When I was asked to write this piece and give my perspective on the regional business environment I was immediately whisked back to an evening in the early Fall of 2014. My future business partners and I were eating burritos from El Diablo and having an important conversation that boiled down to “Are we really going to do this and create a new agency?” There were many things considered, many pros and cons already discussed, when a very specific question was put on the table. “Do we need to be in Philadelphia?” asked one of my partners.
The question was born from my partners’10+ year run in Wilmington, DE and the question of whether we could build on their success to create a competitive agency in the shadows of Philadelphia. The underlying question was around scale; was there enough client work and enough advertising talent to make our home base in Wilmington? And after spending my entire career in Philadelphia until that point I gave the only answer I could, which was, “I don’t know. I don’t think we need to be in Philly but honestly…I don’t know this market well enough to say that for sure.”
Four years later and I can confidently say Wilmington is the right home for us. Our client list is full of national brands, our talent pools both full time and contract is beyond solid, and our brand has been able to grow. And we aren’t alone – other agencies and start-ups are doing the same all around the city. Make a visit to Wilmington and you can’t avoid the construction crews building new commercial and residential buildings throughout the area. Visit some of the work spaces like The Mill and you’ll find burgeoning design, fintech and other start ups helping drive the local economy. Local employers like JPMorgan Chase and Incyte can’t seem to hire people fast enough, and are certainly spending money on marketing and advertising services at a healthy rate.
Based on what I know about Philly, the same is happening just up 95 from us. Agencies like Evoke and Seer are growing and evolving rapidly, and more tenured shops seem to be doing fine as well. A lot of the client business is from within the region, but a lot of it is from outside the area, too. Agencies are hiring, marketing dollars are being invested, and organizations like Comcast are literally changing the skyline with their continued investment in the city.
As I’m writing this, hard data back up my observations. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report from October 2018, non-farm employment was up 1.7% over the year, putting the Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan on pace with the national average. Dig into that a bit deeper and some areas that are most indicative of marketing investment and the story is even better – education and health services up 3.2% (vs. the national average of 2.1%), professional and business services up 3% (vs. 2.6%) and leisure and hospitality up 2.5% (vs. 1.6%). If you ask around town – whether in DE or PA – you tend to hear about shop and employers trying to find people, rather than those that have experienced some downturns due to business climate.
So in all, the business environment is solid, though of course there is always risk in the business world and we may be coming towards a bubble. For the companies based in our area, especially financial services and healthcare, there is the continuing need to stay ahead of customer expectations and continue to innovate both in terms of product offerings and experiences. Not doing so is something they do at their own risk of ceding ground to competitors and disappointing consumers. For agencies there is the continued scrum for big accounts…even with healthy spends it seems the RFP and multiple agency responses are alive and well. There is the burgeoning trend of large organizations building out internal agency teams to keep some of the bread-and-butter work in house (a major topic of conversation at the ANA meeting in October). Last but not least is the fact that there are more people working in the advertising business nationally than there have been for many years, putting more people at risk if there is a downturn.
But all that said, I continue to be bullish on the regional business environment and primarily for this reason: when I started in this business many “self-respecting” companies wouldn’t work with a shop in Philly and felt they needed to be in New York instead. That is no longer the case; clients are looking for smart, innovative and nimble thinkers wherever they are, and I believe we have that in spades. Here’s hoping your 2019 is a reflection of my bullishness.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of Philly Ad News.