Michael Peters left the palm trees of Tampa for the skyscrapers of Manhattan and rose through the ranks of the advertising industry, handling national brands like Proctor & Gamble, Jockey and Firestone for Grey Worldwide for seven years.
After a marriage and a child, Peters outgrew his fifth-story walk-up and returned to his home town in 2001, one day before 9-11. A day later, he founded his own ad firm, Spark Branding House, now known as Spark, and even some spinoff companies, like Spark Labs, which develops new products.
His story parallels others at Spark: Under 40 people who have left Tampa, gotten big agency experience, only to return and practice their craft here.
Peters' move was not only personal. He is a fifth generation native of Tampa and graduate of Plant High School. But he also wanted to branch out professionally.
“I wanted to get more into the whole brand logo, packaging and other aspects of what we do,” Peters says.
Peters has sought to make Spark different, such as not forcing clients to pick one of the ideas the staff comes up with for an ad presentation for a client. In the past, agencies would own the presentation ideas and push clients to accept one of them for an ad campaign. Clients, with their own ideas in their heads, were expected to listen and choose one.
“We've gone against that, in favor of collaboration,” Peters says. “We're not smarter than our clients. We look at their business from the customer's point of view.
While Spark makes a recommendation to the clients on an ad, it uses the presentation as a starting point.
“We bring our clients into the creative process,” Peters says. “We want the client talking. We create that environment.”
Another differentiator for Spark is its in-house production work, which allows it to turn around video work faster for clients. It has done still photos, television commercials and online videos.
That idea was a carryover from his days working at New York agencies.
“There were amazing editing studios, lofts and great meeting areas,” Peters says. “They were young and hungry people.”
So at Spark you'll find some of that. There's a hipness to the office, including a ping pong table for the staff, teambuilding exercises, 17-foot ceilings, a warehouse-like building, flat screen televisions and staff lunches. White
Macintoshes sit on glass top desks. The video on the company Website features Peters slightly unshaved and talking about including clients in advertising decisions. There's a dry eraser board in the men's bathroom.
The biggest challenges at Spark are hiring the right people and finding the right clients, Peters says. He likes the team he has assembled at Spark and would like to possibly get a larger office space. Spark is now at Swann and Armenia avenues in Tampa.
Peters started out wanting to follow in his father's footsteps. His dad owned eight restaurants and Peters went to the University of Alabama to study business. But the emphasis on numbers turned him off, so he switched majors to advertising and saw his grades and interest soar.
When he started Spark, Peters' mother taught him how to use the Quickbooks software and worked at Spark for four years as its comptroller.
Peters has also turned into a crusader for bringing more young professionals to Tampa. Taking a page from his days in New York, he founded Design Tampa, an organization to attract young professionals. Working with the city,
Peters was trying to show outdoor movies beamed on a downtown building and helping promote and finish the Riverwalk downtown.