Sale of parent company brings local agency growth: Roman Brand nets record billings year after buyout

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Fourteen months after parting from Bates USA, Roman Brand Group is growing quickly. With its new name and a pledge from its new parent company to give the local firm more control, the advertising agency increased revenue 15 percent and added 17 new clients in 2004.

Roman Brand CEO Dan Roman projects similar growth in 2005 as a wholly owned subsidiary of London-based WPP Group and its U.S. advertising agency J. Walter Thompson. WPP Group bought Bates’ former parent company, Londonbased Cordiant Communications, in November, 2003.

Roman complained that the financially struggling former owner tried to downsize the local operation and siphoned off much of its profit.

There are no such problems, he said, with WPP. While some of Roman Brand’s profits still fall to WPP’s bottom line, more is invested back into the local operation than under Bates, Roman said. “They said they were going to give us local control, freedom to make decisions and grow,” Roman said. “They’ve done that.”

The firm’s local billings grew from $53.5 million in 2002-the last full year with Bates-to more than $70 million in 2004.

Some in the industry question Roman Brand’s decision not to adopt the name of its international parent company, but Roman said there has been no adverse effect. Roman Brand this year signed a second five-year deal with the Hoosier Lottery and cemented long-term relationships with clients such as ITT Educational Services Inc. and Thomson Consumer Electronics.

Roman Brand also signed major new deals with Union Federal Bank of Indianapolis, ArvinMeritor Inc., Champ Car, the 2004 Short Course World Swimming Championships and others.

Roman said unburdening the firm of its Bates affiliation has allowed him to invest in the local operation-bolstering the work force to 62 from 60, and reorganizing the staff according to its strengths and market demands.

The firm’s interactive division is a good example of the improvements, Roman said. Revenue more than doubled in that division last year. A variety of local clients, including Clarian Health Partners, Core Business Technology Systems and HDG Mansur, have enlisted the firm’s interactive division to bolster marketing through the Web.

“People are seeing now the Internet is just as important as their TV and radio advertising, and in many cases more important,” Roman said.

The recent growth, has led to optimism among Roman’s ranks. “We can double [revenue] in the next five years,” said Roman.

Changing names in the advertising and marketing industry is not easy, sources noted. While Dan Roman’s reputation in the local market certainly helped ease the transition, the firm’s unclear link with the larger WPP and its J. Walter Thompson U.S. advertising operation, could leave some opportunities on the table, they said.

“The logical conclusion is clients probably don’t understand Roman Brand’s affiliation with J. Walter Thompson,” said Tom Hirschauer, president and general manager of the Indianapolis office of Paris-based Publicis. Others in the industry noted that by de-emphasizing the connection to Thompson, Roman highlights his firm’s local connections.

Publicis’ local presence morphed from a local shop, the Asher Agency, into Evans Group, a national firm based in Salt Lake City, which then became part of Publicis during a buyout nearly seven years ago.

Hirschauer said Publicis has grown locally by emphasizing its local experience backed by the resources of a larger international organization. “We believe being a part of a larger organization with true expertise in more areas increases our value to clients exponentially,” Hirschauer said.

Roman Brand is taking a different tack and facing different challenges by downplaying its larger affiliation and rebranding under a new moniker. But it’s difficult to argue with Roman Brand’s results, said Randy Kron, president of AdClub Indianapolis and Kron & Associates Advertising Inc. Kron noted that Roman Brand’s contest entries in the AdClub’s annual awards competition is up 70 percent.

“I think that shows the kind of work they’re doing,” Kron said. “The firm’s growing client base speaks for itself.”

Roman’s more than two decades experience in the Indianapolis market helped ease the transition, Kron said.

“Dan Roman has been a powerful personality in this industry for many years,” Kron said. “That transition was made on the strength of his name and reputation, and on the reputation of the staff he’s put together there.”

With an eye toward growth, Roman Brand is also shopping for a new home. The firm is renting month-to-month in the Zipper Building at Washington Street and Virginia Avenue, but that building is for sale.

“We love downtown and we hope we can stay,” Roman said.


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