We’ve said it many times before. And no matter how often we say it, the truth doesn’t change. The past decade has not been kind to the Chicago advertising community.
Too many agencies have shrunk or endured a painful death. Too many pieces of business have looked for greener pastures in other markets. And too few agencies have demonstrated the kind of leadership that might have changed the fate that befell this city’s ad industry since the turn of the century.
And yet. And yet. As much as we mourn and regret what has happened over these past several years, every now and then we still come up with some lovely nuggets — some heartening success stories — that make us wish we had been more diligent about digging them out. At least as way to, in some small fashion, counterbalance all the disappointment and unpleasantness that have happened.
One of those lovely nuggets to which we refer is HY Connect/Chicago. HY Connect, you say? Yes, HY Connect. We suspect some of the trendy ad folk who work in the trenches of the Chicago ad world — the kind who work for some of the better-known shops in town — have never bothered to familiarize themselves with the city’s other shops. The ones that also employ ad folk and help make this city as robust as it can be.
We admit we haven’t paid enough attention to HY Connect/Chicago over the years. But we did stop for a moment a couple of days ago to give the shop a closer look when we learned it was about to celebrate its 10th anniversary as part of the Chicago ad industry.
Winning business in its own backyard
HY Connect Chicago sent us some enlightening background information on what has transpired there over the past decade, along with some insight into the management philosophy that has driven the success it is now apparent — to us anyway — that the shop has enjoyed in recent years.
Yes. HY Connect Chicago may never be able to claim it’s is an iconic Chicago ad agency. But heck. Who cares? It’s winning business. And not business of the shabby — we’ll take anything to grow the numbers — variety. But respectable accounts. Significant brands. HY Connect also is adding staff. And expanding its office footprint to accommodate all the growth.
One thing that has prompted all this good stuff for the little engine that could that’s called HY Connect is a smart business strategy executed by agency leader and president Dave Sheehan.
“We have understood from the beginning that if you can’t win in your own backyard, you will never get any traction outside the market,” said Sheehan.
So, savvy guy that he is, Sheehan has concentrated over the past decade on doing business in his own backyard, which has led him and HY Connect to connect with an array of locally-based clients, including the Museum of Science & Industry, Advocate Health Care, Arlington Park, Turtle Wax and Peapod.
Income doubled, staff tripled over past four years
Perhaps the biggest catch of all came earlier this year when HY Connect Chicago became the lead ad agency of Health Care Service Corp., which runs the Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance operations in Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico and altogether serves more than 13 million customers.
That’s not peanuts we’re talking about. But making things happen by adding Chicago clients has, as Sheehan hoped it would, helped the agency pull in accounts farther afield, including IU Health, the largest health care system in Indiana, and Tennessee Bank, a leading regional financial institution. Churchill Downs, Notre Dame University and Wahl also were added to the roster.
No doubt about it. Sheehan and the gang at HY Connect Chicago have put the focus on growing their business. Which over the past four years alone has resulted in a doubling of income and a tripling of the agency’s staff count, which now numbers more than 80 full-time employees. And perhaps most importantly, the Chicago shop is generating significant revenue — around $10 million annually at the moment.
It may be true that HY Connect has not pushed to make its creative profile the city’s sharpest. But it could not be generating the kind of growth it is enjoying if it were not putting out a creative product that satisfies the needs of its clients.
Agency remains staunchly independent
Aside from the smart way Sheehan has gone about growing his client roster, the agency president believes another key part of HY Connect’s decade-long success has been its decision to remain a staunchly independent agency. And we couldn’t agree more.
“While agencies that are part of holding companies have to satisfy outside shareholders, we work only to serve our clients and our employees,” explained Sheehan, adding “our profits go to keeping our people and to adding resources and capabilities that our clients want and need.”
Yea, we think Sheehan’s got it right. And his track record certainly suggests as much.
Happy 10th anniversary to you, HY Connect Chicago.
Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com.