For Method, It’s Not Madness That Led To Shop’s Success

Mark Hillman, a principal at Method Integrated Marketing, took a call two weeks ago from a woman with the D&AD show. She asked if anyone at the shop would be attending the awards ceremony in London the following day.

“It’s a long way to go,” Hillman told her from his Columbus, Ohio, office, a converted car-dealership garage on a downtown strip that only recently has seen gentrification. “I think it’d be really keen if somebody came,” she replied.

Hillman took the hint and was on a plane the next morning. That night, he had his picture taken on a London stage with an English comedian dressed in drag as he accepted a yellow Pencil (representing a silver award) in the public-service-radio category.

U.S. shops brought back just six D&AD awards this year. Method’s entry, a pro bono spot promoting the local chapter of gay-advocacy group Stonewall, was an effort to get noticed by a shop that for most of its existence has concentrated on design, not advertising.

“It was a huge creative opportunity,” Hillman said. “They want controversy; they can’t get enough controversy.”

The spot, “The Gay Son,” was also translated to TV. In the ad, a man confronts his parents with the news that he is gay. “Yes!” exclaims the father. His mother says, “My sister’s going to be so jealous.” Finding out his son’s partner is waiting outside, the dad opens the door and yells, “Get your gay ass in here, Ted!” The reactions are tempered by the copy, “Until the world is a little more like this, we’re here.”

“It was very funny and well-produced—it kind of catches you off-guard,” said DDB Chicago svp, group creative director John Immesoete, a judge in the category. As for Method, Immesoete said, “I never heard of them.”

He’s not alone. Until three years ago, Method was a design shop called Bethge Ltd. Principal Beverly Bethge, now 39, founded the company in 1987 shortly after finishing her studies at Columbus College of Art and Design. By 2001, the shop was working for a number of local clients, including Limited Brands, but with the economy still going strong, Bethge decided to extend the agency’s capabilities further into brand strategy and advertising.

Her first step was to move her shop, then employing about 20 staffers, into the 11,000-square-foot former auto-dealership repair bay. The interior was redecorated in an industrial-chic style (“concrete floors, metal walls, but very warm,” Bethge said). Then she invited freelancers to lease space.

“We needed a space that said, ‘Wow, you’re doing serious work,’ ” Bethge said.

Bethge had known Hillman via the local ad community for several years and asked him to work on some projects and see what he thought, hoping he’d notice “that we took an advertising/marketing angle on things.” Hillman, 35, had been a cd at Resource Marketing and, after Resource merged with HMS Partners to form Ten Worldwide, at Ten United in Columbus. That union collapsed in September 2002, and Hillman joined Method last June.

“It is a design group—that to me is really interesting,” Hillman said. “Art direction in secondary markets [like Columbus] often isn’t as strong.” That made Method seem like a solid opportunity at a time when most local shops were floundering, he said.

“Without a doubt, Mark Hillman is the most talented ad person in the market, if not the state,” said Nancy Kramer, CEO of Resource Interactive, which she bought back in December after the failed merger with Ten.

The third principal is Bill Faust, who arrived in April 2002 to oversee strategy after 12 years with branding consultancy Fitch in Powell, Ohio. Faust, 42, said he brought strategic acumen and his Rolodex, and has helped Method add financial clients such as First Merit Bank.

The 25-person shop continues to work for Limited brands, including American Eagle Outfitters. Other clients include Huffy Sports and Ohio Health. While its work remains weighted toward collateral and brand-strategy consulting, Method is landing more ad accounts, recently winning PSA work for Ohio State University. Bethge pegged revenue last year at about $5 million, up 20 percent from 2002.

The Stonewall radio spot also won Best of Show at the Columbus Addys, was short-listed at the Clios and made the finals of the Radio-Mercury awards. “You do great work, and sometimes you get recognized for it,” Bethge said.