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Martin Agency's Star Keeps Rising / Richmond Ad Firm Starts Year With New Partner, New Clients and Industry Praise

Feb 10, 2007

By BOB RAYNER

For The Martin Agency, 2007 is turning into the year of the win.

The Shockoe Slip advertising firm snared the creative and strategic pieces of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s $570 million account - and all the national visibility that goes along with it.

The agency just named Brad Armstrong as one of the leaders for the Wal-Mart account. Until last year, Armstrong headed the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. From 1994 to 2001, he worked at Martin as director of account management.

John Adams, the agency's chairman and chief executive, said Armstrong "just happens to be the perfect guy to lead our Wal-Mart team. Not only does he understand our company and its culture and values, but he understands Wal-Mart's too."

Armstrong's official title will be partner, executive vice president and group management supervisor.

He'll be returning to an agency on a roll.

Adweek recently recognized two of Martin's television campaigns for auto insurer GEICO as the second-best in 2006, behind Apple's "Mac vs. PC" spots. The GEICO commercials starred offended cavemen and fairly famous people paired with real customers.

The trade publication praised the celebrity spots for their "canny, and extraordinarily campy, use of nearly forgotten celebrities, including Charo, Burt Bacharach and Little Richard, giving dramatic interpretations of people's experiences with the insurance provider."

The cavemen and celebrity campaigns started running last year along with the ever-popular GEICO Gecko ads that Martin has been making for seven years.

Adweek said the "increasingly frustrated cavemen aggrieved by society when encountering the tagline for GEICO's Web site, 'So easy a caveman can do it,' are surely some of the most sympathetic characters on television."

A couple of weeks earlier, Advertising Age, another prominent industry publication, ranked Martin as the nation's fifth-best agency, with TBWA/Chiat/Day taking the top spot.

"Martin firmly thrusts marketers into pop culture, often using little more than top-quality traditional media," the magazine reported.

Martin is by far the largest ad agency in the Richmond area, but it's a relatively small shop compared with industry giants around the country. National attention is nothing new, though, for an agency with a history of handling big brands such as Mercedes, Saab and Miller beer.

Still, even agency insiders acknowledge the past month has been exceptional.

"Ad Age says we're No. 5. Adweek says we're No. 2 and Wal-Mart says we're No. 1," said Mike Hughes, Martin's president and creative director. "Feels like we're moving in the right direction."

The agency nabbed a nice little piece of business a couple of weeks after the Wal-Mart win when Burt's Bees chose Martin to handle its advertising. The company, which is relatively small but growing fast, sells natural soaps, moisturizers, exfoliates, cremes and lotions.

Martin declined to disclose the size of the account, but trade publications estimated annual billings could be $10 million to $20 million.

The agency isn't alone in the spotlight.

One of its creative directors has been showing up on television screens across the country the past few weeks.

Andy Azula, a senior vice president and co-creative director of Martin's UPS account, stars in the latest round of commercials for the giant package shipper.

Azula's the guy with the long dark hair and the marker in his hand, using a white board to explain in detail just what brown can do for you.

He's started getting flagged down in airports by people who recognize him from the commercials. The sudden celebrity hasn't turned his head, though.

"It kind of crept up on me. I think I'll be behind the camera from now on," Azula said.

Unless, of course, the client wants him to make another star turn.

The Martin Agency's top current accounts

-- Alltel (for media-buying services), BF Goodrich, Discover Card, GEICO, Hanes (including Barely There), The Learning Channel, UPS, Wal-Mart

-- Other notable current clients: Seiko, PING, NASCAR, Cruzan rum, Sirius

Ad agency employees

-- McCann Erickson Worldwide: 16,250

-- Leo Burnett (Chicago office): 1,000

-- TBWA/Chiat/Day (Los Angeles office): 480

-- The Martin Agency: 360 located in Richmond and 20 in New York City

Contact staff writer Bob Rayner at brayner@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6073.

ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO

(c) 2007 Richmond Times - Dispatch. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.



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