Advertising veterans launch new agency

July 27, 2009

Three Indianapolis advertising and marketing veterans have launched a new full-service agency. While the timing might not be great—with the swooning economy—Dave Lesh, Bruce Dean and Bill Hendrickson think they have the experience to forge a solid business.

Lesh said the “ah-ha” moment for him and his partners came when they were in a local copy shop and saw a sign offering graphic design.

“With the digital age has come a lot of sameness and the attitude that computer-generated material is just good enough,” Lesh said. “What happened to quality creative and originality? We think there’s a place in the market for that.”

Just six months after founding their new agency—named Bruce Bill and Dave LLC—the trio has signed deals with The Children’s Museum, Eli Lilly and Co. Inc., Kiwanis International, Some Guys Pizza and Urology of Indiana. The client list is impressive for a new firm, but it’s not as if the founders are new to the market.

Dean, 53, has a creative career that stretches back 30 years in Indianapolis. The last 21 years, he has run Dean Johnson Design with Scott Johnson, who will continue to run the agency. Over the last two decades Dean’s clients included the NCAA, Indiana Economic Development Corp., Indy Partnership, Zachary Confections and the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. Before partnering with Johnson, Dean was senior art director at Pearson Crahan Fletcher—now Pearson Partners.

As a free-lance illustrator for the last 25 years, Lesh, 56, has worked on global accounts for Swatch, Deutsche Bank, The New York Times, IBM, Apple, Lilly, *The Wall Street Journal, Texas Instruments and BASF.

Hendrickson, 53, who has agency experience as an art and creative director, worked the last 15 years as creative director for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, where he focused on marketing the city as a destination.

“These guys are held in high regard in this market,” said Tom Hirons, Indianapolis AdClub president and president of ad agency Hirons & Co. “They’ve been around a long time, and have a lot of contacts.”

The trio thinks they have the perfect mix of skills to grow the agency. Dean calls himself the opener, working on campaign conceptualization. Lesh is the designated middleman with expertise in writing and illustration. Hendrickson calls himself the “finisher,” with the bulk of the experience in computer design.

Even with their experience, it’s not the best time to launch a startup, said Bob Gustafson, Ball State University advertising professor.

“Traditional agencies are all suffering across the country,” Gustafson said. “In some cases, business is down by as much as 20 percent.”

The trio’s mastery of new technology will be key to their success, Gustafson said.

“That’s where the growth of the business is right now,” Gustafson said. “Digital spending by ad clients right now is 12 percent of their budgets, but forecasts show within five years that will double.”

The trio maintains they are well positioned. “It’s easier for us to learn the electronic aspects than for younger people to learn the graphics arts disciplines,” Hendrickson said.

Dean, who still does much of his design work with pencil and paper, thinks the new firm will be able to offer original creative work at competitive prices.

Instead of worrying too much about whiz-bang technology, Dean said the trio will focus on “an old-fashioned way of doing business,” stressing word-of-mouth marketing and direct client contact.

“Our age is paying off in all the people we know,” Hendrickson said. “The six degrees of separation are now down to three.”

Longtime friends Dean and Lesh started talking about launching the firm more than a year ago. The idea was intriguing to Lesh because he wanted to run his own agency and partner full-time with people he trusted. Dean said he was simply ready for a change.

The duo added Hendrickson—who was eager to get back into agency work—to the mix and officially launched in January.

Operating out of 1,200 square feet in the back of McNamara Florist in Broad Ripple, the trio has no employees. Lesh said the agency might eventually add a few employees, but size isn’t the agency’s goal. He said the firm is able to handle small and large jobs with its network of free-lancers and contractors.

“I don’t ever want to give up direct client contact and handling creative work,” Dean said. “I don’t want to be stuck just running the business.”•



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