The Broadhead advertising agency has its roots in agriculture having worked in the past with clients such as fertilizer supplier Mosaic Co., the Minnesota Pork Board and global agribusiness CHS Inc.

But for its latest campaign, which gained national attention, the firm strayed far from the farm to let residents know that South Dakota took drugs seriously with its “Meth. We’re on it,” tagline. To many, the gutsy messaging came out of left field for an ad firm known for talking about crop yields and pork consumption.

Yet leaders at Broadhead, the Twin Cities’ largest independent ad agency, said the controversial campaign is indicative of its ability to tackle new challenges without restrictions and its efforts to expand its clientele and expertise as it focuses more on the wellness sector and beyond.

“We do very well in what you call the farm and agriculture space,” said Chief Executive Dean Broadhead. “It’s been an important part of our business, and it’s going to continue to be an important part of our business. But it’s also not a business that’s exponentially growing because there’s a lot of consolidation.”

Moving forward, the Broadhead firm has organized itself to focus on the overlapping categories of farm, food and wellness as it looks to nearly double its business in the next five years. The agency, which purchased St. Paul-based public relations firm Kohnstamm Communications last fall, plans to move its headquarters from the Minneapolis building where it has spent most of its life.

The firm grew revenue about 12% last year and is targeting to grow by 15% in 2020.

Broadhead said the firm, which has done a lot of business-to-business work, will have a bigger footprint in the consumer space going forward.

“We are making a more concerted effort in building our brand. … We have kind of joked for a long time we’re like the biggest agency that no one has ever heard of in Minneapolis,” Broadhead said.

But back in November, many people around the country learned about the Broadhead firm as it helped debut South Dakota’s new meth-awareness campaign: “Meth. We’re on it.” The campaign features television commercials, radio ads, billboards and social media as well as a website with treatment resources.

The reaction was immediate with many critics incredulously pointing to what some viewed as a flippant motto about a serious issue. A Washington Post story quoted one marketing expert saying, “I’m sure South Dakota residents don’t like being laughed at. That’s what’s happening right now.”

But Broadhead, which had reportedly been paid close to $450,000 by that time for its work on the campaign, held fast to the marketing’s effectiveness, an outlook that was also echoed by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who tweeted, “the whole point of this ad campaign is to raise awareness. So I think that’s working.”

“Nobody was talking about something that really needed to be talked about,” Broadhead said.

Beth Burgy, president of the Broadhead agency, said that when South Dakota put out a request for proposals for the campaign the firm’s leaders saw an interesting opportunity.

“What you saw in the campaign was what we pitched which doesn’t happen all the time,” Broadhead said.

The campaign was “relentlessly tested in market,” as they ran it by different stakeholders, Broadhead said. Historically, a lot of other anti-drug or smoking campaigns have been repetitive with dark and gritty messaging and an emphasis on “drugs are bad,” Burgy said.

“I think really the whole point of that campaign was to do something different. … If it’s truly a state problem, then the whole state has to get on it as an organization, the whole community,” she said. “You get teachers and parents and tribal elders and family members involved to solve it.”

Despite the criticism, Burgy and Broadhead said the campaign, which will run through May, has accomplished its goal to get people talking about the meth epidemic and bring awareness to the resources out there to tackle the problem.

Part of the reason Broadhead is able to take risks like the South Dakota campaign is it remains one of the few independent ad agencies in Minneapolis. Broadhead became the largest independent marketing firm in the Twin Cities about a year ago after the sale of the Periscope advertising agency to Wisconsin printing company Quad/Graphics Inc. Most of the high profile ad agencies in the region are owned by global holding companies.

In 2018, Broadhead adopted an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) model which gives employees ownership interest in the company.

“I think the ESOP part is a really important thing because a lot of the people we have recently hired have been at larger agencies that are owned through holding companies, and there’s a different culture,” Burgy said.

In June, Broadhead plans to move its little more than 100 employees who are mostly in an office building on the corner of 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue into the Internet Exchange Building at 411 N. Washington Av., a few blocks away.

Broadhead will occupy about 37,000 square feet of space on three floors, nearly double its current space, which will also allow the agency to consolidate its other offices that include its North401 Studios production studio and Rabbit marketing data arm into one location.

“I think it’s really an opportunity to stake our claim in terms of where we are going,” Broadhead said.


Twitter: @nicolenorfleet