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Austin advertising sector surged in 2014

With more than three decades spent in the Austin advertising industry, Yvonne Tocquigny knows how to navigate the sector’s ups and downs.

In fact, she says, her digital marketing firm, Tocquigny, has become a barometer of sorts for the Austin advertising scene.

That bodes well for the sector’s health, because Tocquigny says that in the past 35 years, “I don’t think we’ve ever done this much business in Austin.”

Previously, Tocquigny (pronounced Toe-Key-Knee) relied on clients outside of Austin for national and international accounts. Today, after surviving the real estate bust of the 1980s and the most recent recession, Tocquigny’s 25-employee firm is drawing half its business from local Austin clients — the most ever for the agency.

“We do see an upsurge in the amount of business we’ve been able to do in Austin,” Tocquigny said, “and that makes a pretty strong statement about the past year.”

The certainly numbers suggest Austin’s advertising sector is healthy. In 2014, Austin had 2,319 ad agency workers — a 32 percent increase since 2004, according to Economic Modeling Specialists International, a Moscow, Idaho-based company that tracks the advertising sector. That’s in stark contrast to the recession of the past decade when ad agencies were cutting jobs and in struggling to stay afloat.

“It’s been good,” said Prentice Howe, who took over as head of ad agency Door Number 3 recently from founder and longtime owner M.P. Mueller. “We had that recession that everyone felt a few years back, and for sure that hit hard for a lot of agencies. We have come out of that strong. Very strong.”

Tocquigny says the memories of surviving the downturns are still fresh.

“Sometimes I wish I had started liquor store,” Tocquigny jokes. But “giving up and quitting is not an option and that’s really the secret” to staying in business this long.

Door Number 3 founder Mueller, who was in the business for 20 years, agrees.

“I think it took a while to shake off the recession muscle memory, but at some point you wake up and go ‘if I am not going to advertise, I am not going to hit my growth goals,” she said.

The recent hiring surge is just one indicator of the Austin advertising sector’s health, as 2014 was punctuated by area agencies winning key national accounts and earning numerous industry honors.

Austin firm GSD&M — a long-time leader of the local advertising sector — says it boosted revenue last year by 15 percent and won new business in the form of a Super Bowl spot for Avocados from Mexico and picked up five new accounts including Chipotle, Hampton Inn and PetSmart.

“We had a really great year as an agency,” CEO Duff Stewart said.

The agency said its referral business, where GSD&M refers new ad business to other Austin agencies, grew 40 percent over the past year to 479 referrals. And much of that referral business went to companies based here in Austin, said J.B. Raftus, chief marketing officer for GSD&M.

“Companies are coming to Austin and looking to find marketing and advertising talent,” Raftus said.

It could be a while before Austin ad agencies see any more downturns. Ad executives say 2015 is likely to bring more growth.

“Looking at the population shift, we are looking at multicultural becoming the mainstream,” said LatinWorks senior vice president and managing director Christy Kranik.

Among other highlights for local agencies in 2014 were:

*Forrester Research named Austin’s T3 and Mutual top innovation agencies. Meanwhile, Chicago-based digital firm MU/DAI acquired Austin’s Deft Strategy, and Forbes named Austin’s Q1Media as one of the country’s most “promising companies.”

*Austin agency nFusion moved to larger offices in Northwest Austin to accommodate its growing client list, which includes La Madeleine, Samsung and SanDisk. It was also named a top small agency in the region by Ad Age magazine.

*Austin’s HCB Health bought Chicago-based Topin and Associates, a marketing firm that specializes in pharmaceutical and consumer health care clients.

*Austin-based LatinWorks launched a series of new Spanish-language ads for Major League Baseball, with those running on ESPN Deportes and other outlets.

“We are really trying to dial up the excitement with the fans,” LatinWorks’ Kranik said. “It really is spotlighting moments with Latinos in baseball.”

American-Statesman writer Dan Zehr contributed to this report.

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