NJBIZ Cover Story features The S3 Agency’s “New York Agency in New Jersey” approach
ThankS3 to NJBIZ for digging into what makes The S3 Agency special, featuring our Brand ElevationSM process, and sharing industry insights from our CEO.
It isn’t every company that encourages its employees to ride motorcycles while on the clock. Especially if they’ve never ridden one before. For Adam Schnitzler, chief creative officer at The S3 Agency in Boonton, his first ride on a BMW motorcycle was in the name of creating emotionally driven advertising.
“You’ve got to get in your client’s mindset to understand their product and the world that they live in,” he said.
Schnitzler did so at the encouragement of CEO Denise Blasevick, who felt the agency needed a hands-on look before it could help market a product few knew existed.
“It was surprising how few people knew that BMW makes motorcycles,” she said. “BMW (Motorrad USA) is an exclusive brand, but we also needed to make it feel inclusive to its audience.”
It was a challenge made more difficult by not being able to pinpoint who, exactly, the audience was.
“There’s no one demographic for motorcycle riders,” Schnitzler said. “You cannot bump into someone on the street and know, unless they’re wearing a helmet, whether or not they ride a motorcycle.”
That’s why Schnitzler climbed atop a motorcycle to perfect brand communications: The S3 Agency wanted to focus on the rush and challenge of riding in its advertising campaigns rather than the technical engineering BMW is already known for.
By creating print and digital video campaigns, engaging fans via social media and maintaining bmwmotorcycles.com, The S3 Agency helped increase BMW Motorrad USA’s sales by more than 30 percent within three years.
It used to be difficult to find advertising talent outside of New York City willing to experiment in such a way that would create more chic and innovative advertising.
That was until Blasevick and Schnitzler made a name for themselves in New Jersey.
Blasevick and Schnitzler were both at the top of their games when they left Ritta & Associates in Englewood in 2001. She had helped triple company sales; he had won more than 200 awards in regional and national competitions for advertising and marketing. Both had higher ambitions.
“We really wanted to (start) the New York agency in New Jersey,” Blasevick said.
The partners founded The S3 Agency with a mission in mind: provide clients with top-tier advertising services while allowing employees work-life balance. That was unheard of in advertising back then.
“This industry — especially at some of the bigger agencies — demands that you work all the time,” Blasevick said. ”I think it’s very difficult to produce wonderful, creative product on a long-term basis if you don’t get to live a life that inspires you.”
While it may have seemed an odd choice to their peers to locate in the small, historic town of Boonton, Blasevick and Schnitzler have never once considered moving elsewhere.
“We wanted a place that had a cool, hip vibe,” Blasevick said. “We wanted to be able to walk around, go to restaurants and shops, be off the beaten path and quirky — but still be conveniently located off the highway.”
The S3 Agency had no trouble finding its immediate niche.
“We got great people to come here — people that didn’t want to commute into Manhattan every day but still wanted to produce a great product,” Blasevick said.
After attracting clients such as Mini USA, Wyndham Worldwide and Eight O’Clock Coffee, it was clear the agency wasn’t lacking talent.
In fact, Blasevick herself became a nationally cited marketing expert featured frequently on MSNBC’s “Your Business” — while both she and Schnitzler were inducted into New Jersey’s Advertising Hall of Fame.
“I think what makes us different is our quality of work is higher than expected and we really don’t pigeonhole ourselves into one kind of work,” Blasevick said.
Schnitzler and Blasevick say they use what they call “brand elevation” — a fully integrated service of blended advertising, public relations and social media — to separate the company from its competitors in New Jersey.
“A lot of times, when clients go to big agencies, they feel like they’re drowning in strategy, and when they’re at small agencies, they’ve got lots of creative but missing that strategy,” she said. “We provide balance.”
Schnitzler said he and his team usually start by working with clients to answer two basic questions: Where is their company now in terms of brand recognition and appreciation? Where would they like to be?
From there, the company works to devise tangible, practical steps to not only achieve its clients’ goals but to continue to grow their brands.
“It’s one thing to say you want to go from being unknown to being the No. 1 best seller — but before you do that, people have to hear about you, then they have to try you, then they have to tell their friends about you,” Schnitzler said. “For each of those steps, we have to ask, ‘What are the tactics, and which would be most appropriate to use?’”
Smaller shops, Schnitzler said, usually need everything from “soup to nuts,” while bigger companies tend to pick and choose from their services.
“Because we understand all the different moving parts, if they say, ‘All I need from you is digital banner advertising or a website or brochures’ … we know where those things ought to fit into the bigger picture,” he said. “For example, we may not be creating the television commercials for BMW, but every single thing that we do has to feel like BMW.”
No project is too small for The S3 Agency when it comes to helping elevate a client’s brand, Blasevick said.
“We are going to treat that element of communication with the same sort of respect that we would a bigger-picture project,” she said.
The only thing The S3 Agency is picky about is its clients.
“We want to be there for those clients who are looking for a true partner in helping them make their brand more meaningful,” Blasevick said. “We’re looking to grow, but we want to retain the ability to work personally with all of our clients, too.”
Controlling growth hasn’t slowed The S3 Agency down: Sales have grown 30 percent over the last five years while the staff has increased to 22.
In 2014 (the latest figures available), the company had more than $21 million in capitalized billings, making it the 10th-biggest agency in the state.
“It’s easier for us to get people now than when we started,” Blasevick said. “New York is a transplant city; here, people have roots.”