How to Win Ad Age’s Small Agency Award – Twice [Interview]

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Pollinate is an integrated "advertising" agency in Portland, Oregon. It's noteworthy for having won the Advertising Age Northwest Small Agency of the Year award -- not once, but twice -- since its founding in 2008. 

The agency employs 41 people and boasts a client list that includes Wilson Sporting Goods, Danner, the Oregon Lottery, and Sur La Table.

I spoke with Ben Waldron, co-owner (along with Levi Patterson) of Pollinate. He comes to marketing communications with an engineering background -- a good thing in 2015.

This interview digs into the rationale for entering awards and the benefits of winning for growing agencies.

Pollinate won Advertising Age’s Northwest Small Agency Award in 2013 and 2015 -- Wow, Twice ... Why do you think you won? Does Pollinate have a secret sauce?

Waldron: I believe that we won for completely different reasons between 2013 and 2015. In 2013, we were a dark horse entry where we were recognized for having a great portfolio of clients like Wilson Sporting Goods, Sur La Table, and Danner that we supported with quality creative and digital work. In 2015, we came in with strong positioning about how Pollinate helps clients create Brand Fanatics. The best example of this is in the Made to Order Customization platform that we created that allows users to co-create products with their favorite brands. 

A lot of agencies are "digital." Tell me more about why Made to Order Customization helped you stand out.

Waldron: How could it not? Every brand is looking to offer some level of customization or personalization, but it is about as complex a problem as it gets. Made To Order is a digital system that solves the nuts and bolts problems of connecting all of the services (customization options, visualization, ecommerce, and manufacturing). The other piece, and just as important, is how to offer a customization platform to the public that is true to the brand and not a one-size-fits-all formula. That is where Pollinate’s brand, UX, and creative talents come in to provide a unique experience. It our belief that custom product experience should be custom to the brand.

Is entering award competitions a part of your business development strategy?

Waldron: Business development is part of it as a national award like one from Ad Age adds third-party validation and credibility. We like entering awards that recognize the breadth of work that we do and not one specific part. This allows the entire agency to share and feel like they earned the award.

What have the awards achieved for the agency? Have you gotten incoming client interest? 

Waldron: As a young agency in 2013, we were a bit surprised by the amount of leads we saw when we received the award. We had leads trickling in week by week, but we never had a volume of leads come in at a rush. We ended up signing four new clients we directly attribute to the award in 2013. It is too early to tell for 2015, but we definitely have had a lot of interest.

Is it your sense that awards are very important to client decision-making?

Waldron: We believe that potential clients look to awards as a filter when they are culling down a short list of partners that would be a good fit. We highlight them as much as we can on our website and materials to try to get on the radar. Awards help get the initial meeting; after that it is about capabilities, working style, and personality to get the win.

Do the awards play a role in how you think about positioning the agency? Is there any cause and effect?

Waldron: Awards don’t play a role in our positioning, and if they did, then I think we would be doing something wrong. Our positioning is all about what we can do for clients and their customers, and that is our sole focus. We believe that if that positioning attracts clients, it will ultimately produce great work -- that can then lead to recognition for the client and sometimes the agency behind it. 

Do you also enter creative awards competitions? 

Waldron: We selectively enter creative awards and have won quite a bit. Portland Advertising Federation’s Rosey Awards is a fun one we like to enter as it is competitive and great celebration of the creative community that Pollinate is proud to be included within. It is also fun to compete against Wieden & Kennedy.

What do awards mean internally to you and your team? For example, do awards help with recruitment?

Waldron: The Ad Age awards have meant a lot to us internally -- mainly because it recognized the entire team. A creative award rewards the specific team that worked on it. But a whole agency award allows us to step back for a minute and be proud of every contribution at the same time. Personally, that is the best part.

It most certainly helps with recruitment. In Portland, you can work at a lot of great places. Knowing that your work is recognized nationally is certainly a recruiting plus.

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