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Scott Harkey on Rallying into 2023 with The Harkey Group


The CEO of the newly-launched holding company speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about the successful restructuring and why independent shops are adapted for 2023

Scott Harkey on Rallying into 2023 with The Harkey Group

As we ticked over into 2023, OH Partners - a full-service, integrated marketing agency out of Phoenix, Arizona – officially announced that it was restructuring to become an independently-held holding company, called The Harkey Group. This group is comprised of five separate companies that have long been sister companies and collaborators of the OH Partners agency, but will now be united under one roof, with a centralised C-suite. The Harkey Group includes the aforementioned OH Partners, Nomadic Agency, Matter Films, OH Strategic Communications and OH Predictive Insights.

With offices in Phoenix and Las Vegas, the group’s new leadership team combines the brains of OH Partners’ co-founder Scott Harkey, who serves as CEO; OH Partners’ president Meagan Jackman as CMO; Nomadic’s Tim Washburn as CCO, and Greg Derr as CFO. A decision that was many years in the making, CEO Scott explained in the original announcement that this unification of the companies would allow the group to be represented as a larger, single entity on the market, to combine their creative capabilities and to give each respective company’s team the freedom to innovate and focus on their specialist area.

LBB’s Ben Conway caught up with Scott Harkey for a chat about how the move came about, the new opportunities and challenges it brings, and the value that an organisation outside of the usual suspects in New York or Los Angeles can add to brands’ partnerships.

LBB> Firstly, congratulations on this new step in the company’s journey! Has this been in the works for a long time? What prompted this evolution?

Scott> This move is something we’ve been discussing for years. Over time, we’ve built a strong culture of collaboration – be it with freelancers, client partners, agency partners, and so on. We’ve had sister companies for the better part of a decade, and that’s massively helped facilitate our innovation. We wanted to bring a brand to market that made sense and that helped employees and clients alike. 

LBB> What were some of the challenges that needed to be overcome before this could happen? How did you overcome them?

Scott> Our top priority has always been figuring out how we could use this structure to better serve our clients. Each of our companies has its own set of rules, so we had to be certain we were completely aligned, ensuring seamless client work from our first point of contact to project completion. We can't claim to be a one-stop shop without being able to deliver on that, and while there was obviously cohesion within the companies prior to this restructuring, that wasn't good enough. We needed complete and total alignment. We had to run a marketing brand challenge on ourselves to ensure we were clear and concise, with no questions left unanswered. 

LBB> Can you elaborate on what some of this restructuring has looked like? 

Scott> We’ve got a lot of moving parts, but it boils down to the individual structure and the group structure. Ultimately we wanted to know who could sit at the group level today and who could tomorrow. Because we wanted independent leaders who work at an agency level, we had to differentiate who works on the agency side and who works on the group side. We have a few dual roles, but many more dedicated roles. Through it all, we needed to ensure that each of the agencies would be incentivised to grow their own agencies while being team players. 

LBB> You want The Harkey Group to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for clients - how will you be leading and organising this cross-group collaboration? And why do you think this is something that clients are looking for?

Scott> In our industry, there’s no such thing as a client-geared search engine that sources specialty agencies; it’s all reliant on word of mouth. After you gain a client's trust, you can recommend a good fit. The fact that our industry doesn’t have that streamlined search makes collaboration so attractive – I get hundreds of calls every year from colleagues asking for referrals. Our clients trust us because of the reputation that we've built, so we wanted to take the years of small-scale success we’ve had to a larger market. 

The leaders of each group meet monthly to ensure we’re on the same page. We’ve been doing this for a while, and it’s helped us find a ton of opportunities for collaboration among our agencies. It took a bit for us to figure out which agency is best at what they’re known for, but as agency leaders, we’re always positioned to be problem solvers.

LBB> What are the benefits of having a centralised C-suite? Are there any challenges that this could bring too?

Scott> There are a lot of benefits to a centralised C-Suite, most obvious among them being that agency leaders can dedicate more time to perfecting their craft. They can solve problems and do great work for clients while the C-Suite focuses on backend work and business logistics. Having a centralised C-Suite also guarantees further cohesion between the agencies, because we are also served by the same human resources department, the same accounting team, and so on. 

Our biggest challenge has been serving as our own worst critic, finding what each company is truly good at and outlining where they fall short. We needed to find out who we are, inside and out, flaws included, to fill the gaps and to plan for our future growth. That way, our acquisition strategy is clear and we don’t end up onboarding competition.

LBB> How will the companies’ existing client portfolios and talent be affected? Will clients of Nomadic, for example, be encouraged to extend their relationship to the other Harkey Group companies? And will talent from each company be pooled or shared at all?

Scott> We definitely have crossover on client services and collaboration, namely with Nomadic and OH Partners. Creatively, diversity of work gets people excited. That’s why I still believe so heavily in the agency model as opposed to in-house work: the best creative talent wants to be challenged. 

One of our biggest pillars is ensuring that above all, we rally. We can pool our resources at a moment’s notice. However, it’s not going to be like a car lot where we try to upsell our clients. If it makes sense, we’ll pool resources. We'll keep the same relationships with existing clients as we always have: they know we have unlimited creative resources at our fingertips, and if any of our wheelhouses aligns with what they're looking for, we'll utilise it. 

LBB> After restructuring, is expansion on the cards in 2023? How do you find a company that fits in with the Harkey philosophy?

Scott> Expansion is absolutely in the cards. We have our ear to the ground, but it’s nothing we’ll force. We are very methodical in partnerships and acquisitions. We’re looking to expand maybe one or two agencies per year for the next five years or so, if we find agencies that are a good cultural fit. I see two types of potential scenarios: we’ll look for fantastic specialised agencies that share our values, and for strong agencies with longstanding owners who may want to take a few chips off the table. We look for companies that treat their employees right, are involved in the community, and put out great work in their industries.

LBB> Looking ahead to 2023, what are you excited about in the industry? What are the big projects, ideas or mantras that the Harkey Group will be involved in and following throughout the year?

Scott> I’m excited that now more than ever, large brand CMOs understand the value of partnerships outside of the same large companies based in cities like New York and Los Angeles. With the potential economic downturn, speed and value are going to be paramount, and independent shops deliver that in spades. We have a lot of work coming out in entertainment and hospitality, but I can’t speak about anything yet. 

For our mantras – we’re elevating people’s lives through the content we create on behalf of our clients. We do great work that helps brands and ultimately inspires people. 

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The Harkey Group, Wed, 18 Jan 2023 15:27:00 GMT