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Baldwin& founder talks of life after the AdAge Small Agency of the Year Award

David Bald­win, founder of the start­up ad shop Baldwin&, has been talk­ing about the effects of win­ning AdAge’s “Small Agency of the Year” award last year.  As any art direc­tor or account man­ag­er can tes­ti­fy, the prize is a pret­ty impres­sive acco­lade for a shop that launched in 2009 with no clients to its name.

A strong sense of self

But the same art direc­tor or account man­ag­er will want to know what made Baldwin& stand out.
Well, for one thing, this lit­tle shop from Raleigh, North Car­oli­na has a strong sense of self. Short­ly before win­ning the award, it received a call from a client offer­ing it the chance to take over part of a big tele­com account. But after a quick founders’ meet­ing, Bald­win and his team asked “Does this sound fun at all?” They decid­ed it didn’t – and walked away.

It also man­aged to strike a blow for the wider agency world. After being invit­ed to take part in a pitch by a client recent­ly, it argued that all par­tic­i­pat­ing agen­cies should be paid for the work they put into the pre­sen­ta­tions. They didn’t win the busi­ness that time – but they did get paid for their pitch and so did the oth­er agen­cies. That’s the kind of thing to glad­den the hearts of hard­work­ing art direc­tors and account man­agers across the land.

Aggres­sive ambi­tions

Qual­i­ties like that impressed the judges at AdAge last year. So did the fact that the com­pa­ny has been more than suc­cess­ful in real­iz­ing its aggres­sive goal of dou­bling in size annu­al­ly dur­ing its first five years. The shop’s rev­enue climbed by 28 per­cent between 2009 and 2010 but dou­bled between 2010 and 2011. Hold­ing uncom­pro­mis­ing prin­ci­ples isn’t bad for busi­ness.

Bald­win says that since win­ning the award, numer­ous doors have opened for the agency. But he’s still res­olute that his shop doesn’t do any­thing just for the mon­ey (“we won’t take a gig just to get paid,” he says). This often means turn­ing down pitch­es – small com­pa­nies aren’t in a posi­tion to com­pete with the big beasts when it comes to the sheer expens­es involved, and Bald­win regrets that agen­cies put up with this.

As he puts it, “We’re not going to change the rules of the indus­try overnight. But damned if we’re not going to keep try­ing.”

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