The State of The Square State: Denver

By SuperSpy 

We asked a few regional ad-bloggers to give us a run-down of how their state’s agencies are fairing these days. For Denver, there’s only one man to ask – The Denver Egotist. Enjoy the groin punches and big wins.


Denver, like every market, is currently having its creative colon cleansed. As much as anything, the tough economic times have resulted in a changing of the guard here in Colorado over the last year.

In August, one of the largest Denver advertising agencies &#151 26-year-old McClain Finlon – closed its doors forever. Despite a band of 200 talented people getting screwed in the fallout, it was a breath of fresh air to see the life-sucking Qwest account set sail for DraftFCB in Chicago. (Hope you’re enjoying that one, Chi-Town.)

Two other tasty Colorado-based accounts that had long been cared for by local agencies also escaped our borders – with Chipotle (previously with TDA Advertising & Design, Boulder) bouncing around to finally land at Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners just this week, and Noodles & Co. (previously with Sukle Advertising & Design, Denver) going to Carmichael Lynch. (No offense, but we hope they hate you both and head back this way.) Shops of all sizes, including in-house departments, have had to make cuts and initiate hiring freezes.

Despite the layoffs and closings, the Denver ad community is still showing positive signs. Factory Design Labs, which handles work for Audi, The North Face and Oakley, moved into a spanking new space in Cherry Creek North – a high-end retail and residential area of Denver. They’re continually producing top-notch interactive and design work for their portfolio of lifestyle-driven clients.

While many of the large, retainer-based agencies seem to be taking groin punches, the smaller, more nimble shops are licking their chops at the opportunity laid out before them.

Leif Steiner, Creative Director + Founder of Boulder design shop Moxie Sozo, put it like this, “We’ve seen a lot of positive effects from the current economy. There’s more talent in the marketplace now than there’s been in a decade; we’re picking up new clients across the country; and smaller client budgets are requiring innovative approaches to design and advertising – which plays well into our offering.”

Other smaller creative shops like Cactus, Sukle Advertising & Design and TDA Advertising & Design have slowly but steadily taken on new employees while winning various pieces of business.

“At Cactus, the economy seems to have helped us. It’s part luck, part planning, part voodoo and part elbow grease, but as a shop that’s been scrappy over the years, we’re landing long-term clients and thriving with smart, talented people,” said Cactus Creative Director Norm Shearer (pictured right).

For Sukle Advertising & Design, remaining fearless is working. “2008 turned out to be a great year for us. Despite these tough economic times, we saw over 30 percent revenue growth last year,” said Creative Director + Founder Mike Sukle.

The agency’s recent trend of provocative work for worthy causes caught the eye of LiveWell Colorado, Fuser, Fitness Together and Elements Therapeutic Massage &#151 causing a flurry of new biz wins this year. Additionally, Sukle Advertising & Design’s work on UNICEF’s Tap Project for Denver will be breaking in March.

Karsh\Hagan, previously owned by The Integer Group and Omnicom, was sold back to former owner and agency head Pocky Maranzino. For reason’s unknown, the deal has taken place under the radar and without much press. It’s too early to say what this will mean for K+H in 2009, but given the prior downward direction of the agency, any change will likely be a good one.

Interactive and new media shops seem to be thriving in Denver and our sister city of Boulder. While many of Colorado’s traditional agencies were slow to adapt over the past decade, a collection of new media shops have arisen, headed by top-tier talent. Xylem, The1stMovement (headquartered in Pasadena, CA with a growing Denver office), and FL2 have all been garnering attention for their sound strategy and creative execution.

David Snyder, Creative Director of interactive firm FL2, likes the odds for interactive in the coming year noting, “If the demand for interactive grows (or at least stays flat) in 2009, but retainers shrink because of the bad economy, margin issues with traditional agencies are inevitable &#151 meaning less money to go around. Fortunately, clients are realizing there’s better bang-for-your-buck in interactive &#151 and it’s trackable (thanks, Google Analytics).”

Texturemedia of Boulder, one of the older, more established interactive firms in this market, caught the eye of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. CP+B purchased texturemedia in June of 2008. That CP+B wanted to fortify their interactive arsenal with a locally grown shop speaks to the caliber of talent living and working in this market.

While Crispin Porter + Bogusky operates in a different arena than most of Denver’s smaller shops (winning Agency of the Year again, congrats crew), their presence in Boulder has made a positive impact. With their size and seemingly bottomless well of wins, they’ve taken on a handful of recently unemployed people from the Denver market. The international giant is not above rubbing elbows with Denver shops. The agency participates in the New Denver Ad Club, offering both financial contributions for functions (for booze, notably) and staff members to assist in volunteer efforts.

For those who found themselves out of work in 2008 and didn’t land elsewhere, we’re hearing the freelance market is thriving and prosperous. Agencies still have work to do, but they are naturally skittish about taking on full-time help. Clients are working directly with freelance help to temporarily (we hope) forego the higher agency fees. Add to that some winter storms pounding the Rockies with midweek powder days, and the life of the freelancer here is an enviable one.

For continued news on our fair city, as well as commentary on what the rest of the advertising world’s doing, check us out at The Denver Egotist.