Williams Randall Marketing Communications pulled a surprise victory by snatching the $2.5 million Indiana Office of Tourism
Development advertising account away from incumbent Hirons & Co. and eight other bidders, most of which were larger than
The two-year contract starts July 1.
"This is a very, very big deal for us," said Williams Randall CEO Gerry Randall. "It's certainly one of
our biggest accounts now."
The state tourism account is about half the size of all Williams Randall's existing accounts combined. The agency, which
reported 2007 capitalized billings of $16 million, counts the Indy Racing League and Indiana Business College among its largest
accounts. An ad agency's revenue is usually about one-third of capitalized billings.
Randall anticipates adding some employees to his firm's 28-person staff to handle the work.
"We're making some adjustments now," he said.
Tourism is state government's third-largest ad account, behind the Lottery and smoking-cessation accounts, said ad industry
experts, and is a top 20 account overall in Indiana.
"$2.5 million in this market is very significant," said Bruce Bryant, president of locally based Promotus Advertising
and past president of the Indianapolis AdClub. "That represents a whole lot of billable hours."
But the win is big beyond the dollar value.
"It's a high-profile account with a lot of exposure, especially outside of Indiana," Bryant said. "And
it could be involved with other high-profile events like the 2012 Super Bowl. It really can serve as a springboard for an
The size and stature of the account brought out some of the area's largest agencies, including MZD Advertising, Publicis,
Roman Brand Group and Hirons, which had the account the past six years. The last three bidders are at least twice the size
of Williams Randall.
Brandwidth, Daugherty Tegarden Hanley, Meyer & Wallis, and Oswald also bid for the account.
Local ad industry observers said more agencies would have bid for the account if they thought they had a chance. Williams
Randall's victory, Bryant said, is a real eye-opener.
"They're typically not on the short list for political accounts," he said. "Most state agency accounts
are political. This choice made people in the local ad community sit up and take notice. It shows that someone in that office
sat down and did an in-depth, impartial review.
"The choice of Williams Randall sends a clear message that just because you're a big-name agency doesn't mean
you're the best for a particular account."
While there was surprise that Williams Randall won the account, there was also relief that such a plum account went to a
local firm intact.
The decision last November by Hoosier Lottery officials to reject all local bids and broaden their search still stings the
local ad community. The Lottery later decided to farm out its work piecemeal.
"There's been some really good work that has come out of this market," said Ball State University advertising
professor Bob Gustafson. "And if [state agencies] turn their backs on that talent, it could be a blow that really shakes
up the market."
Williams Randall was founded in Terre Haute in 1979 and opened an Indianapolis office in 1996. The firm, which is listed
in the most recent IBJ Book of Lists as Indianapolis' 11th-largest full-service ad agency, quickly built a reputation
for Web site design and implementation.
"Williams Randall has been quietly doing good work for many years," Bryant said. "They've become known
at being especially qualified at interactive online marketing. Their skill set matches well with what the state tourism department
is trying to do."
Williams Randall had tourism-related experience with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Conner Prairie and the Terre Haute Convention
and Visitors Bureau, but Tourism Director Amy Vaughan said it was the agency's Web experience that put it over the top.
Work on the above accounts, Randall said, included extensive Web work.
"We want more interactive features with our Web site–things like visitor-submitted photos, and videos, blogging components
and visitor review elements," Vaughan said. "We want to try to really engage people in our Web site, and Williams
Randall has a lot of ideas on how to do that."
Hirons also is strong in Web and new-media work, but the agency's CEO, Tom Hirons, said he wasn't terribly surprised
by the change.
"We appreciate that it's appropriate to let other agencies serve our state," Hirons said, adding that his agency
is close to replacing the work lost from the state with new clients this year.
The tourism department intends to continue the Restart Your Engines brand rolled out by Hirons two years ago.
"We think the brand development Hirons did was excellent, and now we want to take it to the next level. Williams Randall
has a lot of ideas on how to do that," Vaughan said.
Traffic on the tourism division's Web site grew from 58.7 million visitors in 2004 to 62.8 million in 2006, according
to a study done by Virginia-based D.K. Shifflet & Associates. During the same time, visitor spending in Indiana has grown
from $8.2 billion to $9.9 billion.
Vaughan said those will be two of the primary measuring sticks used to evaluate the effectiveness of Williams Randall's
work over the next two years.
In addition to Web development, Williams Randall will be in charge of developing and implementing all the tourism division's
television, radio, billboard, print, direct mail and other advertising. It will also handle special event and trade show marketing
and coordination of corporate marketing.
Fort Wayne-based Asher Agency handles all the state's media buying. The tourism contract calls for Williams Randall to
work closely with Asher to formulate a strategy for the tourism division. Williams Randall will be doing all the online and
search engine marketing planning and buying.