For their latest venture together, two advertising vets are partnering with the principals of a growing local advisory firm to connect businesses with a network of branding specialists, in the spirit of the so-called “gig economy.”
Kelly O’Keefe and Dennis Duffy have launched Brand Federation, a matchmaker service of sorts that helps businesses, ad agencies and other clients find consultants for particular branding and communications needs.
O’Keefe, a professor at the VCU Brandcenter, and a longtime local adman and consultant, said the venture follows a national trend of businesses breaking away from traditional ad agencies for specific project work, as well as of agencies outsourcing work for one-off projects.
“What I found over the years is that clients really don’t know who to go to to find the best talent, especially with unique specialties in a category,” O’Keefe said. “So we have brought together fully vetted and qualified people that can address branding challenges on an independent basis.”
O’Keefe said he and Duffy began talking about the concept a decade ago, around the time they last worked together at his namesake agency O’Keefe Brands. Duffy served as the agency’s CEO for two years in the late 2000s before it was acquired in 2012 by CRT, now Padilla, which was purchased this year.
O’Keefe said human resources and legal issues at that time kept the concept from gaining traction, but he said technology had caught up to the idea when they revisited it more recently.
“In the intervening years, we’ve seen the gig economy rise up to where the technology and the human resources issues have largely been worked out,” he said. “We thought the time was right to do this and bring people together in a cool way.”
O’Keefe said the network, which totals about 20 consultants across the country, consists largely of people he has worked with through the years, with branding and marketing specialties in such fields as food and beverage, hospitality and health care.
He would not identify the consultants due to employments with other companies, but said they include former agency CEOs, chief marketing officers and brand managers from companies such as Lego and Coke. Consultants are vetted with background checks and curated based on experience, O’Keefe said.
“Then we can match them to needs that they’re perfect for, which is good for the consultant, because they’re doing the work within the field that they’re strongest, and it’s great for the client, because they know they’re getting a best-of-category,” he said.
Brand Federation makes money by charging a fee on top of consultants’ own rates, which O’Keefe said are decided by each consultant based on the project and work. He did not specify Brand Federation’s fee amount.
Assisting in the startup are Keith Middleton and Rich Reinecke, cofounders of The Fahrenheit Group, a finance consulting and business advisory firm that provides comparable services in fields such as accounting, investment banking and C-suite recruiting.
Middleton and Reinecke own a minority stake in the venture, while O’Keefe and Duffy split majority stakes. The venture is housed in Fahrenheit’s recently expanded office space in Scott’s Addition’s HandCraft Building, where Fahrenheit is adding to its footprint by about 3,000 square feet.
Fahrenheit announced Monday it also is expanding to Charlottesville with the addition of Bobby Jenkins, a Charlottesville-based executive most recently with publishing company Silverchair. Jenkins will serve as a managing director with Fahrenheit.
With Middleton and Reinecke handling back-office functions and overseeing clients’ day-to-day management, O’Keefe said Brand Federation’s services also would help clients reduce time-consuming tasks that can come with gig projects, such as billing, collections, contracts and workflow management.
Reinecke said the concept made sense to him and Middleton when O’Keefe approached them about it years ago. While the two companies are separate, Reinecke said Brand Federation’s business model was similar enough to Fahrenheit’s that it made him and Middleton want to get on board as founding partners and part-owners.
“This feels a lot like the kind of business Fahrenheit is,” Reinecke said. “It became obvious that there was a lot of benefit to partnering as (O’Keefe) was going to launch this practice.
“The way the market is continuing to move in this, as he uses the term, ‘gig economy,’ companies are looking to leverage the highest and best talent they possibly can in the most efficient way possible. I think business models like Brand Federation and Fahrenheit certainly offer companies that ability,” he said.
Brand Federation joins a growing crop of matchmaking and gig-economy-styled services sprouting in the Richmond market.
Local marketing vet Peter Kaufman runs HoopleWorks, which matches businesses with Richmond-area ad and marketing firms. This year, Hannah and Jade Sullivan launched Pogo, an online platform offering commercial insurance policies for freelancers and consultants.