Creative Focus: Hartford-All Business

It’s 1998, and Mel Maffei and Mike Scricco are debating whether to reveal their New Year’s resolutions. “My resolution,” Maffei begins, “is not to work with Mike anymore.”
Even if that were true, the co-directors of creative services at Keiler & Co. in Farmington, Conn., have worked together for so long that desire for change might not be surprising. What’s really surprising, however, is how content the two appear to be after 19 years together. “It is unusual,” Maffei concedes, “but it’s also characteristic of this marketplace.”
After meeting in 1976 at another local agency, Kupper Advertising, Maffei, a Connecticut native, joined Keiler in 1979 as a copywriter and creative director. Scricco, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., followed two years later as a designer.
The ensuing 18 years witnessed Keiler’s growth into a $56 million shop with a strong reputation in the business-to-business sector, one of the Hartford area’s strong points. Today, the agency’s client roster includes Deloitte & Touche, The Torrington Co., Sikorsky Aircraft and Signature Flight Support.
“It’s a battle of selling the best creative to our clients, who tend to be conservative,” Maffei says. “They’re not in the consumer business, so we may fight a bit harder for creative that may be still tactful. In the business-to-business arena, nobody wants to be real flashy. But we try to sell them on the merits of doing something different in their category that will make them stand out.”
One client who didn’t have to be persuaded too hard is Risk Capital, a Greenwich, Conn., reinsurance firm. Keiler’s print campaign uses unexpected images to convey the client’s unconventional approach to the staid business of reinsurance. One ad features a bullterrier hooked up to an electronic mechanism, drawing a parallel to the Pavlovian approach other reinsurance companies take to their business. “In a dog-eat-dog world, why is it that most reinsurers are so darn predictable?” asks the headline. The body copy reads, “Ask most reinsurers what solutions they offer, and you’ll get the same predictable response.” Risk Capital’s services and approach to business make it different, offering capital investment and contingent financing products, says Maffei. The ad ends by inviting potential customers to call for a “radically different response. No drooling.”
“As the economy improves, the pressure has come off people who were afraid to do controversial work,” Scricco says. “Clients had been nervous about doing something that stands out. Now, there’s a lot more open-mindedness.”
That’s not to say the Hartford, Conn., market, once known as the insurance capital of the world, is embracing wild and wacky communications. The traditionally sober business-to-business marketplace, however, appears to be loosening up. This change delights Maffei and Scricco, who are also enjoying jointly running the 20-person creative group.
“I feel more positive than I ever have about the quality of our work, the creative people, the people on [the 70-person] staff,” Scricco adds. “I feel like we’re on a roll right now.”
Maffei agrees, and the interview appears to be over. But wait: Maffei has decided to reveal his New Year’s resolution, after all. “It’s to be kinder to account managers,” he says. He’s not kidding, either. “I don’t want to be totally kind, just kinder. I think I’m brave enough to try it.” –Sarah Jones