GYK Antler, an agency headquartered in Manchester, New Hampshire spent 2020, a year in which many businesses understandably struggled, racked up nine new accounts and a 23% increase in revenue. By all accounts, it was the agency's best ever year, backed up with 25 new hires and zero layoffs.
LBB's Addison Capper chatted with the agency to find out how their pre-pandemic activities stood them in good stead, how being based outside Boston influences them as a business, and their plans for a future of 'hybrid working'.
LBB> You spent 2020 winning new business and hiring staff! Round up the last year?
GYK Antler> In one sentence: 2020 was GYK Antler’s best performing year in company history. We closed out the year with nine new client wins, 23% revenue growth and the addition of 25 new members to the team. GYK added client accounts across the consumer-packaged goods, financial services, toys and games, health care and grooming categories, including brands like Sallie Mae, Ocean Spray Craisins, Manscaped, brekki, Little Leaf Farms and others.
Much of this success can be accredited to the foundation for growth we built in 2019. Our diversification strategy allowed for company stability when the pandemic hit and impacted a few clients in hard-hit categories within our portfolio. Following the additions of Pam Hamlin as president and Mark Battista as managing director in 2019, GYK also evolved its business model and doubled down on a refined strategic focus — integrating strategy, creative and media teams to create ownable, actionable and innovative ideas to help ignite our clients’ brands and fuel business growth. We’d already begun to see some incredible momentum in early 2020 due to these shifts, and when Covid-19 hit, we didn’t pull back on the reins — we were confident in our strategic plan and team. We didn’t shy away from new business opportunities, we just had to pitch a bit differently. Ultimately, we didn’t miss a beat.
LBB> What have you been winning and what has the experience been like?
GYK Antler> The experience has been fun — because at the end of the day, it’s always fun to win!
When it comes to pitching new business virtually, like everyone else, we naturally had to make some initial adjustments. But ultimately, where our creative collaboration happens has never been the problem, because for us it’s always been about substance over sizzle. We learned quickly that concepting and then selling creative platforms over Zoom means the ideas need to be tighter and higher quality than ever before. The expensive window dressings and pitch theater have all been stripped away and we’ve gotten back to the basics of what matters — which is building brands and businesses. And substance over sizzle worked well — winning us clients across the consumer-packaged goods, financial services, toys and games health care and grooming categories.
LBB> How many of these pitches have been guided by / a reaction to Covid? And how has that informed your approach to them?
GYK Antler> None of the pitches we participated in in 2020 were a result of Covid-19 — they were pitches that were going to happen, regardless of Covid-19, with clients that were looking to launch new products or bring on a new agency partner. All these clients believe in the strategic value of marketing and creativity, and the pitches we participated in were led by CMOs who were bold enough to say, despite everything going on around us, they still believe in the power of creativity and its ability to move their business forward.
That said, the pitches we’re beginning to encounter in 2021 do seem to partly be a result of some client-agency partnerships that couldn’t hit their stride in 2020 amid a challenging environment. For us, continuing our momentum means capitalising on some of those opportunities.
LBB> What have you learned from the experience that you will take into the post-Covid pitching process? And what can't you wait to leave behind?
GYK Antler> We learned that doing a pitch physically apart is not only possible but can be done efficiently and effectively — something the industry historically never thought could be done. It was about learning how to collaborate in this virtual world and ensuring we get to the insight, strategy and ideas while not sitting in the same room. To maximise collaboration, we did daily stand-ups with key pitch team leaders who could then disseminate information to the working teams. This allowed us to make decisions quickly without inhibiting flow of work. We also found virtual whiteboarding critical, especially during larger brainstorms to make collaboration seamless. Ultimately, since time together was precious, accountability was key — whether that meant preparing in solo or using Zoom to practice with team members. Each person was responsible for delivering their part so that when we had an hour together it was about enhancing, elevating and fine-tuning.
