Ad agency branching out with media services division

Leading Neathawk360 is Amy Baril, alongside NDP chairman Roger Neathawk and CEO Brent Morris, from left. (Photos by Jonathan Spiers)

Coming out of a restructuring period that saw its ranks nearly halved, one of the longer-running agencies in Richmond’s ad scene is regrouping with the launch of a newly branded division that its leaders describe as reflecting a shift in the industry.

NDP last week launched Neathawk360, a division focused on media planning and buying, with an emphasis on messaging tailored around consumer behavior. Agency Chairman Roger Neathawk, whose surname was selected for the division’s title, said the move follows an industry push toward consumer engagement over brand-driven marketing.

“We’ve always had a strong media department, but we’ve seen that grow and mature, and become much more consumer-oriented, as opposed to the big focus on the brand, which has been the big buzzword in our industry,” Neathawk said.

“We’re not abandoning the full-service agency model,” he said. “We’re taking advantage of a strength that we have and trying to promote that, but at the same time moving forward with what’s been our offering all along.”

CEO Brent Morris, a nine-year employee with the agency who was named chief executive in February as part of a round of layoffs, said the division represents a new focus for NDP, providing clients and potential collaborators with media services that the agency previously provided but now is packaging and presenting in a new way.

“Because our successes most recently have been in this area and through partnerships, that is going to be our focus: promoting this and looking for prospects initially that are looking for this,” he said.

Morris acknowledged the move is an adjustment of sorts in NDP’s business model, though he maintained that other services are not being neglected. While the agency is pushing media services specifically through Neathawk360, Morris said NDP still provides its other services, such as strategy, branding and public relations.

“We are very committed to all of our services and will continue to pursue agency-of-record opportunities as well as creative opportunities that have very little if anything to do with our media departments,” Morris said.

Leading Neathawk360, a 17-person division that NDP previously referred to as its consumer engagement group, is Amy Baril, executive vice president for consumer engagement. She described Neathawk360 as using consumer behavior analytics to craft messages and place media that follows and surrounds – hence the “360” in the name – a target audience throughout the course of their daily lives.

“It’s a mix of media analytics, digital marketing and design, and the true secret sauce of it is we believe in truly surrounding the consumer – understanding how we can help change behavior with them, capturing them in different times, so that we can give them the right message and move them forward for our clients,” Baril said.

Using consumer analytics and other data, Baril said the team creates a persona to plot out daily behavior, and craft ads and select placements based on activities and types of media the person encounters throughout the day.

Adjustments made

Ndp’s building at 2912 W. Leigh St. in Scott’s Addition.

The launch in essence marks a new chapter for NDP, which has undergone significant changes in the past year, primarily in the size of its staff following two large account losses.

In February, the agency laid off a number of employees, having previously made cuts to its Roanoke office staff in November. The reductions followed the loss of two agency-of-record accounts: VCU Health, which went with another agency after 12 years with NDP, and Kentucky-based Kindred Healthcare, which ended its business with the agency after the health system was acquired in 2018.

Additional employees were let go through the spring, including several high-ranking executives. Former CEO Danny Fell, who stayed on with the company after Morris was appointed to the post in February, parted ways in April, according to his LinkedIn page. He had served as CEO since 2014, when he was named to replace Neathawk in that role.

Jimmy Ashworth, the agency’s executive creative director since 2014, also parted ways in April, as did other creative staff. Ashworth, who is now doing consulting and freelance work, said last week he could not discuss the nature of his departure, citing a confidentiality agreement. Other former NDP staffers who BizSense talked to said they signed similar agreements.

Other high-level departures have included Ken Wayland, whose locally based Free Agents Marketing was acquired in late 2017. Thomas Becher, a senior VP, is now working for NDP part time, Morris said. Becher’s Roanoke-based Packett Group was absorbed in 2004 – putting the “P” in NDP along with Neathawk and fellow agency founder Susan Dubuque.

NDP’s staff count now totals 28, down from 47 when the layoffs were announced in February and 65 following the combination with Free Agents. NDP had 58 employees prior to that acquisition.

The agency’s Scott’s Addition headquarters has been downsized accordingly, making room for commercial real estate brokerage JLL to take about half of its nearly 16,000-square-foot space at 2912 W. Leigh St. The two firms share the building’s common areas and facilities.

Rebuilding year

Despite the changes, Morris said NDP maintains its offices in Roanoke and Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has a presence in Norfolk, Northern Virginia, Boston and Los Angeles.

The agency also has picked up new accounts in the past year, biggest among them Virginia Lottery, which last year named NDP as its media agency of record in a setup that includes Scott’s Addition neighbor Barber Martin Agency handling creative, Tilt Creative + Production handling branding strategy, and Alexandria-based RedPeg Marketing handling events and experiential work.

Other AOR wins include Virginia State Police, Texas-based Clear Path Home Care and GameTime, an outdoor fitness equipment design firm. Other recent new clients include The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and First Baptist Church of Ashland.

Morris pointed to the lottery account as an example of the approach they’re highlighting with Neathawk360.

“We have reacted to what our clients have needed, and this has been an area that we have had a lot of successes,” Morris said. “In other areas, we are in the process of rebuilding.”

With Neathawk360 pointing the way forward, the group said it’s optimistic for NDP’s future.

“We are in an interesting time in that we have more opportunities now than I think we had in the entire year last year,” Morris said. “Our media team specifically has tripled in size in the last few years. Obviously, we would love to see that kind of growth moving forward, so we’re hoping that this initiative will help us do that.”

“Our management team is fewer in number than it was before, but I think that’s given us an ability to make decisions quickly, and we’ve got really smart people filling those few positions,” Neathawk said. “I think we’re in a really good place right now.”

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Congrats ndp! Two great tenants sharing a cool space!