Several years ago, while working at 22squared, Cindy Haynes and James Rosene used to dream about opening their own shop. But they were young, and not ready to take on the risk.
Last summer, when Rosene brought up the idea again, Haynes knew it was the right time. “We were older and more established and ready to take on the responsibility that owning a business really requires,” she says.
At the time, Haynes was the senior vice president of marketing for Front Burner Brands, overseeing creative work for Grillsmith, Burger21 and The Melting Pot. Prior to Front Burner, Haynes was a senior vice president for Tampa's 22squared. Although he freelanced for a couple years, Rosene was previously a creative director for 22squared, building campaigns for clients that ranged from Publix to Buffalo Wild Wings. Rosene introduced Haynes to Margaret Mariani, who would become the third piece to their puzzle, a brand strategist who had worked with brands such as Audi and Polaris.
Together, they decided to start EraserFarm, an agency focused on telling brands' stories, in October 2013. The trio picked the name because they see erasers not as a symbol of a mistake, but rather as a
tool to find the best solution.
The three partners each focus on different areas. As managing director, Haynes focuses on heading up accounts from both the client and agency side. A writer by trade, Rosene is creative director, and Mariani is the firm's brand strategist, helping brands find their voice. Having a well-known lead strategist and lead creative work together on every campaign from pitch to execution is what makes the team stand out, Haynes says.
That's not to say it was easy to go from a fat paycheck to nothing, she admits. They each put in cash of their own and found ways to keep overhead to a minimum. This Christmas, Haynes, Rosene and Mariani are paying themselves their first paychecks.
The agency has taken on a lot of project work to demonstrate its worth, in hopes of eventually becoming that prospect's agency of record. This year the team is working on a project for Jeff Vinik's real estate team. “A lot of agencies are afraid to take on projects and not securing a monthly retainer,” Haynes says. “But project work helps you build trust with a client. With projects you dig in the messy dirt and you're able to make a diamond out of a piece of coal.” Because other agencies are unwilling to tread there, it helps EraserFarm build its reputation, she adds.
EraserFarm also differs from its competitors because it doesn't want to grow too big, Haynes says. Its strategy includes bringing in partners to do specific work for each campaign, rather than hiring tons of employees in-house. It's not just about keeping costs down, it's also about knowing how to leverage expertise from outside experts. “We'll never have media buying in-house,” Haynes says, “We're experts at what we know.”
It's one of the things that Haynes credits for making EraserFarm a better partner than a large agency. A lot of times companies are disappointed when the big wigs from an ad agency pitch the winning strategy, and then put a group of recent college graduates on the team to execute it, Haynes says. With EraserFarm, the big wigs, or Haynes, Rosene and Mariani, will have their hands on all projects throughout the process.
“We thank their previous businesses for what we've learned on what to do, and what not to do,” Haynes says.
It's part of the grueling process of picking up clients, Haynes says. To start, EraserFarm started with people the trio knew. The team scheduled hundreds of meetings.
“If I can sit in front of someone, I can start a relationship with them,” Haynes insists.
One of the first leads they got was from a personal injury law firm, Kinney, Fernandez & Boire. Haynes remembers thinking, “Oh gosh, another personal injury firm...yuck.” But after a long discussion with the law firm, they realized it wanted something atypical, which is why it chose EraserFarm. The firm selected EraserFarm as its agency of record and is set to release its first campaign in the first quarter.
The team is working with brands such as Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, Intrepid Powerboats and the Yankees on campaigns for 2015.
In 2015, the company also plans to continue to build and develop relationships. “You can have a bad campaign or make a mistake with an ad. If you have trust with a client, you can fix it,” Haynes says.