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A creative spin on advertising in Charm City

As a relatively recent addition to the Baltimore ad scene I was privileged to take an afternoon stroll over to the Baltimore AdWeek session titled “Baltimore Agencies Speak Up: Great Minds Don’t Think Alike” lead by our very own Ed Callahan. This particular panel discussion featured four of Baltimore’s leading creative gurus and emphasized discussion on how our industry can band together to bring more national accounts to Charm City as well as how to keep major brands headquartered locally from taking their work outside the state line (cough, cough Under Armour). 

So often advertising is depicted as a cutthroat, competitive industry (especially within a market like Smalltimore) where agencies are consistently pitching against one another and employees float from one shop to another. As Dave Wassell, Associate Creative Director at MGH, pointed out, “the Addys are really the only occasion where everyone can unite to celebrate the innovative work that comes out of this town.” Even then, under the spell of cheese and wine, the event feels segregated; colleagues sit together, and return to the safety of their own pods the next day. Proud of their companies’ achievements? Definitely. Hungover? Possibly. Enlightened by new strategies and solutions shared by fellow associates? Unlikely. 

Each of the four creative directors agreed on one thing—agencies need to take more risks, be ballsy, and not be afraid to fail miserably if their initial pitch doesn’t hit the nail on the head. While Todd Harvey, Creative Director at Mission Media, feels spec work devalues the company’s work, MGH claims to have done spec work for every pitch they’ve made in the last six months. So how can we get CEOs of national brands to look beyond New York or Chicago and bring their business to Baltimore? And how do you view the indifference among agencies? Would advertising in our city be more successful as one big jovial group or should we carry on with a respectful hatred of our competitors? 

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Brad Johnson September 15, 2011

National accounts coming into the area would raise the profile of Baltimore as a whole and be good for everyone, not just the agency that lands that first big fish.

It seems to me like a vicious circle. Local agencies have that “respectful hatred” for one another and aren’t willing to stop pouring all of their energy into local accounts until Baltimore establishes itself as a feasible alternative to Chicago and New York.

But, in my opinion, Baltimore never WILL establish itself a world-class reputation until the agencies stop the in-fighting to focus on promoting, as a collective group, the breadth of big city talent we have here in Smalltimore.

Until then, all that the national companies will see is a bunch of small town agencies fighting over “scraps” that aren’t ready for the big-time.

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