While it’s tempting to jump right to puns and 2013 to make sure we could stand the heat; and then a final stereotypes when thinking about Austin, Texas–based creative agency Preacher, it may be wise to resist the urge. Exercise self-control, for God’s sake. But, you know what—don’t. Feel free to indulge in comparisons between the pulpit and this other spreader of the good word. Thump the Bible of brand evangelism.
This Preacher, like any successful preacher, has true believers (clients and the targets they resonate with), disciples (agency staffers) and even—in a nod to more structured practices—a trinity at the helm: Rob Baird, chief creative officer; Krystle Loyland, chief executive officer; and Seth Gaffney, chief strategy officer. At Preacher-central in downtown Austin, there is even a pew, and stained glass windows line a rambling conference room. As one enters, a painted wall proclaims, “Spreading the good word.”
Baird, Loyland and Gaffney met at the New York office of advertising agency Mother, each landing there between 2006 and 2010. They worked together on a project basis; over time, they noticed that when they teamed up, the work was excellent and the process flowed pretty much seamlessly—the three were a winning combination. “We learned at Mother that the more our individual jobs overlapped, the better it worked,” says Loyland. “We have extreme accountability to each other. Nothing is done just because the client said so. We found that when we worked together, it cut out a lot of the nonsense.” In 2013, they decided to not only open their own shop, but also to leave town. “We wanted to compete on a different playing field than Mother and all the places and friends we knew in New York,” says Baird.
Loyland and Baird are from the Austin, Texas, area, so the arts-and-music-oriented city became a natural contender for relocation. Gaffney, who had barely even set foot in Texas, was philosophical: “Two of my favorite people were from Texas, so I felt good about it. I’d been to Austin three times before we officially launched at South by Southwest in 2014: once a few years earlier on a trip with friends from both coasts; once with Rob, Krystle and our significant others for a week in August 2013 to make sure we could stand the heat; and then a final time to scout places to live and office spaces in January 2014. It was a leap of faith for sure—mostly for my wife, who was pregnant with our first child... though in fairness, she was trading a fifth-floor walk-up apartment for a house with a garden. We got minilemon and lime trees!”
Austin’s focus on art and music proved a perfect fit for Preacher. “We started by finding local talent for our clients,” says Loyland. Over time, they’ve come to tap into talent from all over the world. But Austin’s art scene has a special place at Preacher: when the three found the space they would ultimately land in, they loved that it had a full gallery space for local painters, photographers, illustrators and sculptors. “Austin has become our fourth partner,” says Baird. Loyland adds, “And we have a lot of cold-weather clients who don’t mind that meetings happen here.”
Tommy John—founded by chief executive officer Tom Patterson, a former medical device salesperson—designs and manufactures high-end undergarments for men. Patterson, who had spent his days calling on clients in a suit and tie, decided to make it his business to improve men’s underwear, which had been a major source of discomfort for him. In 2014, comedian Kevin Hart was seen wearing Tommy John boxers in one of his videos. The brand reached out to Hart, and he eventually became an investor in the company.
That was when chief marketing officer Josh Dean was new to Tommy John. He asked Preacher to help out. “Right after I joined Tommy John, I started talking with Rob about the brand,” says Dean. “Preacher literally felt like an extension of my team. The first piece of work we did was over Christmas when Kevin [Hart] came to the [Tommy John] office and said that he wanted to create some additional content. We had a briefing with Kevin, and within a week, Preacher came up with ideas. We turned the project around by the first week of January and produced fifteen films. Everyone was rolling up their shirtsleeves. There was no precious creative. Rob has an extremely good eye, and he’s also extremely flexible.”
Loyland’s loyalty to Tommy John reflects the agency’s own brand essence: “Tommy John is a great example of Preacher at its most natural. We’ve been working with them since our early days, and have collaborated and shared success. We care about their business as much as they do and use that accountability to influence smart, brave work that will actually work.”
That belief in their clients’ brands is where the name Preacher comes from. “We knew we didn’t want our own names to be the company name,” Baird explains. “The name came from what we wanted to build. We wanted to be known for being a really happy place to work. We wanted to believe in the work we were doing, and also the brands we work on. We are extrainterrogative. It’s not so much ‘who will work with us,’ but ‘who will we work with?’ Our promise to the people who work here is that if they give their very best, we’ll make sure to partner with clients who are worth it.”
Preacher is located on the upstairs floor of a downtown building. Most recently, the floor was occupied by Karma Lounge, a cocktail and dance club. When the lounge moved on, it left a cavernous, blank space with an attached annex. When Loyland, Gaffney and Baird toured it, they asked that no walls be put up and that they be allowed to design the interior; the owner said yes. That annex became the local gallery, and the rest of the space is in the style of a rambling living room. A large kitchen anchors one side and a winding conference room anchors the other. In the center, rows of worktables are home to staff. Baird’s laptop sits smack in the middle, symbolizing his hands-on, in-the-center-of-it-all role at the agency.
“Rob sees everything that goes out the door,” Loyland says. “We are an agency of shared values, respect and ambition. Culture is not a beer tap and a ping-pong table. Everything we do is to allow that.” Gaffney adds, “While it’s clearest to describe Rob as the creative visionary, Krystle as our business leader and me as the strategy guru, the truth is: the lines are much blurrier. We all share the same beliefs about creative problem solving and rich culture building.”
Amory Wooden, director of brand marketing at the web-design service Squarespace, has worked with Preacher for two years. “With most agencies, there’s waiting and waiting and waiting for the big reveal, which may turn out to be disappointing. With Preacher, they’re side by side with us the whole time. Krystle, Rob and Seth don’t just get the work done; they are personally invested in it. They were supposed to make a 30-second spot for the Grammys for us, and they managed to hire noted musician documentarian Danny Clinch.” The spot was to feature singer/songwriter Leon Bridges, following his road from dishwasher to noted artist.
“They knew that photographer Danny would capture Leon,” Wooden continues. “They were able to work it out so that Danny and Leon could travel together for four days on his tour bus. They weren’t just doing the job—they were looking at who Leon Bridges is. What’s in his soul?” Sounds like religion. ca