Behind the scenes at The Martin Agency

By Heather Sullivan - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Adweek magazine recently named The Martin Agency "The U.S. Agency of the Year." The Richmond firm has produced very well known advertisements for national companies for years, including GEICO, UPS, and Walmart.

The Martin Agency landed 14 of 18 new accounts they pitched last year. So how does a Richmond agency beat out agencies on New York's Madison Avenue? The answer is inside an office building that is anything but typical.

Ever wondered where ideas, like the singing band for, the "whiteboard" ads for UPS, or actress Sarah Chalke avoiding wedgies with Hanes underwear, come from?

They come from inside offices that often don't look like offices. One looks more like a teenage boy's room to help the ad men working inside think like teenage boys. We found a few other workspaces filled with video games, where staff can get to know products.

You might think they need one great idea for an ad. But they actually start with dozens and dozens, usually notes posted on walls. Then they pitch three to four of the best, fully developed ideas to a client. And they may have a few months to a few days to do it.

Explains Danny Robinson, Senior Vice-President & Creative Director, "What we do is observe the human condition. Sounds big and lofty. But what we're trying to do is make some connections to people."

So how do they come up with ideas, like a caveman, a gecko, and a stack of money with eyes named "Kash," to tell audiences that GEICO insurance can save them money?

Mike Lear, Vice-President & Associate Creative Director, explains how he dreamed up Kash. "I said 'Well, why don't we put a pair of eyeballs on a stack of money?' and my partner started laughing.

"And I was like 'Could that be funny?' And she insisted, and my partner laughed a lot about it and we started pursuing it."

The Martin Agency's "Save money. Live better." ads are credited with helping Walmart go from $280 billion a year in sales to $400 billion.

The Martin Agency's Chairman and CEO John Adams, Jr., says it's the agency's location in Richmond, Virginia, that gives it an advantage over the New York firms.

"I think more Americans live in places like Richmond than they do in places like New York or the West Coast. So I think there's a sensibility that exists here as a result of that and I think it shows up in the advertising," Adams said.

Where will this building of creative minds go from here?

Said President & Creative Director Mike Hughes, "They can create TV shows, and we're doing some of that. They can create golf tournaments, and we're doing some of that. They can create products, and we're doing some of that."

They are also currently developing ads for Pizza Hut.

The Martin Agency also has offices in New York and Seattle, Wash., but expects to open up more around the world.

On March 4 in New York, Martin Agency president Mike Hughes will be inducted into The One Club Creative Hall of Fame to honor his lifetime of achievements in advertising.

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