Small Business Big Voice

Small Pond, Big Fish: Long-Running Harrisburg Marketing Agency Pavone Attracts Major Clients with Hard Work and Talent

Winter 2019 Catalyst

I was at a local business event many years ago when I heard something that made me laugh — not out loud, because it wasn’t intended to be funny; more of a half-smile because of the sheer absurdity of the statement.


That something was an advertising exec from a competing agency explaining that a Harrisburg-based ad agency could never attract world-class clients and talent. This former competitor explained to anyone within earshot that “big-fish” clients — the kind with seven- or eight-figure marketing budgets and global name recognition — couldn’t possibly want to work with an agency from Central Pennsylvania.


“They all want to work with big-city agencies,” he continued. “That’s how it is, and that’s how it always will be.” 


I knew he was dead wrong — wrong not just about ad agencies, but about almost all categories of business and their ability to thrive in a “small market” like Harrisburg.


Pavone Marketing Group’s own success over the next several years was proof that, not only are big-fish clients willing to partner with a Harrisburg agency, but they might actually prefer it. They prefer it because they know that, with a nimble agency like ours, they’ll get work that’s just as good as any New York agency — and attention that’s even better.


What’s in an Address?


What some people fail to realize is that where your agency is located doesn’t really matter, as long as you’ve got the talent to compensate for the lack of a big city address. 


Gone are the Mad Men days when ad shops needed a Madison Avenue address in order to schmooze would-be clients over martini lunches. (That’s been gone for about 20 years.)


Thanks to technology, a willingness to travel and a razor-sharp client relations team, physical proximity in the 21st century is no longer a requirement. All it really takes is being a great agency; the population of your hometown is a mere afterthought.


I knew that when I opened Pavone in 1992 (before email, social media and the Internet even existed), and I know that as an absolute certainty now.


The Proof is in The Roster


When I first created our inaugural agency, Pavone, my goals were simple: to work with clients that my parents have heard of. If Mom and Dad knew the brand name, we knew it was a big win. (I even called them once in the middle of an agency-wide meeting to test their knowledge of our current roster. We passed with flying colors.)


As proof that Harrisburg can indeed be home to a world-class advertising agency, one needs only to look at the roster of big fish that the Pavone Marketing Group has reeled in over just the past four years: clients like Labatt, Seagram’s, Sun-Maid, The Hershey Company and Del Monte, just to name a few. And, in the interest of keeping iconic Pennsylvania brands with Pennsylvania agencies, our current roster also includes StarKist, Turkey Hill Dairy and Herr Foods Inc.


But equally important are the many smaller clients we proudly work with — clients that know they won’t be tiny fish in a big client pond, like they would be with other agencies.


Still Growing, Still Central PA Proud


What that success has allowed Pavone Marketing Group to do is expand — not move, but expand -- and continue to grow. We’ve expanded our expertise by opening agencies like quench (food & beverage marketing; Varsity (senior and retirement living marketing; and Market Street Trust Company (brand, environmental and experiential design). We’ve also opened a company focused on science and analytics (WildFig).


And guess what? All of the companies under the Pavone Marketing Group umbrella are founded and based right here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


We’ve acquired other agencies and have opened new offices in other cities — Philadelphia in 2016 and Chicago in 2018 — not because we need to be in those cities to attract clients, but simply because we can and because a second and third office in Harrisburg to house our rapidly expanding staff just wouldn’t make much sense. (I’m also stubbornly in love with our Market Street office.)


Regardless of where we put our next stake in the ground, Harrisburg will always be our hometown. Yes, our headquarters will stay right here in Central Pennsylvania, and I’ll wake up each day, knowing that we’ve proven the naysayers wrong when they told me that a Harrisburg agency couldn’t compete on a global stage.


Michael Pavone is president and CEO of Pavone Marketing Group.    

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