“She always catches more fish than me,” said Holden. “She doesn’t have the best fly fishing technique but somehow it happens.”
“We do well fishing together until you get grumpy,” Perkins responded.
For the married couple, fishing is how they unwind. Advertising and branding is where they shine.
They run Clean, an integrated branding agency in Raleigh. Together, they stopped by the Raleigh Chamber to take part in the latest discussion in our Coffee with Leaders series.
Perkins, the CEO of Clean, previously served as the president of Trone Advertising and the chief marketing officer at Brunner. She has more than 25 years of industry experience.
Holden, Clean’s president, chief strategy officer, and partner, previously was the chief strategy officer at Publicis Kaplan Thaler in New York and the head of strategy at McKinney. He also was the strategic leader for Audi of America and was a member of Audi’s global marketing council. Holden has more than 30 years of industry experience.
“When I joined Clean, we had about 12-15 people,” said Perkins. “We were a small, little design shop in 2007. We had some big name clients, but it was right before the recession. A lot of our clients went away during the recession and we had to rebuild the agency. We became a more strategic agency and more creative than a boutique design shop.”
Perkins shared how Clean rebuild itself after the recession.
“We went out and we hustled,” she said. “We showed people how creative we are and how good we could be for them. We hustled up a lot of small accounts. We didn’t make a lot of money off of them, but we were willing to do things to prove our worth.”
Now, Clean employs more than 60 people. Most of them, Perkins and Holden said, are women.
“While it’s not intentional, it is a side effect of our culture,” said Perkins. “We are a values-driven agency and we wanted to create a very family-friendly environment. Advertising is a hard business and I’ve seen too many women run away because they’ve had to choose between work and children.”
“We tell our clients you are not the most important people to us,” she added. “Our staff is and you should be happy about that because if she is happy, she’s doing better work for you.”
With the agency being values-driven, Perkins said it does a lot of work with nonprofits and also with tourism clients. Charlottesville, Va. is one of Clean’s clients. Prior to the anniversary of the violence that happened in Charlottesville in Aug. 2017, Clean came up with a campaign for Charlottesville called Joined in Strength.
“No community wants to see hatred,” said Holden. “It just shows what you can do if you start to build a groundswell of a movement.”
As for their leadership dynamic, Holden said Perkins runs the business and he keeps his eye on future business.
“There is nobody better at doing what he does,” she said.
Holden said, in the last 10 years, there has been a digital advertising explosion.
“We have to create communications that people want to opt into,” he said. “People will block your ad if they don’t want to see it.”
An audience member asked for advice on how to effectively use social media.
“Know who you are,” said Holden. “Know the nature of your brand and your product. Companies need to figure out the nature of who they are, the nature of who their core audience is, and don’t bombard people with information. If you give me interesting information, I’m more likely to share it.”
Another audience member asked about any regrets they have. Perkins responded, “I only wish that I had done this sooner. I love this. I love having my own place.”
We thank Perkins and Holden for sharing their great insight and stories with us. We also thank our series sponsors, Duke Energy and Duck Donuts.
Our next Coffee with Leaders event at the Chamber will be on Dec. 5 where we will have a conversation with Todd Olson, the CEO and co-founder of Pendo, one of our region’s most promising startups. In five years, Pendo has grown from a five-person team housed inside HQ Raleigh to one of the most well-funded companies in North Carolina with more than 200 employees.
Coffee with Leaders is a free event, meant for Chamber members with 50 employees or fewer. Space is limited. Register today and we will see you on Dec. 5.