By: Melanie Spring, Contributor, Entrepreneur and Chief Inspiration Officer of Sisarina (Entrepreneur.com, 6/17/14)
Being a little fish in a big pond is scary, as it takes patience, perseverance and ambition to make any sort of impact. Impact is something The Mars Agency has in spades.
Launched in 1973 by Marilyn Barnett, Mars Advertising (initial name) stepped into the retailer advertising scene as a little fish. Her son, Ken, joined the firm just a few years later knowing full well they needed to find their niche in the saturated market. They knew they had to do something to stand out, and while retailers were their clients, they made a bold move to also involve consumers and manufacturers to carve out a spot in “shopper marketing,” a strategy of studying consumers’ behaviors as shoppers in various formats.
As the world changed, shopper marketing evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry. And that transition was great for Mars Advertising. While the Detroit-based company used to get the leftovers, they were now one of the leaders globally. They built offices near every major retailer and wrote marketing strategies unique to each brand — a move that helped them stand out among their competitors.
But after being in business for 40 years, Mars Advertising realized even with all the success, it was time to rebrand. The company knew they weren’t all about advertising but instead, a way of thinking. As they recast their vision and approach, they changed Mars Advertising to The Mars Agency but that’s not where it ended.
Their new tagline, “Create. Impact.” isn’t just smoke and mirrors: It’s a lifetime mission. “Everything happens incrementally, says global CEO Ken Barnett.”We create impact in everything we do in our company, with our clients and in the community.”
During rebranding, they knew they had to make sure every aspect of the company and its focus fit the new brand.
Here are the five areas they focused on.
1. Give back to your community AND your team. The Mars Agency gives back to their employees personally and professionally while also being focused on community growth. Their employees, also known as “Martians,” run programs like “Start Small,” a social-responsibility program. With Start Small, Martians run donation drives for non-profits like the local fire departments and the company matches donations. The company even gave five employees a month off to volunteer for their own charity projects. On top of it all, The Mars Agency promotes ad-hoc random acts of kindness as part of their culture.
2. Know where your spirit comes from and feed it. In 2004, the company had a fire that destroyed everything but its finances and spirit. During the rebranding, The Mars Agency celebrated 10 years of growth post-fire with a focus on the spirit of the agency. Setting up a monthly company town hall via video, they honor individual and team successes throughout the company, along with bringing in speakers like the AOL Futurist to educate teams. They want everyone to stay connected, regardless of where they’re located. They’ve even started “Life on Mars,” a fund that can go to Tiger’s games, ice cream socials and hot dog days to keep everyone excited.
3. Create a way for employees to bridge the generation gaps. “Educated employees are motivated employees,” says Rob Rivenburgh, partner and COO. With many companies seeing millennials as a problem, The Mars Agency has bucked the system and set up “Operation Digital” where the younger Martians can pull in the older team members for training and development on new technology. They also have a full-time training manager and mentorship programs for seasoned employees to work with newer ones.
4. Know your values and live them. With its core values focused around collaboration, craftsmanship, commitment, innovation, intelligence and curiosity, The Mars Agency keeps asking itself if there is a way to make the company even greater. They’re always on the lookout for the opportunities to invest in new technology to bring it to market. “We are very critical of ourselves. We’re proud but there’s always a need for change,” says Barnett.
5. Set goals and inspire growth. The spirit of The Mars Agency is what helped it get past the fire. Being an independent company, they don’t have a board of directors making their decisions, which allows them to feel like a family, stay agile and inspire an entrepreneurial spirit within their teams. Their goals are big but so is their growth. “We will always park ourselves at the intersection of two rivers — between the seller and the marketplace,” says Barnett. “As we expand our portfolio, we will maintain our independence and keep educating our clients.”