Todd Smith, a former presidential speech writer turned branding-and-image pro, has acquired ownership of Deane/Smith, a Nashville public relations-marketing firm he co-founded and expanded to include Jackson and Washington, D.C., offices.
Smith and co-founder Silas Deane have grown Deane/Smith into Nashville’s fourth largest full-service public relations-marketing firm based on annual billings, according to company data compiled by the Nashville Business Journal that put gross billings for 2014 at $4.5 million.
“Over the last few years we have had year-over-year growth of 30 percent,” said Smith, a Jackson native who writes the Mississippi Business Journal’s weekly “Spin Cycle” column.
With full ownership, Smith becomes CEO of the firm he created seven years ago with Deane, who will become senior partner. Deane’s new role will let him devote more time to VendEngine, an electronic payments software company he launched in 2013 to assist the prison industry.
Deane began the company in 1999 as Logic Media Group. Smith joined Deane in 2008, bringing along a client base he acquired during a 25-year stint in public relations and political operations. He began that career after five years as a reporter with the Washington Times newspaper.
Smith’s partner also has a background in Washington politics – though from the opposite end of the political spectrum from Smith. Deane worked as a press secretary for Vice President Al Gore and Smith worked for the Republican National Committee and as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
That political diversity helps the firm to recruit clients from both parties in need of help with campaigns or branding, Smith said in an interview after acquiring full ownership of the company.
Their Washington experiences led Deane and Smith to open a branch office in the nation’s capital to handle campaign branding and advocacy for health groups and retail organizations.
Smith said he had his eye on starting a Jackson office from the start of his partnership with Deane. The opportunity came when Ridgeland’s Butler Snow opened a Nashville office and hired Deane/Smith to help the multi-state law firm gain national branding exposure.
With the opening of a Ridgeland office in August 2013, Deane/Smith continued its work for Butler Snow and added as clients Magnolia Health, a statewide health-care insurer; Waggoner Engineering, a Jackson firm with offices in Hernando, Gulfport, New Orleans and Ruston, La.; and CSpire, a rapidly growing telecommunications provider with a national reach.
Smith’s Ridgeland operation landed its first client with the signing of Faces, a Ridgeland cosmetic surgery and skincare clinic.
“Our client roster continues to grow in Jackson,” especially in health care, Smith said. “Jackson is such a good health-care opportunity for us.”
Deane/Smith has boosted its Mississippi work through an affiliation with Ridgeland’s Mad Genius, a 10-year-old marketing agency that develops branding strategies that fuse design, print, digital, social media, TV & video and animation.
“They are very involved in video and TV production,” Smith said. “They are probably the largest in the state in terms of video advertising.”
Deane/Smith provided Mad Genius what it lacked: A more complete public relations function. “It lets Mad Genius offer itself as full-service,” Smith said.
“Our niche is media relations, crisis communications,” Smith said. “We’re also very strong in advertising.”
In turn, the affiliation with Mad Genius gives Smith’s firm a partner immersed in commercial video, animation and digital work.
The affiliation is going on its third year, said Chip Sarver, Mad Genius president & co-founder. The Ridgeland agency was full-service before the affiliation but the partnership with Deane/Smith provides Mad Genius’ public relations function with more depth, Sarver said.
“From a public relations side, he has got the personnel and resources to go to a higher level of public relations than we have built,” Sarver said of Smith.
“We’re congratulating him and looking forward to building on our relationship,” he added of Smith.
Meanwhile, Smith sees more such affiliations in his firm’s future, as well as new offices.
More immediately, he expects Deane/Smith’s growth to get a boost from the business boom occurring throughout Nashville, where the firm has acquired a lengthy client list, especially from the health-care sector.
Nashville “is consistently pushing the envelope as one of the top-tier Southern cities, along with Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C.,” Smith said.
Global and national marketing firms have their eyes on the Tennessee capital, especially its growing health-care and technology sectors. Some are setting up offices in the city or are acquiring local firms to establish a presence, Smith said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity” having the big players coming to town, he said.
Competition for clients will become keener, but Smith said he expects to prevail by sticking to an operational strategy by which he and Deane work closely with the firm’s rank-and-file to ensure success for the client.
That strategy stems from Smith noticing early in his public relations and marketing work that agencies would tell clients how they are going to help them build their brands only to turn the work over to junior staffers after the account is secured. “I always thought that that was backasswards,” Smith said.
“When you hire Deane/Smith as an agency, you get Deane and Smith.”
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