'Don't call us flyover country': Brandery founder reminds D2 Cincinnati of local marketing expertise

CINCINNATI - Innovative startups don't need to move to Silicon Valley to find top creative talent or major corporate clients. They can grow in right here in Cincinnati, home to some of the Midwest's top marketing agencies and brands.

Cincinnati is in the midst of an entrepreneurial resurgence, tapping into the Queen City's tradition of innovation, research and branding prowess, said Dave Knox, co-founder of The Brandery, the city's first consumer marketing startup accelerator.

"Cincinnati is the original boomtown," Knox said, marking Cincinnati's many highlights from its history as the country's hog packing center, to today being home to Fortune 500 companies like Kroger, Procter & Gamble and Macy's. The conference sold out at 400 registrations.

Knox, also chief marketing officer at digital agency Rockfish, was the late afternoon keynote speaker at the first day of the inaugural D2 (Digital Dialogue) Cincinnati  conference.

The two-day conference, which continues Thursday at the Horseshoe Casino, highlights the trends, opportunities and future of consumer-centric digital marketing. Conference organizers are the American Advertising Federation Cincinnati and dunnhumbyUSA.

Knox, a former marketing and brand manager for P&G, spoke from his own experience and passion for Cincinnati entrepreneurs. He left P&G three years ago to co-found The Brandery in Over-the-Rhine.

The tech-based consumer branding accelerator attracts young companies to Cincinnati from across the globe, including China, Boston, Vancouver, San Francisco and Chicago. It grooms them for growth and investment through a 4-month business accelerator program.

The Brandery was named of the Top 15 startup accelerators by industry publication Tech Cocktail in 2011 and 2012.

Cincinnati as a brand hub

Since The Brandery's start in 2010, its 26 portfolio companies have raised more than $23.3 million from investors. Its current class of companies is set to debut at a Demo Day, Oct. 2 at The Aronoff Center for the Arts.

Knox said Brandery companies start, locate and stay in Cincinnati for several reasons:

  • the potential to work with big brands,
  • local entrepreneurial support
  • the region's major branding, marketing and design talent

Cincinnati is among the top three marketing and branding agency cities in the country. The region has one of the highest concentration of creatives in the U.S., Knox added.

"Companies came to The Brandery, not because we dangled a bunch of cash in front of them, but because they saw opportunity, they saw the brands and they saw the support they wouldn't get from other cities," he said.

Adam Pleiman, vice president of creative development at Cincinnati digital marketing company ScreamingBob.com, was in the audience during Knox's keynote.

"I came here to get a good refresher and perspectives on the way that digital marketing is being used, and get some insight on how other people are doing things," Pleiman said. "There is a reason why this conference is here in Cincinnati, and it's exactly what (Knox) said. Cincinnati is a branding hub."

In the past five years, Greater Cincinnati has seen steady growth in resources, including funding, competitions, mentor and incubator programs for entrepreneurs. In addition to The Brandery, new resources include:

The region's entrepreneurial growth isn't limited to new brands, but also to the revival of historic ones.

"We're seeing the reinvention of brands," Knox said. "Christian Moerlein and Rookwood Pottery a hundred years ago were some of the most unique and interesting brands in the world. They are brands that disappeared for a little, but now they are coming back," Knox said.

Telling the Cincinnati story

The region is building a solid foundation for entrepreneurial growth, but the region's stakeholders have to spread that message, starting with individuals in the marketing and branding industry.

"We have to think about what our story is supposed to be. Why should people move here? We need to talk about the talent that exists here, our unique geography, and that this is place where you have create a startup and raise a family," Knox said.

The region is getting media attention from national publications, with recent articles about Cincinnati's entrepreneurial growth in Fortune Magazine, CNN Money, Tech Cocktail and Entrepreneur Magazine. Still, there's much more work that needs to be done to make the city a bigger player in the innovation field, Knox said.

"We need to be shouting about our history, and let people know you can come to this town and work for some of the world's biggest brands. During the downturn we actually saw job growth at agencies. We're seeing tremendous growth and there are tremendous opportunities."

Connect with WCPO contributor Feoshia Davis on Twitter: @feoshiawrites

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