To those on the outside, it might seem like the Minnesota Twins made Periscope. But the high-profile relationship between the Twins and its ad agency is the fin, not the whole shark.
With $260 million in annual billing and 240 employees, Periscope is the largest independent agency in the Midwest. Periscope has been around since 1994, although some clients have been with the agency for more than 20 years as legacy clients of Periscope's forerunners. The agency's 26 clients come in many industries-Gold 'N Plump and TCF Bank are on the roster-and many sizes-UnitedHealth Group and BeneVia are too.
The agency's success rests on three pillars: vertical integration, talent management and dedicated business development.
Greg Kurowski, president and CEO, came to Periscope in 1999 with big ideas about vertical integration-just as everyone was saying it didn't work. "Ford had just divested AC Delco, and I thought, 'Oh, boy, am I in trouble here?'" says Kurowski, whose affable manner and slight resemblance to Woody Allen-at least in glasses-set him apart from the usual stereotype of the slick advertising executive.
But Kurowski stuck to his theory that offering more services to clients would let Periscope provide better service and generate more business. So rather than job out some of the services, like other agencies do, Periscope offers them in-house: prepress, research, packaging, even photography. The agency's 40,000-square-foot building on Washington Avenue near downtown Minneapolis has a 4,000-square-foot photography studio and three full-time photographers.
That kind of one-stop-shop thinking doesn't hold at many advertising agencies, and that's just one of the many reasons why Kurowski wouldn't dream of making Periscope part of a larger agency. "We couldn't do what we do if we weren't independent," he says.
As a result of that integration, Periscope grows its business every year, not just by appealing to new clients, but by adding services to existing contracts. "The Twins relationship is a good example of that," Kurowski says. "We started out just doing their TV ads, but now we do much more: tickets, fliers, even the design on the foul pole."
Finding and keeping good employees is another pillar, and Periscope works-and plays-at that. Much has been written already about the agency's policy of allowing dogs to come to work, and Periscope also has a gym in its basement, as complete as any [small] Bally's. Also, a yoga instructor from nearby CorePower runs yoga classes at a substantially reduced cost for interested employees.
But the agency tries to offer meaningful work, such as the pro bono or reduced rate work they do for nonprofits, as well. Finnegans Beer is one such nonprofit; the company gives all profits to charity, and there are enough beer drinkers at Periscope that the work they did for Finnegans was a joy rather than a labor.
The company's vaunted Fun Committee takes its job seriously, and plans parties and contests and other distractions so employees can let their hair down together. CFO Virginia Hines wouldn't disclose the committee's actual budget, but described it as "in the six figures." And it shows; Kym Ohna is one of the agency's art directors, and she admits that there was an infamous summer when the agency actually got partied out. "There were so many events that we had to take a break and let everybody recover," she says.
Lori Sharbono is a big part of Periscope's third pillar: her whole job is to drum up new business. Many agencies put that responsibility on account directors, and at many agencies it works. But Sharbono, vice president and director of business development for Periscope, thinks account directors should be able to focus on doing the business, not finding it.
Sharbono mines Periscope's book of business for case studies and testimonials that show prospective clients what the agency can do and how well it can do it. "There's no better business development tool than the clients we already have," she says.
But that's not the only avenue for new income, and the moment Sharbono started at Periscope (about the same time as Kurowski), she started pursuing a wide one: search consultants. These firms conduct searches for ad agencies on behalf of companies, and Sharbono estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Periscope's annual business now comes from this source.
"Not all agencies have one person for business development, but it's really important that Greg sees the need for it," Sharbono says. "And they make it easy for me to sell this place. I think there are people who have a harder time in business development because they don't believe in what they're selling, but I do."