Media firm buys into Richmond with downtown office

Jennifer Carter Sowers, formerly with Lamar, is leading Wilkins Media's local office in the downtown SunTrust Center. (Jonathan Spiers)

Jennifer Carter Sowers, formerly with Lamar, is leading Wilkins Media’s local office in the downtown SunTrust Center. (Jonathan Spiers)

With the addition of an established local billboard saleswoman, a national media company with a niche in out-of-home advertising is establishing a Mid-Atlantic presence with an outpost in Richmond.

New York-based Wilkins Media has leased an office in the downtown SunTrust Center, adding to locations in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Hartford, Connecticut.

The local office is led by Jennifer Carter Sowers, who joined Wilkins in January after 13 years with national outdoor advertising company Lamar.

Where Lamar focuses on billboards, Wilkins covers all forms of out-of-home advertising, ranging from ads on ATMs to coffee sleeves to door hangers. Wilkins mainly works with ad agencies, connecting them with media-buying firms and other clients with vendors in various markets that can fulfill those requests.

A VCU grad, Sowers noted the rise of new media such as digital streaming services and other technologies that she said are expanding the out-of-home advertising market – and making it more challenging to reach specific audiences.

“With the fragmentation of TV, radio – with Pandora, Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music; millennials especially streaming things on their Kindles with Roku and Apple TV and Amazon; people watching YouTube and Netflix – reaching consumers has become hard, and people’s attention spans are shorter, so out-of-home has grown exponentially,” she said.

Wilkins buys $110 million of out-of-home ad space per year from a network of more than 3,100 vendors in 50 states and 18 countries, Sowers said. Vendors include Lamar, which Sowers represented locally while working with ad firms such as Barber Martin Agency, Lewis Media Partners, The Martin Agency and ndp.

Sowers – whose book of business at Lamar totaled $4 million last year, working with clients such as Elephant Insurance, Diamonds Direct, Schwarzschild Jewelers and Kroger – said she aims to bring some of those relationships to Wilkins. She said Wilkins selected Richmond to establish an office specifically because of its advertising community.

Sowers said the local office would add more people over time and space as needed, likely within the SunTrust building. She said Wilkins signed a one-year lease for an office on a floor that includes financial advisors, staffing firms, consulting firms and other companies with smaller office needs. Ad firm H&L Partners had a space on the floor before opening an office in Shockoe Bottom last year.

Wilkins’s staff totals 52 people divvied among nine offices. Sowers said the company is different from out-of-home competitors such as Billups, OOH Pitch and Grandesign for its performance-based fee model, which she said is negotiated with clients without commissions or contracts. She said negotiated fees typically average out to about 7 percent.

“We work for free in hopes we can negotiate further,” Sowers said, adding that employees are paid through salaries and bonuses but declining to go into details. “We’re in it to build relationships with our agencies.”

Wilkins adds to other national media firms moving into the Richmond market. In addition to H&L Partners, Kansas-based GlynnDevins last year acquired SB&A Integrated Marketing and its research arm, Brooks Adams Research.

POSTED IN Media/Marketing/Advertising, News, Top News

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2 Comments on "Media firm buys into Richmond with downtown office"

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Margaret Thompson

I’m so happy for you, Jennifer! Wilkins chose very wisely in you and #RVA!

steve southern

Jen, you rock Wilkins is lucky to have you!