Ten minutes outside the North Loop, the marketing capital of downtown Minneapolis, about 150 staffers at Horizontal Integration (HI) work daily to connect the dots between technology and marketing through the firm’s digital agency and staffing arms. St. Louis Park-based HI saw $82 million in revenue in 2016, a jump of 25 percent. Since it moved into its modern space last fall, it has hired about 40 employees. Whether it is helping Northwestern Mutual to better target millennials about life insurance or building relevant digital content for customers of Starkey Hearing Technologies, HI looks to find its sweet spot where marketing and technology blur, said Chris Staley, co-founder and executive vice president of the digital agency.
Q: Why did your organization decide to move to St. Louis Park? What attracted you to that area over other locations?
A: We ran out of room in our Minnetonka building after six years and four expansions. When it was time to move we began by looking at “agency country” in the North Loop, but we didn’t find a lot of options that met our needs for growth. So we hit the reset button on our search by asking our commercial real estate broker, David Brown at Cushman & Wakefield NorthMarq, to do a scattergram analysis of where our employees lived in order to figure out our ground zero. That turned out to be the intersection of Hwy. 100 and Hwy. 7, so we saw the West End as the perfect place to get all of the amenities downtown has to offer with many of the suburban conveniences like free plentiful parking, groceries, gym, etc., that are important to both our employees and our clients. We see West End as a surging business and creative hub.
Q: To what do you attribute the firm’s growth?
A: My business partner came from enterprise technology and management consulting, and my background was with global marketing agencies. When we started our firm 14 years ago, we saw the same problem: creative and marketing agencies had brilliant ideas but lacked the technical chops to execute them, while the technology firms lacked creative vision and an appreciation of the user. What’s happening today is that the technology itself has become the brand experience. Think about Uber — your entire relationship with that company is delivered through an app. So marketers are more and more looking to firms that can help them deliver relevant experiences across technology platforms. Brand experiences aren’t about ads anymore as they are about platforms — experiences where the consumer can interact and transact. So our success is part strategy and part luck. We’re fortunate our original vision lines up really well with where the market has moved. And we are able to hit that with a double whammy — our digital agency can provide our services on a project-by-project basis, while our staffing agency can supply consultants who come from that world and know how to help our clients be successful.
Q: What type of employees are you looking to hire at your firm?
A: We work on big, complex digital marketing problems for big, complex businesses like UnitedHealth Group, CHS and Aspen Dental, so the people we hire tend to be quite senior and specialized in all things digital. That said, across the space we are seeing a growing trend for the younger generation to bring cross-disciplinary skill sets: user experience architects who can write front-end code, for example. We hire a lot of digital strategists, user-experience designers, front-end developers, back-end developers, content strategists, and analytics analysts.
Q: What is your take on the discussion of consultancy groups acquiring marketing firms?
A: On a national level, you are seeing firms like Accenture buy up digital creative agencies to make Accenture Digital or holding companies like IPG that owned traditional ad agencies such as Campbell Mithun buying up firms like Huge Inc. that focus on digital customer experiences or roll up firms like Razorfish and Sapient together. Locally it is happening too. Many of the national firms combining these shops together will all have local offices. But an even more local example, just within the last few years Olson, one of the biggest independent marketing firms in town, was acquired by ICF.
Q: Where would you like to see your firm in the next five years?
A: After placing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies eight years in a row, we have become accustomed to managing growth as a part of who we are as a firm. Horizontal Integration is now the largest digital agency headquartered in the Twin Cities with about 220 full-time employees and over 500 consultants in the market working at our clients’ businesses. We currently maintain a physical footprint with office locations in Minneapolis; Denver; Chicago, and Vadodara, India. As we look to cross the $100 million in revenue mark this year, we are most heavily focused on the expansion of our physical footprint into other regional markets.