While advertising industry insiders predict a dismal 2010 for marketing agencies, The Phelps Group in Santa Monica is expanding. The 29-year-old firm practices “integrated marketing communications,” offering the combined services of an advertising agency, public relations firm, promotions manager, and media consultant.
As of January 4, Phelps Group acquired two Santa Monica-based agencies, Anita Santiago Advertising and Copia Creative, resulting in a 27 percent growth in associates and billings, the company said.
“The award-winning Anita Santiago Advertising has been known for the past 20 years for its breakthrough Hispanic marketing campaigns on behalf of clients such as IKEA, Wells Fargo, California’s anti-smoking efforts, and UnitedHealthcare,” said CEO and founder Joe Phelps. “Copia Creative, a strategic branding agency founded in 2001 by Michelle Adelson, focuses on positioning, corporate identity, and packaging for clients including Applied Materials and Crowell Weedon.”
All of the associates and clients from the two agencies made the move to Phelps Group last month, resulting in the addition of 15 full-time associates and several part-time personnel. The company did not advertise the acquisition immediately because it wanted all of its people to be able to concentrate on serving its clients.
Phelps eschews traditional function-based departments and believes that hierarchical, top-down management is dead. He prefers to organize “self-directed people on self-directed, client-based teams.” He has even written a book – appropriately titled Pyramids Are Tombs – espousing the ideas behind the firm’s corporate structure. He says that Santiago and Copia fit well with his firm’s working methods. It is The Phelps Group’s fifth and sixth acquisitions in the last 15 years, he said.
“Recent studies show that clients are increasingly looking for more value from their marketing agencies,” said Phelps. “They’re insisting that their agencies integrate the messaging across all platforms and disciplines, and we’re ideally structured to meet those demands. With the addition of Copia’s branding experience and Santiago’s Hispanic expertise, I doubt there’s another agency in California that offers our breadth of true [integrated marketing communications].”
Anita Santiago veterans Francisco Letelier, creative, and Sofia Escamilla, media, will lead the new Hispanic marketing discipline at the agency. Michelle Adelson and the former Copia personnel will focus their strategic planning talents on Phelps Groups clients. Matthew Puopolo will continue Copia’s business consulting services.
The first time this reporter visited The Phelps Group, he noted that the firm’s space at Wilshire Boulevard and 9th Street provided room for the physical tools that it uses to practice its philosophy: there was The Wall, on which each client-oriented team posted drafts of its work-in-progress for the entire agency to mark up with comments and suggestions; and there was the Brain Banger’s Ball, a sort of open theater (complete with raised stage and audio-visual facilities) adjacent to the equally open kitchen, where the agency gathered weekly to consider en masse the ongoing efforts of the separate teams.
The Wall is still there, except only that a flat-screen monitor and keyboard have been added so that the same work can be done electronically as well as the old-fashioned way. Speaking of the new acquisitions, Phelps said, “Both agencies share our belief that culturally sensitive integrated marketing and a commitment to a client-based team approach, supported by full-feedback processes, produce optimal results for our clients.”