The seemingly undersized, undermatched independent advertising agency Young & Laramore has found itself in the national spotlight competing for a multimillion-dollar account with some of the industry's largest national players.
The Indianapolis-based firm best known for its award-winning ad campaigns for Steak n Shake, Goodwill Industries and most recently Stanley Steemer, is one of four finalists vying for the lucrative Lands' End broadcast creative contract.
Young & Laramore's competitors for the Lands' End account are Omnicom Group's BBDO and Downtown Partners, both based in Chicago, and New York-based Fresh Grey, a division of WPP Group.
Durham, N.C.-based Havas' McKinney + Silver resigned the account in February, citing creative differences with Lands' End.
Y&L President Paul Knapp noted that those vying for the Lands' End job-except his firm-are divisions of large conglomerates.
"These firms all hold themselves out as nimble and independent," Knapp said. "But only one of us truly is nimble and independent. We think that aspect of our firm holds a lot of benefits to a client."
Knapp said his firm is not compromised by the goals of a larger umbrella company, which may have other divisions competing for the work or have other clients in similar business sectors. It also means all hands are on deck.
"The size of our firm means everyone, the president included, is often involved in these accounts," Knapp said. "Even though we may be the largest agency in Indiana, we are, at the core of our DNA, a scrappy, independent agency that finds a way to get things done."
Y&L is the smallest agency in the Lands' End hunt, but it might have an inside track. Ed Whitehead, former senior vice president of marketing for Galyan's, in 2004 became an executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Lands' End. Though Lands' End is not commenting on its selection of an agency, Knapp said Whitehead's familiarity with Y&L has been helpful.
Lands' End has historically done $30 million in annual advertising, more than $10 million of that in broadcasting. This month, officials for the Wisconsin-based casual clothing, footwear and luggage merchant begin a six-week review of the four firms, with a decision expected by Aug. 1.
If Y&L wins the Lands' End deal, Knapp said, it will be among the firm's five largest accounts.
Though the 65-employee shop with capitalized billing approaching $70 million in 2004 is among the largest in central Indiana, it is still a relatively small fish in the national ad pond.
Many of the big-city firms Y&L is competing against for national accounts have more than 500 employees, said Trevor Jensen, Adweek regional news editor in Chicago.
"To even be mentioned in the prominent trade publications with agencies from the bigger media cities is pretty incredible," said Ray Begovich, a Franklin College journalism professor who teaches advertising and sales. "There's a lot of prejudice in this industry that the best talent is in L.A., Chicago and New York. This is a pretty steep hill for an agency like Young & Laramore to climb."
The Lands' End news breaks at a time when Y&L is basking in its first Effie Award, one of the nation's most prestigious in the advertising industry, presented by the New York American Marketing Association. Young & Laramore won a Silver Effie June 7 in the Household Supplies and Services category for its Stanley Steemer campaign.
Again, Y&L competed against much larger firms for the award, beating out Chicago-based Leo Burnett, which won the bronze in the division. No gold award was presented. The Effie is seen as especially significant in the industry, Adweek's Jensen said, because it is based on documented results, such as sales gains and other measurable return on investment for the client.
In addition, Brandweek, another industry trade publication, this month carried a story about Y&L's new campaign for the Simply PUR product, a joint venture between Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet and Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble. Meanwhile, Adweek Online was reporting that Y&L is also one of four finalists for the Raymour & Flanigan retail furniture account. Liverpool, N.Y.-based Raymour & Flanigan has 50 stores in six states.
Knapp said landing the Stanley Steemer account and becoming a finalist for Lands' End and Raymour & Flanigan accounts are part of a multi-year strategy to grow the firm.
"In smaller cities where they've seen business consolidation, ad agencies like Young & Laramore that want to grow have to cast a wider net," Jensen said. "It's not an easy task, but they've done a nice job. Their reputation as a solid agency is growing."
Knapp, who said Y&L's capitalized billing grew 46 percent in 2004, is convinced his firm will gain even more momentum with a few more big-name clients.
"It's hard to convince the national brands a firm our size and in our location can do the job," Knapp said. "We have to show them a long line of quality work. Some [large companies] may not know Young & Laramore, but we're hopeful they'll know our work. That's what eventually gets through."
Y&L's growing national prominence could be a gain for central Indiana's other ad agencies, said Ben Carlson, Indianapolis Ad Club president-elect.
"It makes Indianapolis more of an advertising destination," said Carlson, also head of account and media services for Bradley & Montgomery. "It helps people realize we have talent here, and this is a city where big brands can bring their accounts."
Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., are among the leading second-tier cities in the national advertising industry, Carlson said, and while Indianapolis has a way to go to catch them, "We have certainly had some individual successes and Young & Laramore is a big part of that."