Spokane Journal of Business

Magner Sanborn gives employees, community something to think about

Magner Sanborn expands geographic reach, sees exponential growth in revenue, staff

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Magner Sanborn gives employees, community something to think about
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Partners in Spokane-based Magner Sanborn Inc. are, from left to right, Dennis Magner, Jeff Sanborn, and Brandt Heinemann.

Across the street from Magner Sanborn Inc.'s downtown offices and visible through windows in its fourth-floor conference room is a simple wall painted red featuring one word in contrasting white: think.

Dennis Magner, the Spokane-based advertising agency's managing partner and one of its co-founders, says the rooftop mural's purpose is to serve as a reminder "to ourselves and to the community; we want people to think and to come up with new and interesting ways of doing anything."

The growing ad agency is located at 111 N. Post, and the simply-designed sign only is visible at the street level from a few vantage points to those who know it's there, or from the upper floor windows of nearby east-facing buildings.

The one-word mantra of "think" has helped to take Magner Sanborn from a three-man firm to a multi-office agency with nearly 40 employees companywide, including some in Seattle and San Diego. Thirty-one employees are based here.

Magner and founding partner Jeff Sanborn launched the agency in spring 2003, and Magner says it's experienced most of its growth—both in number of employees and revenue—over the last three or so years. It opened its Seattle office in 2008 and established its presence in San Diego a year after that, Magner says.

He declines to disclose the agency's annual revenue, but says it has increased exponentially over the last several years.

Magner Sanborn has worked on ad campaigns for a number of international and national companies and brands, including Bellevue, Wash-based Netflix; FanVision, a New York company that develops handheld content-enhancement devices and technology used in-venue at live sporting events; and FloTV, Qualcomm Inc.'s now defunct mobile television service.

Some of Magner Sanborn's Inland Northwest-based clients include Providence Health Care, Yoke's Fresh Market, Thomas Hammer Coffee Roasters, Gonzaga University, and AmericanWest Bank.

The ad agency recently created a TV ad for Yoke's that aired two weekends ago during the Super Bowl on Inland Northwest broadcast networks, he says, adding that the commercial was put together for that client in only a few days.

Some of Magner Sanborn's past Super Bowl TV spots included ads for FloTV that were aired nationally, he says.

Magner says most of the agency's relationships with its clients are ongoing and that it typically works on a number of projects or ad campaigns for those clients every year. Most of Magner Sanborn's new clients are introduced to the agency through referrals from other clients or because of past working relationships those clients may have had with its two founders or with its other employees, he says.

Before founding their agency, Magner and Sanborn worked at Spokane ad firm WhiteRunkle Associates, which now is MWR and is owned by Bellevue, Wash. based Ascentium Corp.

In the beginning stages of work on an ad campaign, Magner says the agency's project team learns as much as possible about a company, its brand, its market, and its audience.

"We fill our heads with information," he says. "That allows us to really hone in on a message and an approach to create work that generally is pretty simple and cuts through all of the clutter and stuff that is out there. It's about simplifying."

He says that he and the agency's other two partners, Sanborn and Seattle-based Brandt Heinemann, also encourage their employees to think continually of creative and innovative ways to produce a client's campaign.

"Ultimately we are salespeople and communicators, and our job isn't to create pretty work or work that people chuckle at, it's to sell or get a message across, but we look at creativity as a tool to do that."

He adds that during the early planning stages another task is to determine the mix of media content that's appropriate to the client's needs, as well as other aspects of that client's brand identity related to its daily operations or services.

"A good way to think of it is that we don't just look at what a brand says about itself but also how it acts and how it conveys and expresses something about itself through services or products," Magner says.

He says the agency's team of developers and designers has the capability to complete the majority of its projects in-house, whether they're developing a print ad, website, television ad, or using another media form, but it contracts out some work when needed.

"At any given time we have 300-plus jobs in the shop," Magner says. "Not everyone is working on all of the projects; we have teams, and it's a house full of specialists. We have strategists and art directors, designers, writers, media planners, and we pull in capabilities as needed."

He says the growing agency has a need for more graphic designers and developers, but that it's encountered difficulties recruiting new employees in the Inland Northwest who have the job skills it requires.

"The greatest challenge we face here is that there isn't a deep talent pool here, so when we see that talent, a lot of times even if there isn't an open position, we grab people up," Magner says.

He says that while it's difficult to forecast how much Magner Sanborn will grow over the next year, the agency easily could double its current employee roster due to several sizable projects it's currently working on.

"We have a couple of sizable projects that are new brands," he says. "They are really cool projects that will come out later this year and are global brands for new clients," he says, but he adds that he can't disclose the companies those new projects are for.

Another challenge that's bound to come as a result of Magner Sanborn's recent and continuing growth is that the agency likely soon will outgrow its 8,000-square-foot headquarters here even though it's only been there a year and a half, Magner says.

"We are just about maxed out here," he says. "When we designed it, we designed what we thought was ample room for future growth, but we can reconfigure to create some capacity here."

Magner says that he and the firm's partners would like the company to remain based in Spokane despite the difficulty of recruiting qualified new employees.

"One of our goals is to really push ourselves because we find that one of the challenges with being based in Spokane is that it's easy to fall back on your heels, and we believe we can do work that can play anywhere and on a larger stage," he says. "Along with that we would like to push the community as well. We want to make this a better place to live to attract new talent to the market and have richer cultural experiences—a place where people like to think and challenge conventions and can be happy living."

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