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Leffler Agency and Siquis both close Friday after 30-some years

Two Baltimore-based advertising agencies shut down on Friday after three decades in the business for each, as area firms increasingly need to find a niche to compete for a shrinking pool of hometown clients.

The Leffler Agency, started nearly 33 years ago by former Baltimore Colts sales director Robert "Bob" Leffler Jr., began liquidating Friday and expected to wind down over the next month. The marketing firm tried to expand about three years ago from mainly sports-related clients, such as university athletic programs, to a broader range of businesses, Leffler said.

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"We had a good run," Leffler, 71, the firm's president and owner, said Friday. "We had clients, but we couldn't make it work," because the agency had become primarily identified with sports.

"I don't have another big run in me to try to rebuild this again," he said.

The firm created logos for the Preakness and Super Bowl team branding campaigns for the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It built a sports reputation with clients such as the Naval Academy, Towson University, George Mason University and the University of Delaware.

Leffler announced the closure a day after advertising agency Siquis Ltd. said it would close its doors Friday after 30 years for economic reasons.

"I am very proud of what we have accomplished during that time," Anita Kaplan, Siquis' CEO, said in an email. "We have helped numerous companies and entities, both large and small, build their brands and their businesses, we have contributed to the economic development of the state of Maryland, and we have employed and mentored hundreds of people."

Kaplan, who said she had no specific plans after the closure, said she had 15 employees. Clients included Maryland Tourism, The Greene Turtle, California Tortilla, Lenox China and Strayer University.

At its peak, the nine-person Leffler Agency had 18 employees and a Tampa, Fla., office. It generated $350 million in business and employed 135 people since its founding, Leffler said.

Leffler said he notified all of his clients and creditors of the winding down. Records show the business faces state and federal liens, including a state judgment for $44,000 and a federal judgment for more than $186,000.

Leffler said he plans to continue working as a consultant.

He said the changing advertising market, where "clients are really overwhelmed with information about what works and what doesn't work," makes it more difficult to retain and attract clients.

"The minute something doesn't work or a combination doesn't work, they want to change," he said. "They panic."

Auburn Bell, an adjunct professor of marketing at Loyola University's Sellinger School of Business, said the industry has moved toward specialization, with companies focusing on areas such as digital marketing or social media. Firms that handle a range of traditional and social media have declined or consolidated, he said, as agencies have become increasingly more competitive on price.

Former Baltimore agency Carton Donofrio Partners closed in 2013 after nearly 50 years, blaming industry changes, among other reasons, at the time. CEO Ellen R. Moore said the majority owner Donofrio family closed because it preferred to do a range of work rather than specialize.

In Baltimore, where corporate headquarters have decreased over the years, Bell said, "the pool of potential clients is just not there within arm's-length reach anymore," which has hurt small- to medium-sized businesses that tried to work within their community.

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Smaller agencies, too, are more vulnerable than larger firms if they rely on fewer clients or one major client, he said.

In addition, the rise of digital media has "forced the hand, especially for older ones, either to sort of embrace it and develop and acquire skill sets or it has pushed them out of business," Bell said.

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