Lynne Robertson is famous. At a time when many advertising agencies have consolidated, she bucked the trend when she purchased the Minneapolis retail agency Fame, which she had been leading, from its owner, the Omnicom Group holding company. A year later, Robertson said she has no regrets as she remakes the firm. She expanded its client base and recently relocated to a new office. The 20-person agency added 11 clients this past year, including retailers, restaurants and health care businesses. “I’m really delighted that we have been able to continue to attract good business and that we continued to build our talent pool,” she said. “I didn’t think we wouldn’t, but you never know. You step off that precipice, and it’s a leap of faith.”
Q: How did you decide to purchase Fame?
A: It almost took 2½ years from sort of deciding that I wanted to do that and negotiating and getting it to fruition. That’s almost illustrative of what the problem is at least in that structure for us. This is too much time. You have to be more nimble than that. I just didn’t see our ability to thrive and grow because of the constructs. It requires financial payback. It requires contracts and affiliations and associations that we’re bound to because of the corporate structure. It wasn’t really keeping with how we work. We work in the retail space, and it requires you to be really quick and nimble and smart.
Q: Looking back over the last year, how have you been able to reinvest in the company?
A: We have onboarded a few more people, not the least of which was the head of account management at Mithun, Ty Kendig. … We’ve hired new creative people. We had to, as part of the decoupling, figure out all new resources for IT, HR, software, so we got all brand-new shiny tools to help our workflow be much more optimized. The other thing that we do is try to curate a community of peers. Retail happens everywhere now, so your communication has to intersect contextually with your customers now on mobile and online. And so we spent the last year finding partners, sometimes just independent freelancers, sometimes small to large agencies, that we bring in depending on the assignment from the clients. We didn’t have that flexibility before. It’s made us have really smart, highly creative solutions right away that clients like and buy and want to do. And it also allows us to get best in class depending on the assignment.
Q: What did you think when Mithun was rebranded by its holding company?
A: That was sad. We had a wake. People got up and told stories and were crying. So many of us grew up there and it was such a sad thing. It was shocking in some regard. … I was fortunate that I had partners at Omnicom that were receptive and really wanted us to be successful.
Q: How does the new office play into the new feel and culture of the firm?
A: We were bound by certain providers to build space and contracts that weren’t always the most efficient, attractive. But unfiltered by all that, we can have whatever furniture company we wanted. We could have whatever contractor we wanted. We could have whatever architect we wanted. I think that gave us a tremendous amount of liberty in which to impart our character onto the space. I think the space is very reflective of what the brand is.
Q: Has the brand changed since the firm became independent or is it the same Fame?
A: We haven’t significantly changed the mission. What we did was sort of expand our core concept. We’re a retail agency, but retail happens everywhere now, so we have to have talent and tools and technology that can accommodate that. We did a little rebranding last year.
Q: What have been some of the changes in retail clients’ expectations?
A: Clients tap into agencies for ideas. We always have to be bringing them fresh thinking. Their timelines have become much more aggressive simply because their shareholders demand more, faster, and they have to deliver on that. I think they are less likely to have these monolithic agency-of-record relationships and more about curating their own community of agencies to get best of class. … I think it’s exciting. It opens up a lot of opportunities for small, fresh, inventive thinkers and opens up the aperture much wider for smaller agencies to work on really big stuff.
Q: Was there any client work that you did in the last year that you don’t think you would have been able to do before in the old model structure?
A: The independence play gave us a lot of awareness. We got a lot of press for us. We got a lot of traffic to our website. We got a lot of inquiries because people were curious about what we were doing and that allowed us to flex in some different categories that we haven’t been in before like financial such as Wings Financial. If you go down in the skyway and you see a blank blue wall, that’s going to be their new nonbank bank. They wanted us to build a vision for them, a skyway location that was more than just ATMs to just get cash. … In retail, they are trying to find ways to engage with people that are above and beyond transactional.