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November 29

Agency DNA: Tartan


Tartan Marketing is like no other agency I’ve visited in my life. In terms of both the physical structure and the type of environment, this place is truly unique.

I made my way to the outskirts of Maple Grove (what seemed like the other side of the world) and pulled into a small parking lot in front of what looked like a large home. If not for my trusty GPS telling me I was at the right place (and the big sign out front saying “Tartan Marketing”) I might have thought I had driven past Tartan and straight to Scotland. I half expected everyone inside to be wearing kilts.

I sat down with Margie MacLachlan, owner of Tartan Marketing, to get an idea of how this special place came into existence and what makes their employees and clients so happy. Here’s what she had to say:

LK: Thanks again for inviting me into your space, but I’m guessing this isn’t where you first started?

MM: No, we actually started Tartan in 2000 out of a garage in Wayzata. We’re incredibly lucky to be at the place we are today.

LK: Tell me about the evolution of Tartan Marketing through the years. What made you decide to start the business?

MM: I’ve been self-employed since age 28. I owned a magazine and I was a freelance writer for many years, and then the opportunity came up for Jim and me to launch an agency together. [Jim, her husband, is the President of the agency and a very funny Scotsman.] Both of our fathers owned businesses, so it just seemed like a natural choice for us.

We never set out to become huge; we just knew that our combined skill sets made a lethal combo – mine in writing and Jim in strategy and account management. We both had a ton of background working with B2B companies, and we saw a market for companies that wanted big-agency thinking with small-agency service, so that’s where we’ve focused our attention.

We’ve got 14 employees, and several contract people we work with regularly, and we hire very carefully to make sure we have the sustained workload to support every position. We figure, between our employees and their families, we have about 40 mouths to feed, and we take that very seriously. This is a volatile business, but we’ve been fortunate to weather the ups and downs while keeping a strong core team. We are very high-touch with our clients, and our size allows us to nurture those intimate relationships.

LK: Let’s dive further into what your clients would say about you. How do they see you differently than some of their other partners?

MM:  I think our clients would say that we know their business as well as they do, that the quality of our creative is high, and that they can trust us to do what we say we’ll do, and get it right. Trust goes a long way. We can have honest conversations with our clients to tell them things they may not want to hear but are in their best interest.

Our brand is all about being agile and responsive, and our people are empowered to make decisions based on what’s best for our clients. We have high expectations, and can be very demanding (or so I’m told!), but I think our employees would say that we’re fair. We’re passionate about doing our best work, and we expect everyone else to be the same way. But that doesn’t mean we work 60 hours a week. Our culture is pretty fast-paced and intense, but we intentionally manage so people don’t work excessive overtime.

LK: Do you have key profiles you look for when you’re hiring?

MM: We don’t – we have four account people, three art directors, one creative director, an office manager, a traffic manager, and two copywriters. We’ve hired most of our people through some sort of a referral. We’ve gotten much better through the years in the interview process of showing our true colors and being honest with a prospective hire about what our agency stands for.

LK: Are there any interview questions you always ask?

MM: Yes. It’s a little silly, but we always ask people what animal they would be. It doesn’t matter what animal they pick; it’s why they pick it that’s interesting. It always reveals some insight into the kind of person they are and their creativity. If it surprises us, or makes us laugh, that’s a plus.

I also ask candidates to describe what a hectic day means to them. People might think they know what a fast pace is, but we seem to re-define it.

LK: Is there anything else that’s important in defining the Tartan brand in the marketplace?

MM:  Well, do you know what a Tartan is?

LK: No, I do not. What is it?

MM: In Scotland, every clan, or family, has their own unique Tartan. It’s a plaid, with colors and a pattern that is distinct from any other clan. In battle, they would wear kilts made from their Tartan, to distinguish themselves from the enemy on the battlefield. In that sense, it was like the very first “brand.” So, I guess you could say branding is in our blood.

To learn more about Tartan, visit them at http://www.tartanmarketing.com/


Laura King is a Sr. Interactive Marketing Recruiter at Versique Search & Consulting. She loves digital marketing and is a relationship builder through and through, which is why she joined Versique in 2013 – to build the digital marketing practice and help connect top local talent with the best companies in the Twin Cities. Laura has 9 years of recruiting experience, 5 of them hands-on within the digital marketing space. Laura works with both companies and agencies alike to recruit strong digital talent, earning the reputation as a trusted partner and advisor. She enjoys getting outside, anything fitness related, and spending time with her husband and soon-to-be two-year old.