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With its clients hurting, ad agency finds ways to help – StarTribune

September 9, 2009 – Edina, Minnesota – Edina advertising firm changes its strategy to bolster customers weathering ugly recessionary times.

With a clientele dominated by trade shows, automotive clients and small to mid-sized local retailers, Integrated Advertising Network Inc. (IAN) was particularly vulnerable as the recession began its assault on the economy.

There was one wisp of good news, however: The Edina ad agency didn’t have any banking clients.

The even better news is that founders Ian and Jenny Moquist are helping me fill this pesky white space with a yarn about how one small business, armed with a dab of creativity and the agility to make a rapid strategic pirouette, has minimized the economic impact.

The numbers: Despite the fact that their clients — particularly auto dealers — were among the first to feel the economic pressures, Advertising Network eked out a 1.4 percent increase in 2008 billings, to $7.2 million. Better yet, the gain came despite a 5 percent drop in fourth-quarter billings.

There’s even a bright spot in the prospect that 2009 billings will be down 10 to 15 percent: As business slowed, particularly for the expensive media advertising that generates most of the Moquists’ revenue, they refocused on promotions that reduced costs for their clients — and carried higher profit margins for them.

In short, it’s “a win-win situation,” said Ian Moquist, 35. “They save money; we make more.”

More important, business has improved in the past two months, said Jenny Moquist, 35, who projected that full-year billings will approach $6.5 million. The Edina agency serves area auto dealers, neighborhood restaurants and local home and garden centers and a variety of auto, boat, camping and other consumer shows.

The Moquists’ survival strategy emerged as media advertising, which generated more than 80 percent of pre-recession billings, declined by upwards of 15 percent. They quickly refocused on other, previously less active segments of their full-service business, including branding and promotional materials, digital marketing and public relations. Among the strategies:

  • They trumpeted special offers, discounts and other client promotions via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace and put their programmers to work revamping client websites to optimize search-engine visibility and streamline online sales, reservations and customer data recovery.
  • They began offering clients a variety of lower-cost promotional options, including new signs, brochures and point-of-purchase materials.
  • They organized a variety of customer loyalty programs — frequent-diner promotions for restaurants, discount and free-product offers for nurseries and gift certificates, free service awards and extended warranties for auto dealers. Included in the packages: management of the databases and communications involved.
  • And to ease the pressure on their auto-dealer clients, Ian used his roster of media contacts to negotiate $2.5 million of free advertising in 2009 for the Greater Metropolitan Automobile Dealers Association (GMADA). The ads, which Integrated Advertising creates free of charge, focus on what Ian calls “key messages” — warranties, fuel economy, rebates and incentives.

The Moquists are high school sweethearts who came to the Twin Cities from Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1995 to take jobs selling radio advertising, he for KOOL-FM (KOOL 108), she for WCCO-AM.

Before starting Integrated Advertising in 1997, Ian left KOOL 108 for a brief tour with a small Minneapolis ad agency, for which he organized a series of auto mega-sales involving 17 local dealers. It was a fortuitous move, introducing him to both the local auto sector and the trade-show business.

Jenny remained at WCCO, where her hustle built her commissions to gratifying levels and provided the safety net that allowed her husband to establish the business. She joined the agency in 2000, but has been working part-time the past three years after the birth of 3-year-old twins (a boy and girl) and a 1 1/2-year-old girl.

That’s not to suggest she isn’t having an impact on the business. While Ian is the creative strategist and CEO, she handles operations and business development.

In the latter role, Jenny came up with an intriguing growth strategy aimed at adding larger advertisers to augment the agency’s longtime focus on small to mid-sized clients with advertising budgets ranging from $500,000 to about $2 million.

Launched last month and dubbed “Network by IAN,” it’s a virtual collection of seasoned advertising talent — freelance creative and art directors, copywriters and digital marketing pros — that she has recruited from around the country to work on projects the Moquists will offer to larger clients at a sizable discount.

Under the arrangement, Integrated Advertising will solicit work for the freelancers, who Jenny described as “seasoned talent who have worked on big-brand projects for years;” clients will benefit from experienced talent at a discount price, and the Moquists will collect a small fee with minimal overhead.

In short, it’s another one of those win-win scenarios — but with an extra win thrown in for a bonus.

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