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Pedal to the metal

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  • | 6:28 p.m. September 21, 2016
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Paul Caldwell received an urgent call from an auto dealer in Colorado in November 2014. The dealer's advertising agency fell through on a promise to create a television spot that had to run the next day at noon. Caldwell and his business partner, Tom Kerr, called their Southwest Florida production team together into the office at 4 a.m. They produced a TV commercial for the dealer that ran that day at noon.

Work like that, creating, editing and producing a professional TV commercial in just a few hours, is virtually impossible, but it illustrates the entrepreneurial can-do spirit of the agency. “It landed us a million- dollar-a-year client,” says Caldwell, partners with Kerr in Cape Coral-based Caldwell & Kerr Advertising.

In addition to can-do, the agency follows some classic business advice: Do what you know. So much so that Caldwell & Kerr focuses solely on dealership franchises for the major automakers. It currently has more than 300 dealer groups as customers. The list includes Gulf Coast dealers such as Morgan Auto Group in Tampa and Crown Automotive Group in St. Petersburg.

The hyper-niche approach works. Caldwell & Kerr's revenues have doubled, to $8.2 million in 2015, since the partners acquired the advertising company from a previous owner three years ago. Firm officials project 2016 revenues could reach $17 million.

Caldwell and Kerr moved the company's headquarters from Fort Myers to Cape Coral in June to accommodate the rapid growth. The company employs 70 people in Cape Coral and another 30 in Denver. The Cape Coral office building it bought is 13,000 square feet, and there's another four acres if the company decides to build additional space.

Caldwell and Kerr acquired Moore & Scarry Advertising in mid-2013, a name they continue to use today. In addition to acquiring Moore & Scarry, the duo also launched two other companies in the last two years under the Caldwell & Kerr umbrella: Sparq and DyGen.

Sparq provides auto dealers with programs that help generate publicity on social media. Using an in-house made purchase-sharing application, Sparq helps car buyers post photos of their new cars on social media sites such as Facebook with credit to the auto dealership. “We saw a need in social media; no one had figured out social media selling,” says Kerr, who notes that the company won the Automotive Website Awards social media category last year.

DyGen provides auto dealers with videos they can run on YouTube. The videos target car shoppers on websites based on viewer habits.

In addit ion to its niche, Caldwell & Kerr has succeeded by capitalizing on timing the ad industry's shift from print to digital formats.

Digital advertising represents 40% of the company's business, with a mere 2% coming from print. The majority of the advertising work today remains on the small screen. “TV is still king,” says Kerr.

Caldwell & Kerr, with a nod to the industry shift, is really more of a technology company than a traditional advertising agency. Kerr, for example, estimates the company spends $4 million a year on technology staff and software. It even calls itself The Original TraDigital Agency — a tagline it trademarked.

“Half our salaries go to technology,” says Kerr.

The company works on retainer, a fee that varies on the size and demands of the client. Because of the travel and expense of creating videos and other content, it takes 90 days before the company starts making money with a client. The Denver office services clients in the western half of the country. “We have clients all the way out in Hawaii,” Caldwell says.


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