Barb Epstein, founder of Golden Valley-based media buying agency mb25 Media Solutions, has spent 25 years helping other companies sell their products and services.

As the agency continues planning media strategy and buying space in traditional and increasingly digital media for companies in local, regional and national markets, Epstein is looking to step up its own marketing.

To date, mb25 Media Solutions has grown as its clients have gotten bigger, increasing their media buys, and through referrals to businesses seeking media space and planning.

"We haven't had a sales effort," Epstein said. "After 25 years, I think it might be time.''

The agency marked its 25th anniversary earlier this year with a new name and a leadership transition.

Epstein founded the agency in 1989 as Marketing Midwest. After working in print media sales, she believed she could offer smarter strategy, more attention to detail and greater transparency, letting clients see the cost of their media buys.

"They're sending large checks to us every month," Epstein said. "They need to know that it is being handled appropriately, on a timely basis."

The "mb" in the agency's new name stands for what it does, media buying. The "25" represents the "25th hour" in the day that clients gain working with agency, while also serving as a nod to the agency's longevity.

Epstein will focus on new business and media buying while newly named agency President Michelle Benson, a 14-year employee groomed for her new role, will take the lead in setting the company's vision and business goals. Epstein's husband, Steve Karolewski, who joined 15 years ago and serves as executive vice president, rounds out the leadership team.

"I can work with the team to build our existing base, and Barb can look externally to make new connections and grow us that way," Benson said.

Epstein and Benson have set their sights on continuing the controlled growth the agency typically experiences, such as last year's single-digit rise in revenue, which ended between $10 million to $11 million.

The agency, which has 18 employees, likely will hire two to four people in the next 18 months on the way to a projected maximum of 25. Companies in education, health care and financial services make up much of the agency's business. Clients include HealthPartners, Regions Hospital, Metropolitan State University, US Federal Credit Union and creative agencies Morsekode and StoneArch.

Larger agency approach

Mb25 Media Solutions often behaves like a larger agency, Benson said. In one example, it recently invested in Google's DoubleClick ad management solution for use in its digital department, which has grown from one employee working half-time on online campaigns three years ago to three full-timers. "It helps us to make smarter digital buys and watch the campaign in real time, making shifts and optimizations to use the client's dollar as best we can," Benson said.

Another example: The agency recently hired an HR manager to oversee wellness programs, lead continuous learning programs and support a culture Epstein calls "family friendly, fun and collaborative."

Mb25 Media Solutions has handled media buying and planning in recent years for select clients of StoneArch, a health and medical marketing company in Minneapolis, according to StoneArch President Jessica Boden and CEO Jerrold Gershone. "The breadth of what they bring with all the new channels is more than what one [in-house] person could bring to us," Gershone said.

Boden said she liked that mb25 Media Solutions is in "growth mode."

"They have a strong service mentality as it relates to being strategic consultants," Boden said. "They're tough negotiators at getting the best deals for our clients and they're very focused on being innovative and on the forefront of different media capabilities."

US Federal Credit Union sought mb25 Media Solutions' help getting started in search engine marketing and since has turned over most of its media buying to the agency, said Martin Kelly, senior vice president of marketing and business development.

The expert says: Michael Porter, director of the master of business communication program at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said companies may forget that "here in the 21st century, media buying is more than just buying ads.''

"Oftentimes a media planner or media buying organization can help balance the buy, so you're including all the different media options and have them working today, and think in terms that are more strategic than might be inside your organization," Porter said. "They can make your reach and your frequency sing. That takes somebody who's been at it awhile."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is