When COVID-19 hit in early March, independent agency Tombras lost almost a quarter of its revenue overnight.
Less than a year later, the agency made it out of 2020 with 2% organic growth and is projecting 25% growth for 2021. Tombras has won nine out of ten new business pitches it has been in since Labor Day, with work from clients including Pernod Ricard and popular mobile game Best Fiends.
On Friday, Tombras announced it has recruited 10 new hires from across the agency and media world, including BBDO LA, Madwell, Mekanism, Preacher, Vice Media, Vox Media and Edelman, to support the growth spurt.
When the pandemic hit, clients cut spending because there was so much uncertainty, and new business “literally shut down,” said Tombras president Dooley Tombras. The agency had to furlough a “significant” number of staff, lay off a handful and cut executive pay.
“Like everyone else, we hit a brick wall in March,” he said. “We had dozens of clients come in and reduce media budgets, cancel projects, ask for temporary fee reductions.”
For Tombras, the sudden dip came after a strong 2019. The agency won 19 out of 20 new business pitches last year and grew 40% in revenue and headcount. Tombras also snagged famed chief creative officer Jeff Benjamin in 2019 and opened an office in New York.
But things began picking up again in late summer 2020, as marketers got more comfortable holding pitches over Zoom and positive news began to emerge about the vaccine.
“Everybody realized they had to get back to growth, and to do that, you have to start spending,” Tombras said. “There was huge pent-up demand.”
In a sign of marketer confidence, new business isn’t slowing down. Tombras, a 75-year-old data-driven creative agency based in Knoxville, Tennessee, is currently in six pitches and has 30 open positions to fill across every department, including strategy, media, creative, digital and PR.
The pandemic has exposed a lot of legacy practices at larger agencies as it forced marketers to think about speed, efficiency and driving ROI, Tombras said, adding that the agency recently won three clients from holding company agencies.
“Clients are looking for agencies that can optimize faster and deliver business results, and full service agencies are in a better position to do that,” he said. “They're looking for more flexibility, cost savings and access to department heads and key leaders, instead of getting stuck with junior teams.”
Talent is migrating away from the holding companies for the same reasons, Tombras said.
“They're looking to work at independent agencies and want to be in a place that's growing,” he said.
New hires include: Stefanie Gomez, senior art director, Mekanism; Kory Brocious, senior art director, BBDO LA; Garrett Mutz, ACD, Vice; Bonni Dinerstein, strategist, Madwell; Maxx Delaney, ACD, Preacher; Nick Troop, ACD, Preacher; Marissa Lopez, social media art director, Edelman; Tori Young, editor, Vox Creative; Miles Shebar, intern, Barton F. Graf; Ally Farrish, senior copywriter, BBDO LA.