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Full-service advertising agency Mintz + Hoke commemorates a major milestone: 50 years in business. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Principal and CEO Ron Perine, Chief Creative Officer Sean Crane, and Principal/President Media Only Sara-Beth Donovan to learn about the company’s evolution and vision.

NAN PRICE: Give us a little background. How did the company begin, and how has it evolved?

RON PERINE: Joe Hoke and Alan Mintz started Mintz + Hoke in 1971 as a traditional advertising agency. They built the agency on street smarts—getting out and talking to client customers about why they bought and continued to support the brand, learning what is it about that brand they found endearing, and, for those who weren’t customers, figuring out why not.

Over the 50 years, there have been so many clients. I’ve been fortunate to be with the agency for more than 27 years. We’ve constantly had to change and adapt to challenges. We made it through 9/11, we made it through the banking crisis in the early 2000s, and now we’re making it through the pandemic.

Staying true to our roots and taking a “we’ve got this” as opposed to a “what are we going to do?” attitude has served us very well. The agency’s entrepreneurial spirit also flows through with the type of individuals who work well at Mintz + Hoke, those who have that entrepreneurial spirit and can make lemonade out of lemons.

NAN: In terms of evolution, tell us about your “Immersively Different” approach.

SEAN CRANE: A company doesn’t go 50 years without evolving. The landscape of advertising and marketing has changed so much over that 50-year period. With our Immersively Different approach, we’re evolving with the industry. But it’s the things we haven’t changed that have enabled us to have that longevity. It’s staying true to Joe and Alan’s mentality. What they were calling street smarts back then we’re now calling being Immersively Different.

It’s the same thing. It’s going beyond traditional methods to get into the heads of our clients and potential clients’ customers. So, if we’re pitching a local supermarket, we’re at that supermarket interacting with people and asking questions. If we’re doing work for the Special Olympics, we’re becoming Special Olympics coaches ourselves.

NAN: So, it’s really immersing yourselves.

SEAN: Right. We always say we’re not out to please our clients—which is a tough thing to say. We’re all about our clients’ customers because if we focus 100% on our clients’ customers, we’re doing what we need to do for our clients. That’s our philosophy and has been for 50 years.

SARA-BETH DONOVAN: As we think about our Immersively Different approach and where we’ll go in the future, our public relations and media approaches are deeply involved. Our PR practice started many years ago under Mary Farrell’s guidance and has always been an important part of our work.

In the last few years, we’ve seen two critical changes brought forward during the pandemic. Mintz + Hoke has looked at how media should be thought of potentially differently than a traditional agency approach, whether that’s a PR agency or an advertising agency. We’ve blended our practice to be representative of paid media outreach as well as earned and owned media outreach. Because as we think about the end consumer, they’re agnostic about how they’re receiving these messages. And we’ve seen the proliferation of social media be one key component of that, whether it’s organic or boosted.

Secondarily, we’ve seen significant shifts in the journalism field where sponsored content offers a meaningful approach for many clients and helps given the resource erosion in journalism. As we look to tell the right story and share our critical messages, we acknowledge that the audiences we’re trying to reach may be best served by understanding how we can appropriately balance earned media and paid media.

While historically, traditional advertising campaigns with large-scale media budgets ruled the day, now we’re blending all that to meet the market where they are. This is significant for agencies that currently take a siloed approach. We don’t, and we never have. We immerse ourselves to solve the ultimate concerns or challenges agnostic of the path to get there.

NAN: Let’s talk about your community involvement.

RON: Mintz + Hoke has proudly taken on many social services projects over the years—that started early on with Joe and Alan. We’ve carried it through with some projects involving organizations like the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction and the state of Connecticut.

In 2004, we created the Alan Mintz Public Service Grant, which enables us to provide an entire pro bono ad campaign for a nonprofit. It’s a way for the agency to give back to folks that may not otherwise be able to afford that type of extensive campaign.

Another way we’re involved with the community is our collaboration with our favorite local lunch spot New England Pasta Company and their sister company, BeanZ & Co, which they opened to create inclusive work opportunities.

Marketing Director Angela Martin interviewed me one day and we came up with the idea of creating a job function at Mintz + Hoke for someone with intellectual disabilities. We worked with Favarh and ended up hiring Cate Alix, the daughter of BeanZ Co-Owner Noelle Alix, as an office assistant. She’s the best thing that ever happened with the agency.

NAN: That ties into the agency’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

RON: Yes. And with everything that happened in 2020, we realized our industry lacked diversity. The American Association of Advertising Agencies and many other associations started putting their heads together, trying to figure out how we could broaden the sector. It’s something we are working to address very diligently.

SEAN: One of the reasons it’s challenging for agencies to address diversity, at least on the creative side of the business, is because many agencies hire young professionals who come out of portfolio schools. They have the resources to receive a four-year college education and then attend a two-year portfolio school. Many agencies like to work with the portfolio schools because they know they’re getting someone ready to go. The problem is, attending portfolio school is quite a financial commitment. Therefore, there’s not a lot of racial and socioeconomic diversity.

To address this issue, Mintz + Hoke is in the process of opening the Connecticut Creative Academy, a nonprofit portfolio school that aims to recruit kids who simply have the desire. Participation will be based on factors like household income and a demonstrated willingness to be a creative professional. We’re working on finalizing the nonprofit’s logistics and plan to roll the program out later this year.

Ideally, we want to get the entire ad community involved and the business community in the Hartford Region—not just ad agencies but in-house creative departments at big companies. All types of industries are looking for a pipeline of qualified creatives with a different perspective. At Mintz + Hoke, we don’t think the same type of people should be creating the messaging for everybody.

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Photo caption: The Mintz + Hoke senior leadership team with retired founder, Joe Hoke. Left to right: seated, Chief Creative Officer Sean Crane; standing, Principal, Strategy Andrew Wood; seated, Principal/President Media Only Sara-Beth Donovan; standing, Principal and CEO Ron Perine; seated on table, Joe Hoke; Principal, Client Service Kara Mitchell; and Principal, Broadcast Buying Lynette Mccarthy.