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Status quo not the goal at Partners + Napier

Agency stresses personal as well as financial growth

Ambition can be hard to quantify but easy to spot. In Rochester, it looks like an agency based at 192 Mill St.

For over a decade Partners + Napier Inc.’s hunger to become a nationally recognized agency based in Monroe County has fueled the growth of the firm, which is on pace to make 2017 one of its highest performing years.

Revenue reached $20.6 million in 2016. The firm expects to grow 8 to 10 percent this year.

“Every year you have to really challenge the status quo even if you had a good year,” said CEO Sharon Napier. “I think for us the confidence that we have together as leaders— that is really good. We know who we are, and we know who we’re not.”

The company, which marked its 13th anniversary in March, has hired 11 people this year. It also has begun the second phase of renovating its office in High Falls. In addition, it has added two major clients and won two Effie Awards—one of the top awards in the marketing communications industry.

That hunger for growth is always a focus, but it encompasses personal growth as well as revenue growth, said Pete VonDerLinn, executive creative director.

“If you worked with Partners + Napier two years ago, we’re not the same Partners + Napier,” he said. “We’ve evolved our business so dramatically because the world demands (it). Quarter to quarter we’re never the same.”

Partners + Napier ranks second on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of marketing and communications firms.

“I think in any business, only the great will survive,” Napier said. “You really have to be willing to change; you have to be willing to think about who you are and what role you play. I think the better each agency is, the better this community is, the better we are as a whole.”

Partners + Napier employs 125 people in Rochester and has two service offices, one in San Francisco and the other in New York City. The number of employees is expected to rise 10 percent by the end of 2017.

“Our goal from day one was always to be a nationally recognized agency and build that right here,” Napier said. “We’ve succeeded on many levels, but I think the underlying reason is that we just have incredible ambition and a focus on growth.”

Adds VonDerLinn: “We love to give ourselves challenges—not that our industry isn’t challenging enough—but we like to set these big, hairy, audacious goals for ourselves.”

The firm’s growth was supported by a January 2011 acquisition. The company is wholly owned by Project Worldwide Inc., a global network of agencies. That network has expanded to 13 agencies. To date Partners + Napier has been a part of 51 collaborations with firms throughout the world.

“We did it because in order to really grow you need to be able to scale across different markets, and you also need to be able to have a global mindset,” Napier said. “One of the things we love about Project Worldwide, built into our DNA, is this sort of fierce independence—Project Worldwide is independent. We do not answer to Wall Street, which means we can really put our focus, our money and our attention on what clients value versus what Wall Street values.”

Project Worldwide has helped the firm find clarity for its future. It also has provided diversity of thought and a strengthening of skills for employees.

“You grow as a practitioner of your craft through all the experiences that you have,” VonDerLinn said. “(Employees) get to create this amazing work that goes out and really affects culture but then they come back to the agency with that experience that they can then bring to their core accounts, and that’s a tremendous advantage.

“I think more than anything Project Worldwide has been the biggest catalyst of the next level that we want to get to,” he added.

The top executives went on a listening tour this year to better get to know other agencies across the country. The goal was to understand how agencies nationwide work and how they service clients. The purpose was to collaborate and learn. However, it also served as a litmus test for Partners + Napier, helping the company understand itself better and what is working for the firm.

“It really inspired us (and) it really confirmed our growth strategy,” said Courtney Cotrupe, managing director. “It’s that constant balance of being proud of what you have but continually pushing for greatness beyond that.”

While clients and trends change in the industry, taking risks and making sure creative work matches results will not, VonDerLinn said.

“What hasn’t changed is how we get that growth, and to us it’s always about the work that is driving the results,” he said. “If you’re adding value to your client’s business through work that is provocative in the marketplace that creates those results—good things are going to happen and fortunately for us they have.”

Its two client wins this year include gourmet burger company BurgerFi International LLC, based in Florida.

Partners + Napier focuses on the verticals of health and wellness, food and beverage, media, financial services and financial technologies.

Clients of the company include Constellation Brands Inc., BMW and MINI Financial Services, Gannett Co. Inc. and USA Today, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, Highmark Health, Friendship Dairies, Delta Vacations, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and Conduent Inc.

“We’re an agency that is never afraid of change,” Cotrupe said. “I think we face it head on and we’re constantly evolving.”

Delta Vacations has worked with Partners + Napier for nearly four years.

“Our team members at Partners + Napier are good listeners and huge advocates for the Delta Vacations brand,” said Buffi Planas, director of brand strategy and corporate communications for Delta Vacations at Delta Air Lines Inc. “They collaborate with us and push forward recommendations based on what’s best for Delta Vacations versus what may win awards or satisfy their own agenda. We consider them an extension of our marketing team.”

Big brands need an agency that will not be afraid to try new things, Planas said.

“The agencies that will survive are willing to take chances, branch out from working with companies in similar industries and stay in sync with trends,” she said. “It is evident Partners + Napier is one of those agencies.”

Constellation Brands and Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield have been clients for over a decade.

Michelle Perry, vice president of fine wine marketing, visitor programs and direct sales for Constellation Brands, said the companies have grown together.

“The team has made our partnership so strong that we continue to find projects for their team to take on to help grow brands and portfolio,” she said. “It has been great to grow our businesses together, and evolve together in this ever-changing environment. Their approach to projects is done in a very professional way, always timely, on budget, and usually exceeds our expectation.”

Constellation Brands has had multiple acquisitions over the past few years. To integrate brands, Perry calls on Partners + Napier’s internal team of 42 people identified as the Vine Creative Studios team.

“I have worked on a couple acquisitions and one of my first calls as soon as the deal closes is to the Vine Creative Studios team to help integrate the brand into Constellation,” she said.

The changes in advertising and marketing communications are constant, Cotrupe said. Partners + Napier is investing in digital and mobile technology and artificial intelligence.

“I think within our industry, but really across all industries, the pace of change because of technology has been exponential,” she said. “We really think about, where do the consumer and the brand meet in the real world? That’s what we can’t ever forget, because it’s that balance of technology and humanity that’s going to have brands living a very long life.”

Adds Napier: “Clients don’t need just an advertising agency, they need a business partner.”

kfeltner@bridgetowermedia.com / 585-653-4020

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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