Like almost every ad agency, Terri & Sandy has an origination story. This one got its official start in 2010 at Terri’s dining room table in lower Manhattan. Terri Meyer was the art director, Sandy Greenberg the copywriter. They’d been best friends for 20 years and creative partners for most of that time. Today, they are co–chief executive officers of the independent New York powerhouse named Small Agency of the Year by Ad Age in 2017.
Their history together began in 1986 at the St. Louis office of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, where they worked on Anheuser-Busch, M&M Mars and AT&T. Meyer, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, went off to spend six tough months at J. Walter Thompson (JWT) in Chicago. She returned to D’Arcy, this time in New York, where she ran the Mars business and worked on Corning and Kraft. In the meantime, Greenberg, an alumna of Washington University in St. Louis, joined the legendary New York shop Della Femina, Travisano & Partners.
At D’Arcy, Meyer really, really wanted Greenberg to be hired as her partner, and on her birthday, “there was Sandy with a big bow around her neck!” she recalls. They worked there for three years until James Patterson—“the smartest person ever” and an advertising executive before becoming a best- selling author—lured them to JWT. “Our first assignment was an Olympic spot for Kodak. We felt like two kids in a candy store,” Meyer says. Three years later, an irresistible offer came from Foote, Cone & Belding: to run the Campbell’s, Gerber and Nabisco accounts. They stayed for thirteen years. Their signature Milk’s Favorite Cookie campaign emphasized “the dunk part of the Oreo ritual,” Meyer explains. “People were worried about trans fats and childhood obesity, so highlighting milk gave the brand a nutritional halo.” Then came a breakaway opportunity to do a Super Bowl spot for Planters, a Nabisco brand. “We have to make the top ten” was the client’s marching order. The Perfume commercial featured a heavyset woman with a unibrow who stopped men dead in their tracks after anointing herself with aromatic Planters’ cashews. The spot was voted number nine on USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter.
I met with Meyer and Greenberg at Terri & Sandy’s offices just northwest of Madison Square Park, where 50 people work on accounts including Gerber, The Walt Disney Company, Avon North America, CityMD, Freshpet and The Hartford Financial Services Group. The co–chief executive officers’ shared, glass-walled office is in the center of a 9,000-square-foot space decorated in signature magenta with abstract black-and-white area rugs, a matching Havanese pup and gallery-worthy photos taken on Meyer’s world travels. The office was buzzing with activity; lots of meetings in other glass-walled spaces and at tables where genuinely nice people greeted me warmly—in between packing up homemade cookies to deliver to a children’s hospital. It was clear why the agency motto is “Go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated.”
Unlike agency people who hand out predigested platitudes, Meyer and Greenberg are refreshingly honest. They tend to finish each other’s thoughts, so it’s impossible to identify who said what. And it doesn’t matter. Take a listen:
“If men are threatened by a strong, ‘bossy’ woman, imagine if there are two!”
“We never settled for having account people own the relationship. We insisted on a direct line to fight our own battles.”
“Because of #MeToo, things are changing. You don’t have to stay in your place anymore.”
“But morale is still a huge problem in the big-agency world.”
“Too many hours and too many levels.”
“Here, we do things differently. People matter.”
“Everyone is empowered to step up.”
Some staff members stepped up from other agencies, with portfolios filled with Effies and CA Awards and Cannes Golds. Others are second-career professionals who emigrated from publishing and journalism and working at the Genius Bar. Tracy Chapman, head of strategy and planning, ran consumer insights at Everyday Health. Some are design school alumni, but most attended universities including Brown, St. John’s, Syracuse and Brigham Young. Creative director Todd Condie, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, left antitrust law to express his more creative side. “Terri mentored me about getting into advertising, and I offered to work for free for three months,” he says. He was their first employee, an account manager who proved himself a worthy creative by dreaming up storyboards at night.
Everyone at Terri & Sandy has an equally compelling story—and good things to say about the agency, like “It has soul” and “I love working with these two brilliant, passionate women.” Managing director Tony Scopellito sums up: “We’re all in this little boat together, and we all succeed together. There’s no formal division between account and creative. Everyone’s idea is heard and considered.” When asked about his background, executive assistant Austin Adams jokes that back in high school in Colorado, he was voted “most likely to land a job at a women-owned agency.”
The conversations were revealing, but even more revealing is the work. The new The Buck’s Got Your Back campaign for The Hartford, for example, brings the unsung category of small businesses insurance to the forefront by making superheroes out of an accountant, a baker and a barber—all watched over by a magnificent, animated Hartford buck. Terri & Sandy has been a game changer when it comes to empowering women. Avon was founded in 1886, but there was never much prestige attached to being an “Avon Lady.” The commercial from the This Is Boss Life campaign repositions a woman who sells Avon as a multitasking mama who gives up a dead-end job for freedom, fun and 40 percent of her gross sales—set to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” anthem, with cheeky new lyrics.
The Terri & Sandy approach is to turn negatives into positives and educate consumers about the positives they might not be aware of. The Dream Big, Princess spots show real girls excelling at diving, speechmaking and conducting science experiments—juxtaposed with clips of Disney princesses. “Millennial moms grew up with these princesses, but now the focus isn’t on tiaras and frills, but on how they change the world,” says Chapman. “Dream Big, Princess is a big, organizing idea for one of Disney’s most important franchises,” explains Marty Muller, a senior vice president at Disney. “The assignment was to reposition the princesses; to show how each one overcame the odds thanks to her kindness, fortitude and courage. The GEM [Gender Equality Measure], which rates consumer perception of how females are portrayed in the media, gave our commercials one of the highest scores ever,” she adds. “We are really proud.”
Other notable campaigns reposition brands that had lost their luster or were relatively unknown. Gerber baby foods aren’t what they used to be, thanks to Terri & Sandy. The giggly Anything for Baby campaign emphasizes that Gerber jars contain “nothing but the best for Baby,” like figs and kale from organic farms. The SunnyD campaign reassures millennials that it’s ne to drink the citrus-flavored beverage, “during treat moments of fun.” And now, almost everyone with a CityMD urgent-care clinic nearby knows that it’s better not to stay home with an injury or bad cold. Perhaps the most telling Terri & Sandy initiative is a global phenomenon that began as a campaign for Barba Men’s Grooming Boutique, a barbershop in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, home to many LGBTQ individuals. Creative director JP Gomez, who knew the small account would have big potential, introduced his husband, Xavier Cruz, Barba’s owner, to the agency. A team Gomez heads with creative director/copywriter Sam Mazur launched Strands for Trans, which identifies shops that gladly serve transgender individuals via trans-flag-inspired barber-pole window stickers. The campaign broke with compelling images of trans individuals who’d been refused service at other barbershops, now with signature pink and blue streaks in their hair. The videos went viral. “It’s more than an ad campaign; it’s a tool for good,” Mazur says.
“Never could I have imagined Strands for Trans would go global,” says Cruz. “The impact and the outpour from the community was wonderful. Challenges from a few transphobic barbershops were buried by love and support from around the world. My business has benefitted tremendously. New clients who appreciate what we stand for have come in. We are messaged by teens with identity issues who now understand that they are no different than anyone else.”
“This makes me want to do more with Terri & Sandy,” he concludes. “They get it.”
“We get it,” says Greenberg. “We’re super proud of the impact of our creative, and of the fact that when Effie Worldwide named the fifteen most effective independent ad agencies in North America, Terri & Sandy was number three.”
“That was back in 2014,” Meyer adds, “when people were still asking, ‘Terri & Sandy who?’ Now they know.” ca