Spyglass client Cretex Medical discusses their agency selection



Whether launching a new brand, repositioning an existing one or entering a new market, b2b marketers say they want their agency partners to understand their business and help formulate sound marketing strategies.

Marketers say their top criteria in selecting agency partners include solid b2b experience, knowledge of the client’s industry and business, responsiveness to the client’s needs and good chemistry (see box, previous page).

However, the processes marketers use to select agencies, the types of services they’re looking for and the people involved in their reviews vary widely.

“Agency searches tend to get tied to how the client is internally structured to handle agency relationships,” said David Beals, president-CEO of R3:JLB.

“If a client has a fairly robust marketing department with specialized expertise, and has bigger budgets to hire internal people and multiple agencies, those companies are much more likely to be looking at multiple agency relationships and specialized agency services. They may have one roster of agencies doing traditional work and other agencies handling social media and other specialized services.”

Beals added: “On the other side, marketers with smaller staffs and budgets are more likely to look for one agency or a small handful of agencies to provide multiple services and multiple areas of expertise.”

Cretex Cos., a 95-year-old diversified manufacturing company, is in the latter category, with a small marketing staff and limited advertising.

Last year, Cretex started looking for an agency partner to help it reposition its Cretex Medical division, which had recently acquired four companies in the medical device manufacturing space: Juno Inc., Meier Tool & Engineering, Pacific Plastics & Engineering and RMS Machining.

“No one recognized us as a big player because the individual companies went to market independently. There was no visual consistency and nothing connected the subbrands. We needed to have a brand story we could go to market with,” said Steve Ragaller, VP-CFO at Cretex, which does not have a corporate marketing executive.

“I’m a finance guy. We have a COO-operations guy, and our CEO is not a marketing guy either. We are not marketing experts. We were looking for someone to help us think through our brand strategy.”

Cretex, based near Minneapolis in Elk River, Minn., did not have a previous agency of record at the corporate level. Its individual business units hired agencies for specific assignments, primarily for marketing collateral, Ragaller said. The company historically has not done much advertising.

Ragaller, who headed up the review process, did some research on local branding and marketing agencies to come up with a short list of potential candidates. “Having someone local was important,” Ragaller said.

But the most important factor in the review process was finding an agency that understood Cretex’s business and its target market of OEMs in the medical industry.

“We are manufacturers. We are not flashy. Sexy is not in our vocabulary,” Ragaller said. “We were looking for people who understand what we do.”

Cretex selected Minneapolis-based Spyglass Creative to handle brand strategy for the Cretex Medical brand, as well as some other brands in the Cretex portfolio.

“What ended up winning the day was that they spent a lot of time asking questions, and listening and trying to figure out what we were trying to accomplish,” Ragaller said. “Other firms tried to sell to us, and that approach did not seem appropriate for the unique requirements of our business.”

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Tags: Agency, Brand FastForward, Branding
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I spy growth: bundling services helped brand consultancy show its ROI


Each time Spyglass Creative lands a new client, employees celebrate by slapping a singing toy fish that hangs on the wall at the creative agency’s Minneapolis office.

Lately, that fish has been singing a lot.

Over the past three years, billings at Spyglass have risen from $10 million to $16 million. Agency co-founders Molly Rice and Andrew Slothower attribute the growth partly to their focus on providing bundled, fixed-cost services to mid-sized companies who want clear pricing and deadlines.

Spyglass offers brand-consulting services for firms that want to redefine their place in the market. While the agency has ongoing partnerships with several firms, much of its work consists of one-time projects.

Spyglass began under the knowledge that marketing can be hard to buy. Clients often wonder what they’re really getting, what they’re really paying for and how much it should cost, said Rice, Spylass’ CEO. Businesses get confused when they receive vague cost estimates and invoices for hidden fees.

“They’re business people,” Slothower said. “They want to say, ‘$10,000 for my website, and $15,000 for this,’ and the problem is they’re missing the big picture. [We say] let’s put that all together, let’s figure out the story and decide which of those elements you need.”

Many clients already have good background information that Spyglass can use as a starting point, he added.

To help companies get what they need at a clear price, Spyglass introduced a product called Brand FastForward, which bundles all the services recommended for a business into a single, fixed-price package. Clients know the cost up front, and receive the finished package eight to 12 weeks after the initial meeting.

The package can include services ranging from website design to advertising campaigns, depending on what the client’s priorities are.

“I know when I’m going to get billed, I know how much it’s going to be and at the end of the day you’re going to solve my problem,” Slothower said, taking the client’s perspective.

In an industry where people frequently come up with innovative ways to do things, Brand FastForward helped set Spyglass apart, he said.

“Once you get out of the gerbil wheel of tracking every single phone call and billing for this and that, you can concentrate on the creative,” Slothower said.

Before launching Spyglass 10 years ago, Rice and Slothower worked for John Ryan Co., helping the Minneapolis-based retail marketing agency start up businesses in cities all over the world. The work honed their skills as entrepreneurs.

“She ran the account side and I ran the creative side,” Slothower said. “Basically, the two of us could get both sides of an agency started right away with just two people.”

When the pair realized there was a need among mid-sized companies for affordable marketing, they set out to create Spyglass.

“Our clients have a very specific need,” Rice said. “There are business objectives they’re trying to achieve.”

Some clients are looking to target a new audience, while others need a concise way to market their startup. Even so, businesses are often unsure what they should be doing to meet their goals, she said. Spyglass asks clients how they want to lead their businesses in order to determine which services will help.

“What is [their] story, how do we patch it up and how are we going to go to market with it?” Rice said.

Spyglass’ clients have ranged from travel-agency giant Carlson Wagonlit to The Urgency Room, a standalone emergency clinic in Woodbury.

Spyglass markets its own company largely through word-of-mouth referrals. In the coming years, the firm plans to form miniature packages within its Brand FastForward, such as a social media package, Rice said. For now, though, Spyglass is still riding off the celebration of a milestone anniversary.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” Rice said.

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Tags: brand consulting, Brand FastForward, Branding
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