Back in 2006, Brendon Schrader was a five-year marketing manager at 3M Co. with an entrepreneurial impulse.
And Schrader wasn't satisfied with the contract talent from a staffing agency he was using to supplement staff projects.
"I wanted marketing talent, and that was hard to find," he recalled. "The contract staff generally was unhappy. They had no training, no benefits or career development."
Schrader, 39, decided to start a contract-marketing business of his own.
The business started with him and $10,000. In his basement. His first client was 3M.
Schrader has built a company of marketing consultants that provides project-based consulting, interim marketing leadership and contract staffing.
Last year, Antenna, which recently moved to larger quarters in the North Loop, posted revenue of more than $5 million and is growing at a double-digit percentage clip thanks to the work of 12 corporate staffers and 65 consultants, who work varying schedules, receive benefits and personal development and who provide services to a growing list of a couple of dozen companies.
Schrader, the sole owner of Antenna, also has added marketing professionals to the growing ranks of legal, accounting and executive personnel who have, either by choice or because they got laid off from a corporate job, joined what the Harvard Business Review described in a 2012 article called "The Rise of the Supertemp."
Said Schrader, "I believe we've shown that you can have a career in contract marketing without giving up your career."
The client list includes big companies such as 3M, General Mills, Target, Ecolab, Schwan's and a growing list of midsize firms that pay Antenna $50-to-$200 an hour for varying levels of marketing talent for projects that can range from a few weeks to months.
Schrader's timing was pretty good.
Corporate cutbacks during the 2008-09 recession put a lot of marketers on the street. That's tough on people and companies, which try to avoid rapid expansion and contraction in the ranks. It's costly and morale-sapping.
As big companies regained their profitability after the recession, they did so largely through productivity increases, and without growing to prerecession employment levels. By 2011, the Fortune 500 had recovered its prerecession profitability with thousands fewer employees.
Newsweek, in a 2011 cover story, reported about "beached white males," many with prestigious degrees and "gold-plated résumés." They couldn't win permanent roles and became "permatemps" who skated along with "one low-paying contract assignment to the next."
The stigma of white-collar "temps" soon disappeared.
And companies, which stayed lean, boosted profitability without increasing head count after the recession.
"For the talent, project-based work has simply become more attractive than the alternative," the Harvard Business Review article found. "Today, technology makes it easy to plug in, the corporate social contract guaranteeing job security and plush benefits is dead or dying and 80-hour weeks are all too common in high-powered full-time jobs. The surprise may be not that the top talent is looking for 'permanent temp work,' but that anyone who has a choice would want a traditional job.
"Companies follow the talent. So as growing numbers of professionals decide that they prefer to work on a temporary basis organizations are finding ways to work with them."
Schrader tried to create a model where his contract employees, who get vacation time and benefits if they work at least 20 hours a week, can customize their schedules and take the assignments. They get paid by Antenna at their negotiated rates. Consultants also get company-paid training and development.
"A lot of people have said they are not going back to corporate life," Schrader said. "And we have not found anybody who has put together a suite of services we do. We're high touch, with a lot of interaction between our consultants and clients. We built our model focused on our consultants."
Jennifer Laible, 38, joined Antenna after she got laid off from a marketing post at then-contracting Best Buy in 2012 as it shed hundreds of corporate jobs.
"A lot of companies used to expand and contract," said Laible, who is vice president. "And they don't want to have to lay off again."
Kerry DePalma, an Antenna consultant with nearly 20 years of diversified marketing experience who signed on in 2008, said she likes the variety.
"As an employee at a large company, you can get put into a certain area and you stay," she said. "As a consultant with Antenna, I've got some versatility. I like challenges. The ability to help a client problem solve, fix the issues and then go to another client. One client of mine has been 3M. I've worked in four or five different divisions, from marketing communications to digital marketing. And corporate. The projects have been very diverse. And challenging.
"Plus there's flexibility. I can disappear between client engagements if I want. Antenna pays competitively. Benefits. They help you with career development. I've never seen this type of business model."
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • firstname.lastname@example.org