Advertising was one of my beats when I worked at the Tampa Bay Business Journal in the mid-1990s, and it was something that I really enjoyed. Advertising people are creative and interesting, and the work they do is often clever and attention-getting — at least, it’s SUPPOSED to be. Bill Lipphardt was a successful young guy on the Tampa ad scene and I wrote about him several times. Tragically, he died in 2000 at age 47 when his Porsche crashed during the holiday season.
Ad firm expanding as billings take off
When St. Petersburg-based Sun Jet dumped its New York ad agency and went shopping for a local replacement, it eyed the top of the list — WestWayne, the Bay Area’s biggest agency, and FKQ Advertising, another big gun.
That’s why more than a few eyebrows were raised last month when the three-year-old airline passed up those two agencies in favor of Lipphardt Advertising, a smaller shop whose 1995 gross billings were only around $9 million — a figure exceeded by about a dozen other local agencies.
There may be more eyebrow-raising in the coming months: Lipphardt expects to more than triple those 1995 billings next year and said they may go even higher than that.
Admittedly, a significant chunk of that increase will come from Sun Jet, the agency’s newest client, which will probably add around $10 million to Lipphardt’s top line. But other new business, plus additional revenue from existing clients, will also weigh in, and Lipphardt is busy gearing up.
In December, the agency will move from the fifth floor to the 10th floor at its current building at 5401 W. Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. The new space, at 7,500 square feet, will almost double the agency’s current 4,500-square-foot digs, and the number of employees is expected to climb steadily from its present 30-person level.
In addition, President Bill Lipphardt is busy interviewing for three positions in the agency’s new London office, which is set to open early next year.
“It will provide services and a liaison for our client concerns overseas,” said Lipphardt, who earlier this month spent four days in England on behalf of St. Petersburg-based Danka Business Systems, a major client that has employed Lipphardt Advertising in one capacity or another for much of Lipphardt Advertising’s 11-year existence.
“More and more, we are doing a lot of multilingual work, providing materials and placing media in various international markets for Closet Maid, Danka, and a company called CCX Fiberglass Products Inc., a manufacturer of various types of wire and screen products,” Lipphardt said.
For the past year, Lipphardt has had an affiliation with a European agency that handles media buys, copy translations and some production work.
“It has worked very well so far,” said Lipphardt. “Modern technology allows you to communicate in much more efficient ways, so distance isn’t really much of a factor anymore.”
Clearly, Danka has been and continues to be Lipphardt’s flagship client, and Lipphardt Advertising’s growth has been affected by the growth of Danka.
“In the beginning, Danka really wasn’t a very big account,” Lipphardt said. “We’ve managed to grow with them. In 1995, their billings were around $5 million.”
The relationship between Lipphardt and Danka didn’t scare off Sun Jet.
“We didn’t necessarily want to be (an agency’s) biggest client, but we did want to be one of the biggest,” said David Banmiller, Sun Jet’s president and CEO. “We wanted a full-service agency because we felt there might be some public relations requirements.
“I also feel the chemistry was good. Bill Lipphardt is a very aggressive and creative guy who understands the business and is willing to work hard.”
While still in his 20s, Lipphardt was doing well at a large Tampa agency, Pearson Clarke and Sawyer. He gave up his position as vice president and creative director to start his own shop in 1985, at the age of 30.
The first agency had just 600 square feet and a handful of clients, including the Bradenton Herald newspaper and Rossignol Development Corp., a land developer with operations in Vermont, the Carolinas and several other states.
The first major client was Briggs Plumbing Products, the third largest plumbing supply manufacturer in the United States. Briggs stayed with Lipphardt for about 10 years before moving on.
Briggs and Danka aren’t the only long-term clients around the agency, and Lipphardt seems to have a talent for keeping clients happy over the long term.
“I think it’s important to invest in the client long-term. Our commitment is to help them grow and become successful. When that happens, we grow and become successful. In the same fashion, it’s important also to develop good internal relationships with employees and vendors. I think business in general has lost a certain amount of loyalty between management and employees. I think it’s very important to ongoing success to minimize turnover.”
Lipphardt said the agency pursues new business through an internal new business team, made up of Lipphardt and the agency people who head such divisions as public relations, creative, media and account servicing. At this point in the agency’s life, however, most new business comes via referrals.
“We are going to continue to pursue a large regional, national and international clientele,” Lipphardt said. “I would say the lion’s share of what we do is business-to-business.”
According to Lipphardt, the agency’s growth and success don’t really come from good service, good creative or even a good reputation. They come from somewhere else.
“The truth is, we’ve been pretty blessed,” he said. “I think we’ve been blessed with good clients and good employees. I’m pretty strong in my faith. I believe that God is an important part of my life, and I think (faith) has contributed greatly to my management style and my outlook.
“I’m a believer that you reap what you sow.”