Small business: Ag focus drives Broadhead agency's growth

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Dean Broadhead is branching out from his marketing communications agency’s rural roots to segments such as food and environmental issues.

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CEO Dean Broadhead’s recession-defying marketing communications agency has focused on “the Forgotten 20” : the 20 percent of Americans who live in rural areas.

Photo: Bruce Bisping , Star Tribune

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A focus on agriculture and connecting companies with rural producers and consumers has helped Broadhead, a Minneapolis-based full-service marketing communications agency, ­harvest strong growth.

Dean Broadhead, the company’s president and CEO, said the key is doing what he tells clients to do: “Take a stand. Speak with a clear voice. Charge forward.”

Those words greet visitors to the company’s website and to its offices, where they appear on a mural next to the silhouette of a somewhat menacing bull the appears to be daring you to grab it by the horns.

“That’s the whole idea that we have on our wall,” Broadhead said. “Stay focused. Don’t try to do everything for everybody. Try to own something. That’s what we try to do.”

The agency’s deep rural roots — Broadhead grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm — have helped it develop a core strength in traditional agriculture, with clients in animal health, fertilizers and farm equipment accounting for 65 percent of its business. The farm focus also has helped to drive consistent revenue growth of 30 percent or more a year, even through the Great Recession, Broadhead said.

“When all the agencies were shedding, we were still growing,” Broadhead said. “It’s about embracing your vertical and then going wherever that vertical takes you.”

In Broadhead’s case, it’s taken the agency into agriculture-related cate­gories such as food, energy and environmental issues as well as into health, safety and wellness. That success is positioning Broadhead to move into consumer brands, with rural health care a likely starting point, he said.

It also is fueling talks that by year-end likely will lead to new work with local companies that market primarily to other businesses, as Broadhead seeks to add regional clients to go with those on the east and west coasts and in Canada and Mexico.

“We see great growth in working for organizations where we’re almost like the ambassador of rural to urban,” Broadhead said. “It’s like standing at the intersection of urban and rural and saying we can carry the message either way. ”

The agency, which has 52 employees, will finish the year with $12 million to $13 million in revenue, said Broadhead, who launched the agency in 2001 after developing working relationships with ag companies as the University of St. Thomas journalism graduate toiled for local agencies.

‘Do whatever we want’

Broadhead enjoys the flexibility of running an independent agency. “We can do whatever we want,” he said. That includes making investments in past years to serve new segments such as food safety and sustainability and this year to add video production services. The agency also has a person each in Washington, D.C., and California to funnel business back here.

Broadhead also has made a point of hiring senior talent and then developing business based on their skills and experience. “We have to elevate our work because our competitors aren’t mom-and-pop agencies,” Broadhead said. “We may not have anything for them to do when they come but we’re going to build around them.”

The Mosaic Co. in Plymouth, the world’s biggest phosphate fertilizer producer, moved all its business to Broadhead two years ago “because they earned it,” said Kevin Kimm, senior director of marketing and new-product development.

“They truly customize their staff around the business,” Kimm said. “He brings the right talent to drive innovation, thought leadership and … what we want to achieve five years down the road with our strategy.”

Broadhead developed educational tools for Mosaic’s CropNutrition.com site, a soil fertility resource for growers and retailers that debuted in July and is now the company’s highest-­revenue site, according to Kimm.

The expert says:

Michael Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said the agriculture focus that boosted Broadhead through the recession exemplifies the opportunities here in business-to-business marketing in the often-overlooked agriculture and industrial sectors.

“They don’t seem to be as sexy to a lot of folks,” Porter said. “But there’s a lot of great work and a lot of fun to be had delivering real value to clients in those spaces.

“And it can pay the bills well.”

 

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

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