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Shade of Gray: Boston Start-Up Braves Rough Economy

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BOSTON Sagging economy be damned, another small agency has set up shop, seeking to lure clients during troubled times with the promise of offering big-agency talent without the big-agency overhead.

Gray & Partners here was formed by president Reagan Gray, a West-Coast ad industry veteran; creative strategist Karen Albrektsen, whose background is in retail and financial consulting; and business development chief Jon Patsavos, who has deep roots in political campaigns and fundraising.

Gray is the second such launch of late. Baldwin&, a creative boutique in Durham, N.C., launched by former McKinney creative chief and One Club chairman David Baldwin, opened its doors last week.

While Baldwin& focuses exclusively on creative development, Gray sees itself as a full-service shop run by seasoned pros capable of outmaneuvering larger, more expensive competitors.

"I'm a very optimistic person, so I am confident we will succeed even in this market, which will only make us that much better when the economy moves into a better place," Patsavos said.

According to Gray: "We can deliver on any traditional media or social media campaign, through highly creative print, radio, television, Web 2.0 and guerilla-marketing solutions. Simply put, we're the right combination for today's economic environment."

Clients include Toshiba Business Solutions, Sen. John Kerry and St. Joseph Health Systems.

The shop has an alliance with Gray's former agency in Newport Beach, Calif., Johnson Gray, and can use the talents of the 15-person staff there as needed.

Patsavos explains how the partners came together: "I have been involved in politics here in Boston for over 10 years, most recently as the New England finance director for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. I met Karen and Reagan on that campaign as they got involved as supporters. When Hillary lost the primary, we decided to come together and start the agency."

Chris Colbert, a longtime agency exec and former consultant who helms independent Holland Mark in Boston, had a succinct tip for the new shop on the block: "Same advice I'd give a big agency: focus on creating real value" for clients.

Can any start-up make it today? Says Colbert: "In our industry, yes -- if they have two things: a significant network of potential clients and influencers that trust them and distinct intellectual/creative capital that those clients want and influencers want to talk about."

Along with considerable political expertise, the start-up's partners are well-versed in fields such as healthcare, finance, hospitality and tourism.

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