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Pearson Partners recovers from HHGregg loss: Agency gains new clients, projects 20-percent growth

July 28, 2008

Ron Pearson said business at his Indianapolis-based advertising agency over the last year has been "stellar."

Exaggeration or not, any growth at Pearson Partners is a 180-degree reversal from the dire situation the firm faced just a year ago.

In April 2007, Pearson's firm-then called Pearson McMahon Fletcher England-lost its biggest client, HHGregg. Last summer, Pearson cut nearly half its work force, paring the agency down to about 20 employees in the wake of losing the $20-million-plus account.

Pearson's capitalized billings fell from $48 million in 2006 to $25 million in 2007.

"In the post-HHGregg era, it's been exciting," Pearson said. "I have no regrets about the course we took."

Florida-based advertising agency Zimmerman Advertising became HHGregg's agency of record last July. Zimmerman is part of Omnicom Group, the 15thlargest advertising agency in the United States.

After deciding not to rebid for the account his firm had worked on for 24 years, Pearson shed three of its five partners. Last August, Pearson unveiled a new name and a new generation of partners for the agency.

In the year since, Pearson has added several clients, including Langham Logistics, Bluefish Wireless, Damar Services, Shrewsberry & Associates, Elliott & Associates and Tilson HR.

"Our growth has also come from growth with our existing clients as well," Pearson said.

Major projects for current clients include television spots for Farm Bureau Insurance that will air during the Summer Olympics, and audio spots that will be used by a new Mike's Car Wash system that will allow customers to tune into the messages via a special radio frequency while at the car wash.

Pearson now has 26 employees, and with two more deals pending, the agency's founding partner expects to add more employees by year's end.

Pearson thinks there's a good chance his company's capitalized billings could hit $30 million this year.

He said the culture at his agency has changed in the last year.

"The people who worked on the HHGregg account were almost like a different division within the same company," Pearson said. "The mind-set was somewhat convoluted. Now we have everybody pulling in the same direction, and that has made a big difference."

While Pearson would like to continue growing the company, he's not out actively seeking a big replacement for HHGregg.

"If we get to the size we were before by growing organically, great," Pearson said. "But we're not hurrying out to find a $15 million to $20 million client to replace HHGregg. We want to grow in ways that are good for our firm and our clients."

That Pearson is talking about growth at all is somewhat amazing, said Brice Bowman, co-owner of Earshot Audio-Post, which previously did TV and radio audio work on the HHGregg account for Pearson.

"This is a challenging economy for the ad industry, and dollars are very tight," Bowman said. "Anytime a large account like that goes away, you have to reach out to cultivate new accounts, and that's not easy in this environment. But Ron is so well-connected in this industry, no one is better equipped to do this than he is."

Growth in advertising spending nationwide has been tepid this year, according to industry sources, with the exception of digital advertising. If Pearson can hit its projections, its growth rate of near 20 percent would almost triple the projected national average for agencies, which is in the 7-percent range.
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