There is a Difference featuring Sarah Quackenbush, Chief Strategy Officer, Harvey Agency

November 28, 2022


Every summer we take an in depth look at something we find interesting or curious or simply fun. This year we looked at what claim’s agencies are making to describe themselves and the work they are doing. As a part of our discovery, we talked with leaders from several different agencies including Sarah Quackenbush from the Harvey Agency. Sarah shares open and honest answers to our questions in this edition of There is a Difference. Take a look.

My name is Sarah Quackenbush. I am the Chief Strategy Officer for the Harvey Agency located in Baltimore. I’ve been with the company since January, but I’ve been in the agency business for about the last 25 years. My role throughout my career, has been primarily in account services, strategy and business development. I did do a little side projects for some copywriting projects in the past, but account services, BD and strategy have been kind of the focus of my career for the last 20 some odd years.

The homepage of the Harvey website is very catchy, with, “The future is happening.” In the agency’s standard hot pink color. What does, “The future is happening.” mean to Harvey?


That is a great question. So it kind of depends on the context of that statement. So within the site itself, it means that there’s a new site under development. So most literally, that is the future that is happening, a new website. But, Harvey has been around for 36 years and was recently sold in December of 2022. So we have new ownership. With that comes a new executive team, myself being one of them, as well as my creative partner, Jess Brown, who’s serving as chief creative officer, and a lot of new faces and a lot of new capabilities.

So Harvey’s background has always been in consumer packaged goods and consumer products, primarily focused on that in-store retail environment. About 10 years ago, we expanded a little bit further into the digital space, and with the addition of Jess and I joining the team, as well as Matt McDermott, the new owner of the agency, we are really investing in expanding those digital capabilities within the agency. So that means new goals, that means new processes, and in so many ways, the future of Harvey is really happening as you and I talk today. So, it’s a totally new day for the agency, and with that comes a new website, of course, in between all of the other client’s deliverables.  So, it may be awhile before that new site is finished.

Why do you think that doing things differently is such a priority?


I think Matt and Jess and myself, and some other members of the executive team have been in the business for a long time, multiple decades, and I think in a lot of ways we are not interested in doing it the way it’s always been done, partially because it’s boring, also because the world has changed quite significantly. And I think that with that comes a responsibility as an agency to treat all of our projects with a fresh lens, and approach them all, obviously with all of the knowledge and experience that we’ve accumulated over the years. But not assuming that every client’s project or challenge or business opportunity is the same as things that we’ve seen before.

So I think, from an organizational perspective, we’re doing things differently operationally because the old way of agencies working is slow. There’s a lot of bureaucracy, there’s a lot of internal processes, and those processes are designed mostly to support the agency and not the client. And clients are getting smarter and they can feel that.

I also think that the old way is expensive. So with that process and that bureaucracy comes a lot of cost, a lot of bloat, and a lot of time in how long it takes to get from point A to point B. So if we can operate differently and think differently about our clients projects, we can cut down on some of that bloat and some of those costs, and be more efficient.

I think agencies historically, and no disrespect to any of the agencies that have helped me create this career that I have, but I think a lot of agencies fall victim to naval gazing. A lot of creative for the sake of being creative, designed to win awards and build portfolios, but not necessarily drive our clients products off the shelves. And I think that that has to change, and I think clients are demanding that. And so that’s definitely something that we’re implementing into all of our practices. We let the consumers test and learn for us, we try to get all of that data as fast as we can, and we make decisions and pivots based on consumer behaviors, not necessarily what we think is the right decision.

I also think that agencies historically have been shrouded in a lot of mystery. There’s not been a ton of transparency around how the agency model operates, as far as how they talk to their clients and what their clients actually know about how those dollars are being spent, how those hours are being used. And at the end of the day, clients want to see results and they want to understand what they’re paying for.

So you’ll see that, I think in a lot of the ways that we operate with our clients, that’s really one of the focuses of our client experience team, is making sure that we’re transparent, that we’re upfront, and that we are very results driven. And then I think ultimately, sometimes agencies lose sight of the end consumer. So ultimately the consumers are the ones that are telling us whether or not we’re getting it right.

I think agencies sometimes lose track of the end consumer. They’re the ones that are telling us if we’re getting it right, and we have to listen to what they’re saying and not be so precious about our own ideas. Not every campaign is revolutionary. Not every campaign has to be revolutionary, and not every agency is going to end up on the cover of AdAge, even if we strive to be there.

So we’ve got to make sure that no matter what, we’re moving the needle for our clients in whatever that looks like, in whatever areas in which those needles exist. And we have to be willing to listen and respond to change, and respond to that data. So yeah, Harvey’s in a little bit of a different place. We are working to build the type of agency that we’ve always wanted to work for and the type of agencies that our favorite clients would be proud to partner with.

Does this impact your team?


I think the agency model, even for the employees, we talked a lot about the clients just there, but even for employees, it’s got a reputation for being kind of a brutal environment to work within. And I’ve been there, and my colleagues have been there, my peers have been there, and we want to create a space in which even our employees are rewarded and recognized. And we want to be able to hire smart people and then give them autonomy.

And while we’re a business and we have to protect our bottom line, we also have to protect our people. And I think that’s probably the biggest difference between what we have come from. And what we’re trying to build and what we see in the market, is that we want to work with clients to understand that our employees respect and appreciate our team, respect and appreciate the fact that we protect them and that we’re going to have their backs and make sure that they’re rested and supported as best they can be. Because we know at the end of the day, their work will be better for it.

