Five Agencies. Three Cities. One Merge.

(front, left to right) Kevin Houlihan, Kellie Bliss (back, left to right) Chris Tussing, Ron Bess

(front, left to right) Kevin Houlihan, Kellie Bliss (back, left to right) Chris Tussing, Ron Bess

Ron Bess, you would make AARP proud. I first met Bess when I joined FCB, Chicago. I knew at the time the ad vet, who was sporting a tan that could rival George Hamilton’s, was an advertising force who wouldn’t stop until buried. I was not wrong.

The 71-year-older came out of retirement two years ago to become CEO of Myelin and it was reported that he wanted to grow the agency exponentially at that time.

That has now happened.

Five agencies in three cities – Chicago, Boston and Atlanta – have come together (really like that “Come Together” remake from Gary Clark, Jr.) to form a tech and design driven agency that goes beyond traditional advertising.

The name – MERGE.

The agencies include HY Connect and Merge Design + Interactive in Chicago, Dodge Communications and Avid Design in Atlanta and Partners & Simon in Boston. The three Merge offices will be branded, Merge Chicago, Merge Boston and Merge Atlanta, each going beyond traditional digital communications to provide clients full service enterprise solutions equal to those most common among high-tech digital specialist agencies and tech consultancies.

Merge was originally created in 2003 by husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Riley and Lauren Sheehan. It was mostly a stealth operation as agencies go, quietly developing websites and mobile apps for clients such as Harley. When Bess came aboard Myelin, he immediately shook things up by acquiring The Sheehan’s shop.

Now, Merge sports more than 300 employees, a client list that includes Blue Cross Blue Shield, MB Financial Bank and Land O’Frost, and big plans.

“The name Merge reflects our belief that a collaborative business model leads to better results for our clients,” explained Bess, who is based in Chicago,” adding, “This branding is part of our continued evolution as a unified creative and media agency with a technology capability that allows us to go beyond the typical agency scope.”

Bess, who was a Big Ten Defensive back for University of Illinois, went onto explain that new agency will concentrate on five core capabilities: strategic brand planning, creative and design, digital/tech development, and contact planning across paid, earned and owned channels. According to insiders, the operation is already seeing success in its offering, having recently landed accounts and assignments from brand marketers including Marco’s Pizza and LivaNova.

Merge Atlanta President Tom Brand chimed in, “Our agency’s background in building enterprise solutions like Digital Asset Management and Digital Marketing Engine platforms in-house for clients allows us to conceive and develop digitally rooted business solutions for them as well as brand communications.”

He added, “Artists and scientists often have trouble speaking the same language. The same is true of marketing and IT people in business, who often have different priorities. We help them find common ground.”

“Our clients have access to a broader set of expertise, capabilities and services, now with the added flexibility to create purpose-built teams from a much deeper pool of talent, especially in media and technology,” Merge Boston President Andrew Pelosi explained.

Merge Chicago is said to be streamlining its own operations, with a planned move in June from three floors at 142 E. Ontario St. to an expansive single floor at the Aon Center.

And newsflash – Ron Bess ain’t retiring anytime soon.

Contact Colin Costello at or follow him on Twitter @colincostello10.