Eisner Communications Inc. said yesterday that it has acquired Baltimore-based Underground Advertising Inc. and will take on the agency as a division called Eisner Underground, with the goal of making it into a $30 million operation by 2005.
In other moves, Eisner has created Beverly & Eisner, a multicultural marketing subsidiary, and Eisner Interactive, a division that will handle Web-based work for existing and new clients.
"We wanted to go beyond being an advertising agency, to be a holistic branding organization and give our clients this very integrated approach," said Steve Eisner, president and chief executive officer of Eisner. "Brands are best created and best come alive and best become a sustaining force when at every turn you are reinforcing that identity."
Eisner, which has a staff of 145 people and reports annual billings of $222 million, recently was named 68th on Adweek's ranking of the top 100 advertising agencies in the nation, based on revenue - up from 73rd in size last year. The moves have added 10 employees.
Among Eisner's clients are the Maryland State Lottery, the Go RVing Coalition and Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Eric Hartsock formed Underground in 1996 with himself as the sole employee. Two years later, he won eight first-place awards and best-in-show in the annual Baltimore advertising competition.
"I look at this as an opportunity to jump-start where we wanted to go - being a nationally known creative boutique," said Hartsock, whose company reports $5 million in annual billings. "It ended up being a tough decision. We've been profitable every quarter, and our work has gotten some national attention. In the end, I thought Underground is going to be a lot stronger and a lot better partnered with Eisner."
Hartsock and five other staff members will move into Eisner's offices this summer, initially focusing on accounts of $1 million or less. Eisner declined to disclose details of the financial arrangement with Hartsock.
"This gives us the chance to take on accounts we might have had to turn down because we wouldn't be sure how to handle them in a profitable way," Eisner said. "Since they will run a six-person shop and draw on the services of a 150-person agency, they can expand and collapse based on the needs of the client."
With the launch of Beverly & Eisner, Eisner hopes to tap into African-American, Latino, Asian and gay and lesbian markets and to increase the division to about 50 employees and $50 million in billings by 2005.
The new endeavor will be led by Debora Beverly, managing partner, director of African-American marketing, and Sara Eisner, managing partner, director of corporate development. Sara Eisner is married to Steve Eisner.
"In pitching a prospective client, we want to demonstrate that we have a sense of who they are and what they hope to achieve and to help them realize they can be successful in a multicultural market," said Beverly, whose experience includes stints in marketing and brand work for Hallmark Cards Inc. and Kraft Foods.
The third piece in Eisner Communications' growth makes Michael Teitelbaum managing partner of Eisner Interactive. He was co-founder of Baltimore-based e.magination Networks LLC, an Internet development firm. He left in November 1998 to do consulting work, then co-founded Mom.com, an online community for moms, which he said has since been sold and renamed ClubMom.
The plan is to increase the interactive division to between $10 million and $15 million by 2005.