A conversation about employee ownership has resulted in the merger of Butler/Till and Digital Hyve, creating one of the largest independent marketing and media agencies in the nation.
The companies announced their decision today. Butler/Till will now employ 250, retaining all Digital Hyve staffers.
The conversation began when Kimberly Jones, president and CEO of Butler/Till, was approached for advice on employee ownership by Digital Hyve. Her agency is an employee-owned business.
“The mission of ownership is larger than Butler/Till,” Jones says. “It is a fundamental movement that we believe deeply in. From that conversation, it quickly morphed into the realization that our two organizations coming together is not only a good idea, but a purposeful one.”
For Jeff Knauss, co-founder and CEO of Digital Hyve, offering its employees a chance to inherit the business was important and felt right.
“I realized the awesome benefits that being an ESOP has created for Butler/Till,” Knauss says. “I wanted the same thing for the Digital Hyve crew. Digital Hyve’s growth has been fueled by their passion, creativity, and hard work.”
Both businesses have grown over the last few years. Butler/Till in the past year broke ground on its new downtown office and achieved double-digit growth, officials say. It added employees, expanded its analytics and media capabilities, and won key accounts such as Endo Pharmaceuticals. The firm is poised to move into its new building at 260 East Broad in the Midtown district this fall.
“A silver lining of the pandemic was the ability to reinvent the space and think about what the future of work will look like,” Jones says. “We got to reimagine an even stronger culture, taking into considerations such as a hybrid workforce, DEI, thinking about our employees’ mental health and wellness, creating a better tech-enabled collaborative environment, flexibility, onboarding, training—the list goes on and on.”
A digital marketing shop, Digital Hyve brings strengths in the small- and midsize-business realm. It has ranked among Adweek’s 100 Fastest Growing Agencies and is one of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States. It grew 13,000 percent over the last seven years, officials say.
The move will diversify Butler/Till’s capabilities, offering entries into markets such as retail, automotive, food and beverage, government, education, travel, tourism and hospitality. The combined firm will continue to operate in Rochester, Syracuse and New York City.
“We are excited to leverage Digital Hyve’s strengths in the sector of small- and medium-size enterprises,” Jones says. “They are a staple to our economy and many times they have difficulty accessing and attaining capabilities and resources that would help them thrive.
“In a world of digital transformation and complexities of privacy, regulations, and the need to earn the audience’s attention and data more than ever, we are excited to support Digital Hyve, their SME sector, and their people in this endeavor.”
In addition, the companies’ cultures, vision and passion for delivering value to clients were in sync.
“This merger will be the catalyst for continued hypergrowth into the future,” Knauss says.
Under the terms of the agreement, Digital Hyve will retain its brand and become a wholly owned subsidiary of Butler/Till. Jones will lead the combined agency. Digital Hyve employees will join Butler/Till’s ESOP.
“Now that our 56 full-time employees will be employee-owners, they will be able to capture the future value they create in a significant and meaningful way,” Knauss says. “Also, becoming one of the largest, independently-owned ad agencies in the country will create more career growth opportunities for our team.”
It does one more thing: Digital Hyve employees will be part of a B Corporation. One of 3,500 such for-proﬁt companies, Butler/Till is certiﬁed to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
“The essence of being a B Corporation means meeting the highest standards of environmental performance, transparency, and accountability to find the balance between profit, people, and purpose,” Jones says. “This movement is a force for good. And that to us is always a smart idea.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.