by Shea Murtaugh

Can you believe it’s been 16 years since I quit my job selling airtime on the radio and started my own media agency with zero money, zero capital, and zero experience? Me either. My last day at WDVE was Friday July 30th and on Monday August 2, Hoffmann Murtaugh was born. While we’re celebrating our Sweet 16, I thought I’d take this time to tell what became the Hoffmann Murtaugh story.

I was a media sales rep since graduating college at Duquesne University. I loved working with my clients, but hated the way it seemed that the deck was stacked against them when it came to pricing and what they got for their money.  In media buying, knowledge is power and having the tools to price media was something a lot of my clients couldn’t afford. They relied on me to secretly give them advice on how to get the best pricing from all of their media reps. 

At one point, three of my automotive clients (after I had spent the time to grow their advertising footprint) hired an ad agency. These clients demanded their new agencies to continue working with me as their rep. It then came to me: If I had owned my own advertising agency, those clients would have been mine. 

So, quickly, with zero agency experience, I struck out on my own, and those clients hired me within the first year. I was so focused on the automotive industry that I was even going to call the company Adomotive at one point. It was my mission to work hard for my clients and make their media dollars work even harder, finding the most cost effective plans for each of them! My first day I started out with just one client, Don Allen Automotive. The Voelker family decided to give me a chance and I will be forever grateful. 

From the beginning, I knew I wanted my agency to be extremely client focused, constantly forward-thinking and ahead of the curve. I acted as if their money was my money: How could I get the biggest bang for the buck once I was negotiating for them and not against them? It was tough at first. A few people in my industry treated me as if I’d already failed. They said I was a radio-only agency and I was a “dining room table media buyer,” not a real company. This only fueled my drive to build a successful agency. 

When it came to tackling problems I didn’t know how to solve, I promised myself that I would find someone who was an expert and get them on my team. Once, someone  said I didn’t know how to buy television, so I hired a successful TV buyer in the market. Just the same, I struggled with media strategy, but hired my first media planner from MARC USA, who is still with me today. 

I grew slowly but having more time gave me the edge to truly understand where I was going and what kind of ad agency I wanted to be in the future. To this day, I still only hire strategically, knowing what my clients needs are and what kind of people can bring the innovation and knowledge that will get them there. I don’t believe in faking it, and have always refused to do so. I do believe in learning fast, failing fast, and learning from that failure. 

In marketing, especially in media, the digital landscape is always changing. I like to think of us as pioneers in the industry, offering and embracing more integrated solutions for clients as resources became available. We never saw multi-platforms as a challenge and always looked at it as an opportunity for a more efficient and effective plan for our clients. 

Personally, I thrive in challenging times and look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow. I don’t go over or around obstacles. I go through them. It’s hard, of course, but worth it in the end. No shortcuts here. Living in an uncomfortable space is where I (and my team) do their best work.

For example, we got into doing digital media years before clients were even asking for it, and now it’s standard in everyone’s marketing mix.  I remember that uncomfortable feeling (as usual) of gaining as much knowledge as possible before taking a client into the unknown. Reminder, their money was my money: If I lost it recklessly, I don’t think I could have ever looked a client in the eye again. 

For the first year of Hoffmann Murtaugh, I was the sole employee. Fast forward to 2020 and we’ve got a robust team of over 20 marketing experts, from PR to SEM to social media. We specialize in uniting all media channels to not only work together, but support and amplify the overall plan for our clients. Our approach and execution is holistic, assertive, customer focused, and data-driven to build a custom and integrated media plan for each client. In the last couple of years, we’ve also opened offices in Rochester and Cleveland so that our clients there feel that our support for them is local and that we continue to showcase our client focused mentality. 

So, what’s going on in 2020? We are one of the fastest growing agencies in the tri-state region! In an industry that is struggling, we are thriving. I have surrounded myself with a brilliant, passionate, and a hard working team. I am not one to brag, but I am extremely proud of where we are and where we are going. 

It’s been a crazy ride over the past 16 years, but I’m excited to see where even the next year will take us. I have big plans for our clients and us. Our foundation was built to thrive in this pandemic so growth here we come!