That said, there’s really no substitute for getting all the ideas up on a wall and workshopping creative with the team. So while we’ve seen great success, we’re excited to leave behind the formality of Zoom life and having to schedule every single interaction. We’re longing for the return of spontaneity — the incredible spur-of-the-moment collaboration and ideations that happen in the hallway or while eating lunch together or over a glass of wine that can’t be replicated on Zoom. We imagine that some pitch meetings, particularly the earlier stage discussions, may continue to happen virtually, but we still believe relationship building is an important part of new business and that in-person collaboration provides optimal results. That’s why GYK will be implementing a hybrid work approach when it’s safe for everyone to return to work, because we know there are benefits of both working remotely and in-person.
LBB> Some of your hires were at a senior level, as well as others to bolster up teams. Why was it important to scale up across the board?
GYK Antler> Going into 2020, we wanted to begin elevating our profile in the industry — we knew we were building something special at GYK but we weren’t really on the radar yet. As we began to fuel company momentum, we doubled down on our investment in talent to level-up our clients’, company’s and creative ventures’ brands. Mike Gatti was elevated to the role of executive creative director in the beginning of the year, overseeing the company’s creative vision and product, growing his department with seven new hires, including creative directors Cristin Barth and John Mathieu. Nicholle Fagan joined the company as group account director to lead account services across a number of new clients and oversee the growing department. David Bohl was named senior strategist to grow GYK’s strategy practice in partnership with director Mike Giovinelli. Erin Regan was named chief growth officer to lead GYK’s new business efforts and prospecting strategy. Ginger Ludwig established stakeholder communications and external marketing and PR efforts as the company’s first head of marketing & communications. Tina Yanuszewski was also elevated to lead talent acquisition, retention and culture efforts as GYK’s head of talent & culture.
LBB> Tell me about the 3-2-1 Hybrid Work Approach. What inspired it? And how has it helped you in your success during the last year?
GYK Antler> GYK’s 3-2-1 Hybrid Work Approach https://gykantler.com/you-do-not-need-to-be-in-the-office-5-days-a-week/ enables employees to work three days in the office (Tuesdays through Thursdays), two days remotely (Mondays and Fridays) and will be implemented in the spirit of #OneGYKAntler to foster a truly creative, unified culture. It was inspired by our mission to build a more modern, connected and creatively-minded culture — so once the pandemic hit, and we saw firsthand the benefits and challenges of working remotely, it was important for us to create an innovative new philosophy for the post-Covid-19 world that was a balance of the two. As a result of this effort and more, the company was named the ‘Coolest Company for Young Professionals’ by StayWorkPlay New Hampshire in 2020, furthering GYK’s goal to be the go-to creative agency in New Hampshire and a top choice for talent in the New England area.
LBB> You're based in Manchester, New Hampshire - I wondered how that impacts your new business ventures these days, if at all? And how does that impact your hiring process too?
GYK Antler> Our New Hampshire roots are part of the fabric of GYK’s DNA — it inspires our company ethos of ‘Create Free or Die’ (playing off the Granite State’s motto ‘Live Free or Die’) and aligns well with GYK’s independent spirit.
While being headquartered in New Hampshire helps define our mindset and company culture, it doesn’t impact our new business ventures or hiring process because of the fact we also have a rapidly growing footprint in Boston. Our Boston office provides a centralised city location many of our clients desire and it gives our employees the flexibility to choose where they wish to live and work, based on what’s most convenient or beneficial for them. We do, however, reinforce our New Hampshire heritage and unified creative culture of #OneGYKAntler by bringing all employees together every Tuesday in our New Hampshire HQ, and will continue to do so when we implement our 3-2-1 Hybrid Work Approach this year.
LBB> 12 months into Covid, what are your plans/ambitions for the coming 12 months?
GYK Antler> Our plan for the next 12 months is more of the same — keep this momentum going by elevating the quality of work, adding new clients, doing great work for existing clients and expanding the group of talented people who make up our team.