You guys have worked with some incredible big brands, in creating campaigns and activations. How do you approach them in a way that is memorable while you pitch?


That is a great question. So let indulge me for a moment. I’m going to give you a different example. So imagine you’re going on a blind date, and you show up to your date and your date arrives in a very sexy new European car. They’re dressed in the latest fashion, they hand you a giant bouquet of flowers, or some other romantic gesture. They take you to the hottest new restaurant. Once you sit down, they’re on their phones, or they’re looking over their shoulder to see who else is coming into the building. When the server comes over, they place their order and they order for you, without asking what you might like.

And when a beautiful model walks past the table, they stop to chat with your date and your date doesn’t introduce you, basically forget that you’re sitting at the table. You can kind of imagine how that feels, right? We’ve all seen those movies. We can kind of put ourselves in that position, I think. So imagine a few weeks later and you’re going on another date. And this person shows up dressed well, but not flashy. Maybe they’re driving a cooler car like a Tesla, but maybe not something so flashy, very tech forward, but still practical. They bring you a bottle of good wine instead of flowers. They take you to a nice intimate restaurant that’s known for its amazing food, but it’s quiet enough to have a conversation. And that’s what you do, you talk.

And they ask thoughtful questions, and they listen to your answers and they maybe point out their favorite things on the menu and let you decide for yourself what to order, and they make you laugh. So if you compare those two things, that first date is super exciting. It opened you up to new places and people and experiences that maybe you wouldn’t normally experience or be exposed to. Which is all great, awesome, we should all strive for that in our lives.

But which one do you think you can actually build a relationship with? Who’s going to be the one most likely to be the partner for the long haul? Which is the one who’s most likely to take on your challenges as if they were your own challenges? And which one is more likely to bail when something better comes along? So I think that’s what we do in pitches. We try to be the second date, we try to be the second blind date, that option, where we’re not really flashy people. We’re not that way anyway. So pretending to be that way would just come across as disingenuous and phony, and clients and prospects would see right through that. But I think most importantly, we listen.

I think our team, and when we hire new people, we are looking for natural problem solvers. So we ask good questions, we provide thoughtful answers. We’ve been doing this a really long time, and so in some ways we feel like we don’t have to try so hard to prove ourselves. We know what this business is, we know how it works, and we aim to establish relationships that are based on trust and mutual respect. Because once we have that, we can take calculated risks together with our clients. We can collaborate and have fun and do some amazing things from a creative perspective while also driving sales and building brands, because we’ve kind of established that foundation of trust and collaboration.

So I think the pitch process is also a way for us to determine whether or not the client is right for us. I think that’s something that a lot of agencies overlook. We’re so desperate to add to the roster and send out that press release with that new win, that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that maybe we don’t have the right staff for this project. Or, maybe our cultures are not aligned closely enough where we can really create that type of trust and respect and collaboration.

So I think we try not to get focused on the new shiny object, and we go into all of our pitches with an understanding of what is the client’s need. We look to understand what is their culture, what can they actually realistically accomplish? And we listen. We ask a lot of questions, and we listen rather than… And we try to get the client talking about themselves more than us talking about ourselves.

Because the reality is there are a lot of agencies that do the same thing in this country. There are a lot of agencies that do what Harvey does, but the way in which we do it, and the way I think that we approach it as human beings with empathy and understanding and critical thinking, I think is something that our best clients, the ones that we are most successful in working with, see from the beginning, respect, understand, and are attracted to. And so that’s usually how we win. And then of course, a killer creative, but that good creative comes from listening. Right?

Hot pink is not a traditional agency color, but we love that it’s so different. Can you give us a little bit of background on the selection of such a vibrant palette?


Yeah, so you actually just said it, is not a traditional agency color, which is part of why we picked it. We’re not a traditional agency. But, to be honest, that color palette was selected before I re-joined Harvey. So I can’t take any credit for it, but I do love it. And I have asked some of the folks that were around when we created the logo or changed that color palette, what their thoughts were. And I think from right out of the gate, the fact that hot pink is a very stimulating color, it is bold and it’s exciting, and it kind of has its own energy to it. It’s also the color of love and kindness.

And so those are all very good things that we try to emulate within the walls of the agency. And then it’s also the color of femininity. So Harvey was founded by Kathy Harvey, and the original company name was actually Harvey and Daughters. So I think it’s a nod to that feminist background, that feminine founding. And as the oldest female founded agency in the region, our C-suite is also dominated by intelligent, experienced women. Present company, not included in that. They’re much smarter and more experienced than I amount.

But, it is central to who we are as a company and as a brand. So while the company is owned by Matt, he is surrounded by women every single day. And he’s been brilliant in letting us make a lot of these really foundational decisions about the company. And I think pink and black are a pretty timeless color combination. So we’re hoping that it doesn’t go out of style.

What is the secret to getting consumers to go from its complicated to being in a relationship?


Just call me. It’s not a secret. We have a URL and a phone number. Just reach out, contact us. I think come at us, let us know what the challenge is, what you’re looking for, and we’ll find a way to solve it. And if we can’t solve it, we are certainly open to making introductions to other people that might be able to help you, if we’re not the right fit.

Thank you, Sarah.

We are committed to learning through conversations and observations, reading and writing. It is a privilege to spend time with people that are caring and passionate about their work and the people they connect with through their work. These are the people that are making a difference.

There is a Difference is a video and blog series of conversations with people find that are doing their work differently. Scroll through the blog page on Draper DNA or click here to watch the videos of our conversations on the Draper DNA YouTube channel


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