A lot has changed in the advertising and marketing industry since Cary Hatch purchased MDB Communications in 1987. And a lot has changed at MDB as it evolved from a design firm to a direct marking company to a full-service advertising agency. “The road is littered with people that haven’t been willing to adapt and change,” Hatch says.
But some things haven’t changed. A good idea and a strong brand are as valuable as ever. It’s true for all companies but especially relevant for MDB Communications, according to its chief creative officer, Richard Coad. “Every time we go up for new business, we’re protecting our brand because people are buying our brand, our expertise, our taste, as opposed to somebody else’s,” he says.
To protect its brand, Coad says the MDB team lives by these two words: be interesting. “You have to be interesting to each other, and your ideas should be very interesting to your clients,” he says. “It comes down to advertising that is not boring. It is not insipid. It doesn’t embarrass you, and you wouldn’t be ashamed to tell somebody that you did it.”
When what you’re selling is your firm’s creative judgment, a few mediocre campaigns can sully your brand. That’s why hiring has been a critical area for MDB. “Everybody has to be able to carry the water, and that makes finding the right people important,” Coad says. The ideal MDB employee not only has discerning taste, but also doesn’t need much handholding. “There’s a little bit of entrepreneurship, so you’re not going to be watched over,” Coad says. “You have to have a competitive spirit and seek opportunity — and sometimes even create opportunity.”
Hatch says she tries to create an environment where every member of the team, from senior-level management to new hires, is expected to bring ideas to the table. “We do believe that good ideas can come from anywhere,” she says. “It’s the kind of place where grooming and growing
To encourage that growth, MDB takes advantage of its membership in the American Association of Advertising Agencies, which offers numerous initiatives for professional development, ranging from strategic planning and creative development to coding classes and presentation skills. Because MDB invests in its employees, many stick with the company for years, even decades. “And we have ‘boomerang’ employees who were with us for several years, have gone somewhere else and then come back,” Hatch says.
Since 1985, MDB has leveraged its intensive internship program to cultivate homegrown talent. For many young interns, the program is their first professional job and it entails not only administrative and operational duties, but a firsthand look at how an advertising agency runs.
“It’s learning how to create and develop a campaign and see it through to fruition,” Hatch says, adding that MDB educates its interns on metrics and analysis as well. “With the internship program, you can go from soup to nuts, you can learn how creative product is developed, and you can understand how a company makes money.”
But MDB isn’t for everyone, Coad says. To fiercely protect your brand, you need to place it in capable hands. “When you hire the right, talented people, they are aspiring to the same level of work that you are,” he says. “Some people may never get there, and they’re better off in other kinds of jobs or somewhere else.”
Sometimes protecting your brand means leaving money on the table. Hatch says part of her responsibility as CEO is to manage client expectations upfront. “Advertising and marketing is not a perfect art or science,” she says. “There’s one thing that clients can always count on us for, and that’s the truth.” Hatch remembers during the heady days of the dot-com boom, when companies were tossing around huge sums with sky-high expectations, she chose to hand back a $7 million check rather than mislead the client. “Having integrity in this business is probably the most important characteristic next to creative execution,” she says. “Without that, why would you trust your agency?”
In today’s competitive marketplace, where brands are constantly under siege and marketing departments are facing enormous pressure to demonstrate value, Hatch’s goal is to continue to be a competitive advocate for her clients’ brands. “Every opportunity to give them a sharper edge is an opportunity that we’re excited about,” she says.
Photo (L to R): Back row: Carole Reuschle, VP, Media Director; Rob Gerds, VP, Client Service; Richard Coad, Chief Creative Officer; Cary Hatch, CEO. Front row: “M,” one of the 160+ advertising icons that call MDB “home”