Two by Four expands into smaller ad markets

He may not be Chicago’s glitziest advertising executive.  And certainly not its most egomaniacal.  But like the little engine that could, president and executive creative director David Stevenson gets the job done at Two by Four/Chicago, one of Chicago’s more enterprising — yes, even visionary — mid-sized ad agencies.

Headquartered at 10 N. Dearborn in the Loop in an architecturally-distinctive space replete with impressive rotunda, Two by Four has managed to stay afloat and even thrive during what has been an extraordinarily difficult decade for many Chicago ad agencies.

Under Stevenson’s firm and unshowy leadership, Two by Four has built up a roster of solid clients over the years.  Among its most high-profile accounts are Grainger, Wrangler western wear, the Bridgestone tire company and perhaps the city’s most popular professional sports franchise, the Chicago Bears.

In fact, Two by Four already is hard at work on a new 2012 campaign for the Bears’ upcoming season that will, naturally, show off the team’s new uniforms, now made by Nike instead of Reebok.

“We just did some photography last week,” said Stevenson in an interview on Friday, as he was winding up a week of post-Memorial Day vacation.

Larger agency vision begins with Chattanooga office

David Stevenson, Two by Four president/ECDWith his Chicago ad shop on a relatively smooth track, Stevenson hasn’t been content just to sit on his laurels and let the local agency he built from the ground up suffice for a career’s work.  

Not at all. Now like any really good executive, Stevenson is in the early stages of implementing a larger vision for a Two by Four agency network.

That effort began with the soft opening last fall of a Two by Four office in Chattanooga, Tenn., a mid-sized southern city that is slowly coming into its own as a quite pleasant place to live and a welcoming location in which to start and grow a business.  “They’ve done a great job of revitalizing the downtown and the city is even fiber-optic wired,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson knows more than most people necessarily would about Chattanooga and its potential because he went to college at Tennessee Temple University.  His stay at that Baptist-affiliated institution of higher learning in Chattanooga would last only a year, however, because Stevenson realized quickly enough “that wasn’t the right place for me.”

Still, an interest in Chattanooga was sown at that tender age.  So when Stevenson heard years later that a group of advertising executives there were looking to bail out of an ad agency after the boss made something of a public spectacle of himself (and not in a good way), he took action, and Two by Four/Chattanooga was born.

Several clients from that other ad agency soon followed the executives out the door, and Two by Four Chattanooga was fully in business.  The new shop celebrated its grand opening in April.

Chattanooga part of a planned agency network

Building houses Two by Four’s Chattanooga home As one who has always appreciated an interesting office space to work out of, Stevenson made sure this was the case in Chattanooga too. He opened his first Tennessee outpost in a funky, renovated space in a building near Chattanooga’s old rail yard. “It’s fun and a great place to come to work,” he explained.

After a few months overseeing two far-flung offices, Stevenson also has discovered it’s not so difficult.  “Modern technology has helped a lot,” noted Stevenson, who is an avid user of Skype to stay in touch many times a day with his Chattanooga employees.

But Chattanooga is just the first part of the game plan Stevenson now envisions.  As the cost of running a business in Chicago and Illinois continues to escalate ominously, Stevenson has — much to his delight — learned the value of doing business in states such as Tennessee, where expenses aren’t nearly so daunting.

So he has begun to lay out plans for a network of Two by Four offices in other mid-sized markets nationwide where he sees potential.  Nashville, Tenn.; Oklahoma City, Okla., and Denver, Colo. are of great interest to him, and the cities he would likely add to his budding network first, he said.

Of course no ad agency can grow without good leadership, and Stevenson said Two by Four has reached the point in its evolution where he is ready to step aside and bring in someone else to handle day-to-day management while he focuses on more long-term planning for a Two by Four network. 

He isn’t, however, likely to cede creative control of the agency just yet.

Stevenson still working for a stronger local ad community

Chattanooga office entranceFor all the attention Stevenson has focused on a long-term vision for Two by Four in recent months, he hasn’t neglected his interest in helping to establish a real advertising community in Chicago, the lack of which he has long lamented. 

It was Stevenson, after all, who took the reins and, with a core group of helpers, produced an admirable local creative awards show in the dark days after the ambitious, but poorly-managed Chicago Creative Club Awards event collapsed several years ago.

Now Stevenson, along with Tom O’Keefe from DraftFCB and Vinny Warren from the Escape Pod, are pulling together a speakers series that would bring important ad folk to Chicago for events that, once again, would help develop community and generate discussion about important topics. 

“We hope to start the series in July,” said Stevenson.

Contact Lewis Lazare at LewisL3@aol.com

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