Kirshenbaum’s Culture

Shift Appears to Work
NEW YORK–A sea change in the culture of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners has taken place since the loss in 1996 of its signature Snapple account.
The 11-year-old agency, founded on the back of publicity stunts and unconventional ads for the likes of Kenneth Cole, has developed a firm belief in the value of below-the-line
services, just like older agencies many times its size. Indeed, the shop’s positioning as an integrated communications company has been key to its success this year, the agency believes. Billings have grown 32 percent–to $290 million–with the addition of 11 new clients, including Coca-Cola, Cablevision, Liberty Mutual and 1-800-Flowers.
Reflecting this sea change are the creation of two new management positions within its public relations and promotions group.
“These promotions definitely reflect our integrated philosophy and the way we are architecturally building the firm,” co-founder Richard Kirshenbaum said.
Former promotions supervisor Jeff Sapan, 33, is now promotions manager and Laura Leinweber, 32, formerly an associate director, is now public relations manager.
“Seventy-five to 85 percent of our [above-the-line] clients use us,” said Felicia Stingone, associate partner and executive director of pr and promotions, and Sapan and Leinweber’s boss.
Snapple, the shop’s first big client, required the agency to do some of everything in the marketing mix. After the sting from that loss had subsided, the agency made a resolution: Future business pitches would tout integrated services, president Rosemary Ryan said.
The shop is now capable of handling media duties, pr, promotions, direct marketing, collateral, interactive and design work.
“You know what the difference is? Everybody working for KB believes that each of the other disciplines has something to offer,” Ryan said.
After winning the estimated $17 million 1-800-Flowers account in March, the agency did three promotional events for the client before a single traditional ad appeared. At that time, a client representative said: “We were searching for a true marketing partner, not just an agency.”
Rather than acquire its below-the-line units, Kirshenbaum has grown them from scratch. “There’s a difference between capability and integration,” Bond argues. “Big agencies have the capability to do these things. But they don’t have the ability to integrate them.”
The new business has fueled the hiring of about 40 new staffers across the board. (The agency now employs about 245 people.) It has also made the independent shop more attractive to potential suitors–a fact Kirshenbaum acknowledges and dismisses.
“We’re very proud to be independent,” Kirshenbaum said. “We think we have an amazing opportunity and we’re really excited about it.”