last year kept revenue growth in the midsingle-digit percentage range, Matthews said, but company officials expect double-digit percentage growth in 2008 and 2009. Borshoff officials declined to divulge the firm's revenue. Industry experts expect ad shops nationwide to grow 4 percent to 6 percent over the next two years, so Borshoff would be ahead of that if it can meet expectations.

But to achieve growth in the advertising sector, Borshoff will face some challenges, including making the right staffing adjustments, said Gustafson, who thinks hiring Haynie is a step in the right direction.

The firm has 36 employees, with 15 working on the creative advertising side, a number that has tripled in the last few years and now equals the number employed on the public relations/crisis management side. Borshoff's client count has grown from 60 a year ago to 75.

Haynie's pedigree might come in handy as Borshoff tries to attract clients.

He has considerable experience working as executive creative director on national and international accounts, including Pepsi, Red Bull, Toyota and Nissan. He also has written and directed for the late-night ABC talk show "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

"As much as I love directing, I missed solving the puzzle, the genesis of the idea," said Haynie, who will remain based in L.A. but make several trips a month to Indianapolis. "This opportunity allows me to continue my advertising work around the world while nurturing my passion for creating innovative ideas starting from the ground level."

Another challenge-especially for a firm like Borshoff-is overcoming the market's long-standing perception of the agency.

"Myra is like a local legend for all her public relations work," Gustafson said. Borshoff has handled many high-profile clients in the public relations arena, including the Indianapolis Colts and team owner Jim Irsay. Earlier this year, the Indiana Pacers hired Borshoff to help with the team's image in the wake of numerous negative off-court incidents.

"In some respects, they could be victims of their own success," said Ray Begovich, a former ad agency veteran who now teaches advertising and public relations at Franklin College. "But I think they will overcome the challenges. They are solid and established, yet innovative and nimble."

Already, since last year, Borshoff has nabbed several new clients, including Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, White River State Park and the Imax Theater. The firm has also increased the work it does for existing clients, such as R.W. Armstrong and MDwise.

The growth has also spread outside Indiana, including adding West Virginiabased City National Bank and Illinoisbased Carle Foundation Hospital.
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