SEATTLE—You have to trek up four flights of inconveniently located stairs to get to the office of Square Tomato, an agency located in the shadow of CenturyLink Field. So when a strange man knocked on the door unannounced and inquired about advertising services, agency principal Frank Clark was a little skeptical.
Turns out the man was the CEO of Allsports, a sporting goods equipment company. He was actually in the building meeting someone else. But his business needed rebranding, and he’d done his research on this smart, nimble agency, so he decided to pop in. And a new client relationship was born.
It’s not the staircase or the name that provides the true differentiation. Little by little, Square Tomato is pursuing what Clark calls a “brick and e-retail strategy.” Namely, helping retailers thrive in an e-commerce world. “All retailers know they’re competing on some level with Amazon,” said Clark. “Even if you’re a store with only one location, it’s the cost of entry these days to have an e-commerce presence. Any shopper looking online wants to be able to buy online if they see you exist.” Square Tomato is putting this to the test for clients like Mrs. Cook’s, a kitchenware store with only one physical location but a dedicated e-commerce site.
Like many startups, Square Tomato was born from Frank’s experience as a senior art director in Seattle, and many connections built over the years. “At a certain point, it simply becomes easier to do direct client work. You know more about how everything needs to get done, and also how to put partners together to make projects happen.”
Looking through Square Tomato’s work, one sees an agency capable of putting together a breadth of fun ideas for nearly any client category – such as the Creative Mystic microsite for Veer, a stock photography service.
It’s that level of fun in Square Tomato’s work that first caught my eye when I moved to Seattle, because we’d both worked on the same B2B client (I worked on it at an Atlanta agency). But Square Tomato was able to get away with some fun ideas my former agency couldn’t.
I asked Clark if doing fun work was a part of the agency ethos.
“Clients are attracted to clever and funny. It’s a foundational advantage. But it’s not enough in and of itself to win business. Clients these days want it all — a certain level of vertical and horizontal expertise. They want to know that you’ve got the category expertise that makes you qualified to work on their business, and they want to know you’ve got the right skill sets, whether it’s TV or web experience. Getting to that point, as I have, takes a while.”
Anyone willing to take on the Amazon-sized retail world could do well to use an agency like Square Tomato, an agency unafraid of the goliaths of the ad world.
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