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FULLY MARTINIZED — The Martin Agency still strives to preserve its brand of Southern hospitality, even after driving off with a piece of Mercedes By ROY FURCHGOT

There is a gentility as uniquely Southern as a wel

It is that way partly through luck, partly through design. ‘From the beginning we were in a market where the agencies tended to be friendly,’ says co-founder David Martin. ‘We had people in town like Tim Finnegan, and later, John Siddall, who we were friendly with. We did projects together and saw each other after work.’
Since its founding in 1965, the agency has tried hard to preserve its mannerly ways. At first, as a $1.2-million start-up with a staff that could fit in a single conference room, it was easy. And even as Martin grew – from $18 million in billings and 51 employees in 1982 to $156 million and more than 250 employees in 1991 – the agency managed to retain its civil nature.
But when Martin and partner Scali McCabe Sloves won the Mercedes-Benz account last February (national business went to Scali and dealer groups business went to Martin), it looked as if Martin’s carefully nurtured culture might be in danger. Sure, Mercedes meant prestige and $40-50 million in new billings, but it also meant adding 70 people to help handle the business.
Initially, the increased workload was staggering. Martin’s traffic department was nearly overwhelmed, while the production department pushed through 700 ads last September alone. But Martin was just as concerned with assimilating the new people without disrupting the agency’s flow.
‘We realized an account like Mercedes would become the focus of the entire agency, and there would be an injection of new people who would have an effect on the culture,’ says Martin president John Adams. ‘We have a strong sense of integrity and civility. We all know that the agency business is not famous for those characteristics, so you have to look for it and screen for it.’
Now, nearly a year after Mercedes arrival, both the leaders and the rank and file at Martin say the agency is doing just fine. Even competitors believe the shop is as stable as ever. ‘People say they like working there,’ says John Siddall of rival Richmond shop Siddall Matus Coughter. ‘People don’t complain about the style or workload.’
Martin attributes the relatively smooth transition to a commitment to preserve its culture. To find people for Mercedes, Martin recruited from agencies that had both a car account and a reputation for the kind of creative it favors. Personality was the final litmus. ‘We decided anyone we hired would be close enough to us that we wouldn’t have to go through heavy ‘Martinizing,’ and those that weren’t, we’d have to Martinize them,’ says Adams.
In this case, Martinizing is not the one-hour variety. Rather, it is a process of exposing new employees to the Martin way of business, which includes not only studying a complex decision matrix displayed on a conference room wall, but meeting and socializing with agency notables.
It is often a subtle process, as Joe Alexander, a senior writer and a recent hire from Chiat/Day in Toronto discovered. While in Los Angeles working on the first set of Mercedes ads, a stressed Alexander returned to his hotel one night and found flowers and a note of appreciation sent by agency vice chairman Bill Westbrook. ‘The difference here is that it’s a given that you are a talented writer,’ says Alexander. ‘But they also expect you to be a good person.’
Of course, an account like Mercedes can fan a spark of jealousy in even a tight-knit family. Everybody wanted to work on it, and many got the chance. Eventually, Martin settled on members for its Team Mercedes, but was careful not to afford the squad any special treatment. ‘We have made a conscious effort not to be separate from the agency,’ says Kerry Feuerman, senior vp/group creative director. Adds Westbrook, ‘Frankly, there are enough opportunities for glory throughout the agency.’
There were also questions after the Mercedes win about Martin’s partnership with New York shop Scali. Although the agencies had proved compatible elsewhere, they would suddenly have a much a closer relationship. But Scali chairman Marvin Sloves says fears that Martin would absorb another culture were unfounded. If anything, it’s worked the other way around. ‘I’m the one who works with both (shops) the most and I’ve learned many things in style and content from Martin – and I thought I knew everything,’ he says.
Success, says senior vp/management supervisor Drew Maenza, has not spoiled Martin. ‘The systems get more sophisticated, but the place feels the same as when I started in 1985.’
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)