Sawtooth: Brand Building in Red Bank
The established advertising agency has found a new home in a new space in a new town.
From its new 20,000-square-foot third-floor headquarters, simultaneously overlooking parts of the Navesink River and downtown Red Bank on either side, the Sawtooth advertising group is trying to understand you.
A line of spices, a baby food brand and a mega bank are just three of Sawtooth’s largest clients. The task they’ve entrusted to the Red Bank via Woodbridge firm is to create brand awareness, promote brand loyalty and to find and develop new consumers.
OK, Sawtooth, go.
“Our philosophy is that it’s our job to make brands irresistible,” Sawtooth Partner and Creative Director Kristi Bridges said. “To get into the minds of the consumers, learn how they interact, respond to brands. The scope of what we do is often huge, but we try to become consumers first. We try to build brand communities. That’s kind of our philosophy.”
With an open office plan — desks come lined up without dividers, something the staff has had to get used to — and amenities such as a bar and a designated ping pong area, Sawtooth gets to work on building brands here in Red Bank.
Sawtooth has called Red Bank home since June after moving from two locations located across the street from each other in Woodbridge, where it held court as one of the country’s largest advertising agency for 24 years.
Now, Bridges said, Sawtooth has finally come home.
In Red Bank, Bridges and Jay Quilty, one half of Sawtooth’s partnership, see a culture and community not available in Woodbridge. Truth be told, the move to Red Bank has been years in the making. A few years back Sawtooth looked for space here but was unable to find something adequate. The partners even looked at the long-empty Anderson building on Bridge Avenue, seeing potential in the reclamation of the Galleria building next door as inspiration for their own restoration of a historic building
That task, however, wasn’t something they were willing to take on.
So Sawtooth waited, keeping an eye out for a suitable Red Bank location to open up eventually. When the opportunity presented itself, Sawtooth jumped at the chance.
Currently, Sawtooth has about 60 on-site employees to go with another 15 that work in the field. In the move to Red Bank the company lost a couple of employees who just couldn’t believe they could make the new, and in many cases, longer, commute work for them.
Still, Bridges said, the number of employees who did make the transfer, adding extra drive times to their days in most cases, is proof that they buy into the operation being run here. There’s motivation to work for Sawtooth.
“We have a lot of people who have been with us for a long, long time,” the 15-year-veteran said of the company said. “I think that’s a testament to the kind of work we do here and the way we treat our employees.”
Quilty, who has been with Sawtooth for 22 of the firm’s 24 years of operation, said the firm also looked to locate in Red Bank because of the large area talent pool of creative professionals, some of whom Sawtooth will use to fuel its future growth. Between Red Bank and Asbury Park, Quilty said he believes there’s talent enough to rival even that of the City, he said.
“We want to grow our business and we want to grow our revenue,” he said. “When we get a point where we need more employees will hire them. We’re trying to recruit and we have a lot of competition from New York (City), which is the capital of the agency world, but we offer something that’s usually closer to home. We work with people to fit their lifestyle.”
Despite its expansion and future plans to further grow into its new Red Bank space, Sawtooth hasn’t been immune to the faltering economy. Advertising has hit especially hard as businesses large and small have peeled back their advertising goals in an effort to wait out the languishing economy. Consumers are making less and as a result spending less, adding further strain up the chain until it reaches the advertising agency.
“In 2008 when the economy first fell off the cliff we were affected,” Quilty said. “Advertising is one of the first industries you look at in a down economy. When people stop spending money, businesses stop spending on advertising.”
But, Sawtooth has been fortunate in that several of its biggest clients exist in that ever-shrinking group of businesses described as recession-proof. Among its largest clients, Sawtooth represents McCormick, the budget spice and seasoning company whose products can be found on store shelves throughout the economy. In a recession, Quilty said, people eat out less and cook more. Sawtooth has tried to take advantage of this obvious trend with advertising efforts that focus on this simple reality.
They’ve also helped grow PNC by going into communities, opening branches and developing advertising campaigns that work at a local level. It’s a strategy that has worked well. Despite being one of the country’s largest banks, PNC has been able to play the roll of small town bank by avoiding dipping its toes into risky investments such as the subprime fiasco that crippled the banking industry and by employing advertising campaigns that resonate with consumers at a local level.
Thoughout the recession, Sawtooth has been able to weather the storm by developing strong partnership with their clients and getting the effective results they need.
“It’s something we’re proud of,” Bridges said. “There have been tough times in this business — ups and downs — but we’ve been able to stay independent and grow along the way.”