Marketing firm Haberman is doing business, doing good

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 24, 2013 - 1:44 PM

Haberman works to help clients of the Minneapolis agency drive both growth and social change.

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Haberman -- led by president Brian Wachtler, left, and agency co-founders Sarah Haberman and Fred Haberman -- has evolved to a full-service marketing agency.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis marketing firm Haberman is unabashedly “an agency with an agenda,” aiming to help clients pursue both business growth and positive social change, according to co-founder and CEO Fred Haberman.

Haberman is a unflagging advocate for change as well, working through the agency or collaborating with clients and others to address such issues as urban agriculture, housing, food safety and economic development.

“I have a big appetite for making money. But I have an even bigger appetite for doing good,’’ he said. “My personal mission is to use entrepreneurial principles to solve social issues.”

Doing good has led Haberman to launch such side projects as Urban Organics, a partnership to redevelop the old Hamm’s brewery in St. Paul into an aquaponics operation that will produce fish and produce; the Dude Ranch, an employee garden that highlights the benefits of eating fresh, sustainably produced food; and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, as a showcase of the agency’s abilities, a way to benefit youth hockey charities and local parks.

Change also has been a theme. The agency has retooled its business model to respond to developing technology, client demands and the recession. Haberman, which Fred and wife Sarah Haberman founded in 1994 after various corporate and entrepreneurial ventures, had made its mark as a public relations firm with an emphasis on marketing, strategy, organizational development and storytelling.

In recent years, however, Haberman has evolved into a full-service marketing agency that offers branding and design, public relations and social media, advertising and marketing, and digital and interactive services.

The internal makeover began with building out Haberman’s creative department in 2006, continued with formalizing its digital department a couple of years later and more recently has progressed into larger online advertising campaigns. The arrival this year of Troy Longie, Haberman’s highly regarded new creative director, advances the firm’s intent to produce top-notch creative work.

Today the agency has 40 employees, double its size before it began expanding its services. Last year’s revenue of $7.5 million to $8 million is up 12 percent from 2011, according to longtime Haberman President Brian Wachtler. Revenue grew 20 percent in 2011, rebounding after two flat years. The agency’s clients include Volvo Cars of North America, Annie’s Homegrown, Jolly Time Pop Corn, Organic Valley and Gold’n Plump’s Just Bare Chicken.

Haberman’s mission is “telling the stories of pioneers who are making a difference in the world.” While the agency occasionally turns down a project that doesn’t fit its values, management’s outlook has evolved from an earlier, more rebellious streak.

“When there were three or four of us, it was like, ‘We’re not working for the man,’ ’’ Wachtler recalled. “But to make bigger change, you have to work with bigger organizations.”

Said Haberman: “We had a reputation ... of working with the Davids in an industry. We’ll always work with those but it’s less about Davids and Goliaths than it is about who is sincere out there, regardless of organization, about driving at societal solutions.”

That spirit helped Haberman connect with Theresa Marquez, mission executive for Wisconsin-based Organic Valley, which describes itself as the nation’s largest organic farmers cooperative and is a longtime Haberman client. “His passion for doing something good is what drives him,” Marquez said. “To me, there’s almost nothing as endearing as someone who is quirky with integrity.’’

Haberman’s campaign encouraging young people to use Hennepin County’s sexual health clinics produced strong results because the federally funded effort spoke authentically to its target audience, largely because of the youth board Haberman convened to offer input, said Katherine Meerse, a director in the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department.

“Haberman was able to tell that story in a way that felt as though young people were talking to other young people about taking care of their health as a way of being empowered,” Meerse said.

The expert says: John Purdy, an advertising professor at the University of St. Thomas who has extensive agency experience, said Haberman and other agencies are diversifying as many of their disciplines meld.

“It makes sense for an agency because they can be of more value to clients,” Purdy said. “The clients like it because it’s one-stop shopping.’’

Purdy said Haberman’s “agency with an agenda” outlook is smart and can be good for business. “It’s good to stand for something,” Purdy said.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

  • Haberman

    Business: Independent full-service marketing agency offers branding and design, public relations and social media, advertising and marketing and digital and interactive services.

    Founded: 1994

    Headquarters: Minneapolis

    Website: www.modernstorytellers.com

    Employees: 40

    Executives: Fred Haberman, co-founder and CEO; Sarah Haberman, co-founder; Brian Wachtler, president

    2012 revenue: $7.5 million to $8 million

    Strategy: Pursue growth, hiring three to five people and increasing revenue 10 to 15 percent a year while maintaining the firm’s culture and serving its mission of “telling the stories of pioneers who are making a difference in the world.”

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