“Quit advertising. We did.”

That’s the tag line of a new Chicago-based agency. Did we almost call them an “ad” agency? God forbid.

Let’s not even call them a marketing agency. Maybe content marketing agency would be more accurate? Or community management through content marketing agency? Let’s not forget strategic communications.

However you technically describe what’s accomplished at this agency – called SRW – the three partners appear to have another adjective to describe it: different.

Reinventing the Agency?

Charlie Stone, a former trial lawyer, ad agency owner, and now co-founder and the S in SRW, believes that prospective clients are looking for different.

He explained how SRW is getting in rooms with interested brands, nonprofits and other companies because these prospects are already a little teed up. They are frustrated though they may not know exactly why yet.

Co-founder Kate Weidner knows why they are frustrated; they are fed up with the traditional agency approach: The lack of knowing where exactly your money is going.

Not having a direct dialogue with the people creating their marketing. Not being heard asking for alternatives when what they have been doing is obviously not working. SRW has the “audacity” to believe that they can fill this massive hole in the market.

Measuring the Niche

We’d love to hear from you, our readers — particularly those in corporate marketing departments hiring and managing agencies —to see just how big a hole SRW is filling.

On one Quora question, a respondent estimated there are as many as 120,000 agencies in the US. Content marketing is nothing new and certainly a few existing agencies out of those thousands already specialize in it.

Perhaps what sets SRW apart is content passion.

Get Stone started on the topic, and he approaches near-preach fervor, heard through a phone in nonstop soliloquy that ends with a pause as if he’s waiting for you to shout “amen.”

Get him started on how SRW takes a lean approach — it’s just the three of the founders and a “proprietary” network of creative and thoughtful people that they bring in on a project-by-project basis.

Don’t dare call these people freelancers. They are good people looking to work with other good people (SRW) for good clients doing good things. No longer can talent be contained within the four walls of an agency, Stone said.

“Creativity should not be a Model T assembly line,” Stone proclaimed.

Weidner once got stuck within those four walls — in production when she’s really a trained writer — and now she embraces the many hats that she can wear at SRW. And she takes it personally to make sure SRW’s hired talent doesn’t get pigeonholed too.

“We believe people are more than one thing,” she said.

Learning Opportunities

Beyond Advertising

It’s not just “quit advertising.” It’s “quit the system.” Join the 21st century. The land of the matrixed community, the home of the flexible work arrangements.

Listen to SRW … because it is apparently listening to you.

That’s always their approach, said Stone. They listen to clients to find out what’s not working, what hurdles these clients face. SRW will also suggest better ways to jump over them.

Stone related the story of a client who just got off the phone with him. A client who wanted a TV spot. And Stone was like, come on, you can get so much more cost-effective engagement through social and content approaches, through editorial and brand advocacy.

“Everyone is a broadcaster,” he said.

Brian Rolling, an award-winning director and the founding R, grounds the conversation in what really matters for clients.

“We didn’t do this to be different,” he said. “We do this because it works.”

Happy, Happy

Clients appear to agree. Weidner reported two brand-new clients won the day before our interview — a national nonprofit and an up-and-comer CBG brand. SRW also counts Natural Prairie Dairy, Agrivision, CGN Global, TADA technologies, FEW Spirits, Illinois Mutual, Healthy Schools Campaign and The Lockwood Group as clients.

They have connected with entrepreneurs, too, it seems — clients who have never bought a TV spot in their life and would not dream of it.

Content marketing and community management are intriguing to these neo-business people — probably both in a “stick it to the system” hipster way and in a pure dollar-and-cents sense.

However SRW is attracting new clients, whatever they are doing for those clients, the agency founders plan to be in it for the long haul for clients. They hope to have clients that won’t quit on them and the promise of content.

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