Martin S.F. Weathers the Storm

Last spring, when the Bay Area was flush with dot-com clients, agencies from far and wide were renting office space here. It wasn’t long, of course, before many of them found themselves without much work to do.

The Martin Agency, based in Richmond, Va., has managed to largely sidestep those troubles, however. The shop opened a West Coast office shortly before the e-commerce collapse, but had been planning to head west for some time—something agency brass say is the major reason the office is still thriving.

“When I moved here, it felt like the Gold Rush,” said Alda Abbracciamento, partner and managing director of Martin in San Francisco. “Now there’s no electricity and dot-coms [are] going out of business. But I still feel we’ll have the opportunity to build a real business.

“If we had come a year before,” she added, “I’d have to realize the dream in an environment where everyone is looking to do things in the short term.”

Abbracciamento said the office has kept it together with help from Virginia headquarters. The sagging economy has also meant a strong talent pool of job candidates. “From the minute we got here, we had a lot of Schwab business,” Abbracciamento said. “In a few months we had to deal with how we could manage a big piece of business, build an infrastructure and recruit.”

Agency president and creative director Mike Hughes said a San Francisco facility was part of the agency’s plans long before the millennium arrived. He also said a more sober economy is a better environment in which to build an extension of the shop.

“The long-term goal is to expand countrywide,” Hughes said. “Richmond is a part of who we are, but I want people to think of us as larger.”

The grand plans and early success, however, have not come without some trepidation.

“It was almost as if there was a halt,” Abbracciamento said of the tech downturn. ” I can’t say anyone could predict what would happen to the market. But we didn’t open just for dot-coms.” CHRIS CASABURI