By Carol K. Dumas
With a little talent and a lot of hard work, stars are born in Hollywood. Not movie stars — but businesses, through the Hollywood Agency in Hingham.
Darlene Hollywood left a lucrative career as an executive vice president of a public relations agency to strike out on her own, fed up with “mediocrity and complacency” and the one-size-fits-all approach” of traditional agencies She also sought to spend more time with her family. She worked the next six years as a consultant, before launching the Hollywood Agency in 2011. The company was founded on thinking outside the box to find creative solutions to grow unique brands through compelling storytelling.
She started by solidifying her own brand, using her maiden name (Hollywood) to create parallels between the movies and businesses, both of which need an audience to prosper. Click on “About” on the agency web site and a video pops up, playing like a movie trailer complete with a voice over, starred quotes from “reviews” and outtakes to explain the company’s mission. The “Hollywood” theme is carried through to business cards that mimic an “admit one” movie ticket and staff who are referred to as “the cast,” and whose profiles include such information as “who would play them in a movie.” Holiday cards are a fun riff on movies and TV shows, with staff faces instead of the stars.
“You have to do something like this and be ridiculous and be able to take a risk,” she says.
All kidding aside, that risk-taking is exactly is what Hollywood challenges her clients to do in order to achieve brand awareness and growth.
“I’ve always been a straight-shooter. A lot of agencies play to what a client wants to hear,” she explains. “We ask tough questions. For example, if a client tells me how everyone likes their product or business, we turn that around: what don’t people like about you? What differentiates you from the competition? We challenge the status quo.”
Since 2011, she’s increased her staff of two located in Scituate to a team of 12 at Hingham Shipyard overlooking Hingham Harbor. The agency has built up a diverse portfolio from startups and small businesses (Muck Boot Company, ) to Fortune 500 companies (Honeywell, Welch’s, Calgon, Samsonite) and has gathered some prestigious industry awards in the process. They work with both B2C and B2B clients and a few that are local.
Brainstorming is a key part of the process here, conducted a few times a week, and it’s all inclusive. “Sometimes the best ideas come from an intern,” observes Hollywood. The team also conducts an anonymous survey about a new client’s product and then brings in the company’s stakeholders, asking such questions as basic as “What do you sell?”
“It’s mind-boggling the different answers we get, whether it’s the COO or the CFO,” Hollywood says. But all this information helps the agency define the client’s story and develop a campaign strategy.
The agency has a few nonprofit clients. “As corporate citizens we should give back to our communities,” believes Hollywood, who serves on the board of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce as well. “I believe in the vision of the chamber to increase housing for this region. We need a workforce, but if you don’t have affordable places to live, that’s a problem.”
The greatest impact on the industry has been social media and the internet and agencies have had to adapt campaigns to get their clients’ stories out there. There’s less emphasis on print and TV media, more emphasis on social media and tapping into “influencers” such as those on Instagram and Facebook who have millions of followers.
“It’s hard to stay current with that. It’s the wild, wild West out there,” Hollywood says. “There’s a new channel every day. Our job is to break through the clutter. “It involves lots of research to dig deep and find the right influencer.”
In a campaign for TOMY, they succeeded in doing just that. The global juvenile products company had launched a portable, instant smartphone photo printer called KiiPix and wanted to increase brand awareness. Hollywood partnered with a popular teen celebrity, Maddie Ziegler, who had 12 million Instagram followers in the company’s target market. The 10-week campaign involved making a video of Ziegler using the product and offering a sweepstakes to followers who posted on her Instagram account. Another goal was a “path-to-purchase.” The results were “staggering”: KiiPix’s Instagram followers increased by 108 percent and sales of the new printer on Amazon increased by 81 percent.
While the agency pushes the boundaries of how their clients work with the public, in the end, says Hollywood, “Relationships are important. You have to show some humanity.”