The Minneapolis agency FRWD is a hybrid in the advertising world.
It can provide clients with design and creative solutions, but its strength is in developing data to drive marketing campaigns.
FRWD’s data experts can tell brands what time people purchase snack bars in Portland, Ore., or when households hit the Internet for information on gluten-free foods.
With analytics, FRWD (pronounced Forward) can help a client manage a class-action lawsuit and find potential plaintiffs. The agency knows that toothpaste purchases rise on the 15th and 30th of each month when paychecks are issued.
“Data doesn’t lie,” said agency President Doug Moore, a veteran General Mills advertising and marketing executive. “And we have extreme experts.”
FRWD seems to be hitting its stride.
The agency is on the cusp of a record year for revenue and just had its best January ever.
This year alone, the shop added real estate broker Crelow, Thrivent Financial, Northland College and franchise fitness center Pure Barre.
But success has not been without growing pains.
Founded in 2009 by John Grudnowski, FRWD quickly grew in three years from a one-man shop to an agency with 60 employees. Revenue jumped over that time to $5 million.
“We had four Fortune 500 companies within six months,” Grudnowski said in an interview. “We grew too fast, but I thought it was cool to be growing so fast. Then we began to lose a little bit of business because we’d gotten too big. We didn’t have enough revenue to invest in relationship management with our clients. I didn’t downsize fast enough.”
The Great Recession didn’t help either as brands cut back on marketing and advertising.
Today, FRWD sits as an agency of 35 employees, has a stable client base of growing companies and expects to exceed the $5 million revenue mark for the first time in two years.
“We tested and we learned and we know now what works with consumers,” Grudnowski said. “We know what time of day to hit them, what device and technology to use. We say we’re the engine you put inside the car, but we don’t design the car.”
One of FRWD’s most visible clients is Angie’s Boomchickapop, the organic snack food from the originators of Mankato-based Angie’s Kettle Corn.
Joe Driscoll, vice president of marketing for Boomchickapop, said he hired FRWD because of its flexibility in the agency world.
“They were willing to grow with us and adapt to our needs now, rather than provide a cookie-cutter approach,” Driscoll said. “We interviewed several agencies, and their approach to using analytics was key. Their collaborative style was important, too.”
From Facebook and Twitter to paid media, “they could tell us about consumer engagement rates, and they could tell us about our consumer,” Driscoll said.
“They gave us the numbers that validated our belief that our consumers are very passionate about organic, natural products, which spanned age groups as well as households,” he added.
With that knowledge, the client and the agency created distinctive colorful packaging for the Boomchickapop product line that features both gluten-free and non-GMO corn ingredients.
Grudnowski said the vision behind FRWD was that the agency-client model needed to evolve into a partnership from the ground up.
“It’s about how close the agency is involved in the decisionmaking of the client,” Grudnowski said.
“It used to be that the agency was brought in after the decision was made by the client: ‘We need a new app. We need a new website,’ ” he said. “Our model is to be a partner with the client before they send out an RFP.”
Moore said the agency shows clients which advertising medium works best with consumers. The first test might be video, then banner ads and then mobile.
“We want to show what creates the most exposure for the least amount of money,” Moore said.
FRWD’s mantra is “Small moves every day,” meaning no project is ever finished.
“We’re founded on media and data,” Grudnowski said. “The pace of change at companies is not nearly as fast as it is with media and technology.”