High risk could mean high payoff for ad agency: Young & Laramore eschews local, regional work to take aim at national targets

Locally based advertising agency Young & Laramore won another national account in November, and with the announcement unveiled a strategy to eschew local and regional work to shoot for the industry’s biggest targets.

Minnesota-based Red Wing Shoe Co. chose Young & Laramore to help it launch a line of casual footwear targeted at a mainstream men’s and women’s market. The 100-year-old shoemaker has made a name for itself with its hiking, hunting and work boots.

Though terms were not disclosed, Y&L officials said the Red Wing account will be among the agency’s five largest.

Red Wing executives said Young & Laramore’s work for national clients caught their attention, especially the agency’s recent effort on behalf of Indianapolis-based Delta Faucet Co.

“Y&L’s work positioning the Delta Faucet’s premium brand, Brizo, was impressive,” said John Schmitz, general manager for Red Wing’s casual division. “We wanted not only to leverage that talent to introduce our new casual shoe to consumers, but to also generate distribution outside Red Wing retail stores.”

For the Red Wing account, Young & Laramore beat out incumbent Colle+McVoy, a Bloomington, Minn.- based firm. The agency figures to have much stiffer competition for other national accounts, said Aaron Baar, Adweek regional news editor in Chicago.

“Going after national accounts, you can suddenly find yourself competing against agencies with 500 employees and all kinds of resources and connections,” Baar said. “You’re really jumping into the deep end.”

And if the tactic fails, an agency can find itself lacking cash flow and begging local and regional companies it previously turned away for another shot at their work, said Bob Gustafson, Ball State University professor of advertising.

“This is a bold strategy,” Gustafson said. “But Young & Laramore has become known for bold moves.”

So far, the approach has helped the 62-person Indianapolis agency land contracts with the likes of Stanley Steemer, Red Gold Tomatoes and Pop Weaver Popcorn. It also signed a deal in November to do work for Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, which hopes to make a major national push in the coming year.

Young & Laramore still plans to work with existing clients who have more of a regional approach such as local restaurant chain Steak n Shake and Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.

Bidding for big national accounts is almost always time-consuming and expensive, Baar said.

“The rewards are higher, but so is the pain of failure,” he said.

This summer, Young & Laramore had a showdown with agencies from New York and Chicago for a multimillion-dollar Lands’ End account. Despite a lengthy effort, the local shop came up empty.

Still, Young & Laramore CEO Paul Knapp said his firm has pulled out of the recent advertising industry swoon sooner than most, with capitalized billings growing from $46.1 million in 2003 to $67.5 million in 2004. In terms of capitalized billings, Young & Laramore is among the biggest ad agencies in Indiana, and Knapp projects more growth for the current year.

“I credit our growth with proving that our clients get results from our work,” Knapp said.

He expects Young & Laramore to be even more aggressive in pursuing work in the coming year.

“We think this strategy of focusing on national accounts is extremely difficult, but doable,” Knapp said. “Just because we’ve landed some good national accounts doesn’t mean we’ve arrived. Far from it. We know we’ve just now gotten our foot in the door.”

Even so, AdWeek Editor Allison Fahey said Young & Laramore is definitely “on people’s radar screens” thanks to its national accounts, national awards and creative work.

A multi-page feature in March on Young & Laramore in Communication Arts magazine, one of the biggest industry trade publications, didn’t hurt the firm’s profile, Gustafson said.

“I think an agency has to gain momentum, get a critical mass, then a strategy like this starts to pay off,” he said. “I think that’s where Young & Laramore is. I think what they’re doing is awakening a lot of other people’s eyes in this market to what’s possible.”

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