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Small agency aims high

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After a few years of minor-league ball with the Texas Rangers organization, Jeff Barnes returned home to West Virginia to begin a new professional career.

With guidance from his father, Barnes went to work managing marketing and public relations for several regional health-care organizations. 

From those experiences, Barnes took his networking abilities and launched the Barnes Agency 10 years ago.

Since its launch, the agency has grown in clients and employees, and is now ready to open a new office in Huntington.

The advertising agency works on video, commercial, digital and graphic design projects for a wide variety of clients ranging from Marshall University athletics to The Greenbrier Classic golf tournament.

"We are no longer considered the sleepy little agency in Teays Valley," Barnes said.

Barnes is focused on elevating the quality of marketing products in the region. His favorite projects are those where clients do not have large budgets but want to look as good as the national advertisements.

"We feel like our success can happen right here," he said. "It has not been detrimental to us being headquartered in Teays Valley because clients are looking for an agency that provides great quality and great service." 

Barnes admitted business was slow at first. Because of his previous professional experiences, Barnes said 90 percent of the agency's business in the first five years was with health-care clients.

Then his wife, Susan Miller Barnes, joined the agency as vice president of client services.

"That combination of both her making sure our clients are happy on a daily basis and me growing the agency was a recipe for success," Barnes said.

The Barnes Agency now serves clients in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

When he launched the agency in 2003, there were only three employees. Now the agency employs eight people and will look to hire two more in the next six months.

Jessica O'Neill is one of those recent hires. O'Neill joined the Barnes Agency with more than 15 years of industry experience. She was surprised with how much the small firm handles.

"It [moving to the Barnes Agency] was a bit intimidating," O'Neill said. "I was thinking, 'OK, I've bitten off more than I can chew.'"

Unlike larger advertising firms, O'Neill said the Barnes Agency brings a team approach to every project. O'Neill serves as the creative director for its Teays Valley office and will help coordinate creative efforts for graphic design projects at the agency's new Huntington office, set to open Nov. 11.

"Here, everyone works on everything," O'Neill said. "I like to collaborate with everyone. Everyone has something to bring to the table."

Both Barnes and O'Neill believe their small firm team approach enables them to build and retain stronger client relationships.

The agency has also never had a layoff. Barnes said the agency is adding about two clients per month.

As the agency extends its footprint in Huntington, Barnes said he has his eye on Charleston in the future.

The agency is also working with Marshall University officials to provide at least two paid internships per semester to Marshall students majoring in graphic design, marketing, advertising, digital media or journalism.

The agency's Huntington location will be steps away from Marshall's visual arts building opening next August.

Tracey Straub will serve as the director of client services for the Huntington office.

"There are not a lot of jobs in this industry in the area," Straub said. "So it's exciting to let students know this field is not really dwindling but we're growing and right next door."

Barnes added that the agency would be working with West Virginia State University on its re-branding campaign efforts. He said they might add interns from WVSU or the University of Charleston at its Teays Valley office in the future.

Looking toward the next 10 years of business, Barnes said it will be important for his agency to maintain its strong client relationship while landing more prominent clients like The Greenbrier Classic.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.

 


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