In Local Growth Plan, RDW Has Eye On Smaller Prize

RDW Group president Mike Doyle believes in thinking small—or at least in his shop growing by pursuing smaller pieces of local new business while some of New England’s other midsize players attempt to compete in the national arena.

RDW’s focus is more “clients in the $10 million range,” Doyle said. “As the economy improves, the big [New England] players will [increasingly] look at national business” to grow.

With that in mind, Doyle is repositioning the Providence, R.I.-based independent from serving as a small, traditional ad agency to becoming a broad-based, more nimble alternative to the region’s holding-company-owned rivals, which include Havas’ Arnold and Interpublic Group’s Mullen. Through two November deals—the acquisition of 30-person shop iFactory in Boston, followed by the absorption of 20 staffers from Clarke Goward, also in Boston—Doyle has increased RDW’s presence in the city [Adweek Online, Nov. 5].

“You can’t grow in Boston unless you have a strong presence there,” he said.

The moves were part of an effort to spur growth by adding interactive expertise via iFactory (which works with clients such as Harvard and Yale universities, as well as Boston Private Bank), and general advertising and PR capabilities with Clarke Goward, Doyle added. RDW’s accounts include Blue Cross & Blue Shield of R.I. ($1 million) and Bryant College.

Independent Clarke Goward, founded in 1977, more than fit the bill as a local agency target. Despite some recent problems—which CEO and chairman Terry Clarke said included a mix of account losses such as Bob’s Stores ($5 million in billings) in April and Papa Gino’s ($2-3 million) in July, an inability to win significant new business quickly and bad pension-plan investments—the shop has a solid reputation.

Doyle said he had tried for nearly three years to convince Clarke to arrange a deal between RDW and Clarke Goward, which, according to Clarke, had become engulfed by this “swirling storm of bad financial developments.” (The shop’s billings fell by more than half in the past year to an estimated $25 million, with revenue estimated at $2-3 million.) Doyle and Clarke said they believe the remaining clients, including Nstar and Boston Savings Bank, will follow the shop’s staffers to RDW. At press time, negotiations with the clients had just begun; client execs could not be reached.

Following the additions from iFactory and Clarke Goward, RDW projects $140 million in billings and about $17.5 million in revenue, fielding about 145 staffers in Providence, Boston and Worcester, Mass. Doyle said RDW, however, will continue to target local clients.

Can the strategy pay off?

“It is incredibly smart,” said Chris Colbert, president of Boston-based communications consultancy oneeighty and a former principal of Holland Mark, which in the late-1990s ranked among the region’s largest independents. “Buddha was right: Ego is the cause of all suffering, and it causes agencies to want to ‘play in the big leagues’—not because it is necessarily more lucrative, but because it’s cooler … to tell your mommy that you’re doing television for Coca Cola.”