As the Baltimore Colts were leaving the city in early 1984, the team's director of sales recalled sitting at the Rusty Scupper bar at the Inner Harbor, wondering what he should do next.
A friend told Bob Leffler he should start his own advertising agency. After about three months, he had one employee and his first clients, including a moving company. By late summer, he landed his first big ad contract, with Laurel Race Course, and moved into a North Charles Street office.
This month, the Leffler Agency turned 30.
It has become the ad agency for numerous sports-related clients, including athletic programs for colleges such as the Naval Academy, Towson University, George Mason University and the University of Delaware. The company also represents numerous local and regional nonsports clients, including Retro Fitness, Nusinov Jewelers and Medieval Times in Baltimore and Orlando, Fla.
What was the best part of your former job in 1983 handling ticket drives, game program ads and promotions as director of sales for the Colts?
I really enjoyed working with something that a lot of people cared about … win or lose. The John Elway game [against the Denver Broncos] early in  was my first operation to run and even though we lost a close one, we sold it out. I was 38 years old and getting to know the older Colts, who I had been a fan of, was special. Finally, having the access to the photo files in [assistant public relations director] Marge Blatt's side office was major. 1983 was a year of highs (beating the Jets in New York City for a first place tie) and lows with the loss of the team. I could not find anything that I liked as much as the Colts job. I tried the [United States Football League] team in D.C., but I could see that it was going to go south. I could have sold media, but I thought I would be better suited to selling myself as a business promoter for others.
You developed a sports niche and say you work with more sports accounts than any other agency, including numerous college athletic programs. What are some of the biggest marketing and branding challenges for these programs and what kind of results have you achieved?
Our shop did the "sell-up" campaigns for four new stadiums from 1997 through 2007. Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati in the NFL and UConn in the Big East all were starting from scratch, and our media campaigns built those stadium fan bases. Those efforts led us to do 56 university sports campaigns in 27 markets. We now have such university sports programs as the Naval Academy, [University of] Cincinnati, Rutgers [University], Georgia Tech, [University of] Arkansas, Towson, [University of] Richmond, [University of] Central Florida and [University of] South Alabama. We also have the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL.
Can you talk about some of the campaigns you've worked on for the Ravens?
The most fun Ravens campaign was the Super Bowl XXXV team branding campaign in Tampa. We got 14 billboards … all of them the large-bulletin types, had a building turned purple with "Go Ravens" on its facade, had radio and TV stations identifying themselves as "your Ravens station," dragged David Modell to a bunch of morning radio shows and did a Rambo marketing job on the Gasparilla Parade with the Ravens band. We did the same thing for the Bucs in San Diego two years later. Both teams won big.
What kind of work goes into creating the Preakness logo, which your agency has been doing for the past 15 years? How tough is it to come up with something unique, yet in keeping with the tradition of the event, each year?
The design staff of four submits their versions each year based upon where the client wants to go. Tom Chuckas, the CEO of the Maryland Jockey Club, is the style mastermind, which makes it easier than if it were to be a committee decision. He gets input, but knows what it should be. This year it is more modern. Last year it was more classic. The elements vary, but the Maryland colors and the portrayal of action must be guiding factors. Like our Army-Navy game logo that has been around for a number of years … the design requires simple common sense.
What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?
That I have interests other than sports. I have been on [the New York Stock Exchange] boards of directors for 19 years and love the Wall Street scene. Also, our shop has reinvented itself more toward automotive, retail, general entertainment, real estate and [heating, ventilation and air conditioning].
I love to sell stuff. … As a college working kid, I once sold a guy nine pair of shoes. Just kept bringing them out.