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Dixon Schwabl hits key milestones with growth

Rochester Business Journal
August 24, 2012

Dixon Schwabl Inc. expanded its business to more than 200 clients and topped $130 million in capitalized billings in 2011, reaching the milestones before celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The Victor marketing communications agency does not seem to be slowing down. It has been named agency of record for the PGA Championship next August at Oak Hill Country Club.

CEO Lauren Dixon said the company has spent the past few years integrating new media and marketing techniques to ensure that it continues to evolve with its industry.

"As time has gone on, our business has changed a lot," she said. "I'm constantly saying that the changes in the past two years have been greater than the changes in the past 20 years combined."

Dixon handles the firm's business and client interaction activities. Her husband, Michael Schwabl, is president and oversees the creative aspects of the business.

Dixon, a former TV reporter and sales representative, started Lauren Dixon Advertising in 1987 in her home. Schwabl was working as a freelance photographer when he saw an ad for a job opening at Dixon's agency.

Dixon hired Schwabl to head her creative team. The two married in 1989. The company was renamed Dixon Schwabl Advertising Inc.

The agency moved into its first office on the third floor of the Lauers Building on Monroe Avenue, across from Pittsford Plaza, in 1988. Schwabl said the agency's first big project was to produce a 30-minute documentary for Roberts Wesleyan College in two weeks.

"It was the first time I ever took NoDoz," Schwabl recalled. "That's scary when you're just starting out, to have a client want you to do a half-hour documentary. But we made it work."

Roberts Wesleyan remains a client. Dixon said the company has acquired a range of clients locally and nationally by focusing on relationships. Dixon Schwabl does not date its clients, it marries them, she said.

"We feel very strongly that it's about continuing to build the relationship day after day and never take any client relationship for granted," Dixon said.

As the agency grew, she said, she began to see a shift in the industry. Larger ad agencies began to dissolve some divisions to focus on one specialty, such as public relations or media, while farming out other services.

Dixon Schwabl did the opposite. The company invested in becoming a fully integrated agency by bringing all of its services under one roof, Dixon said.

That paid off. By the start of the 2000s, Dixon Schwabl had nearly 80 clients and $50 million in billings. That growth has continued, even through a recession, when Dixon said the agency had luck on its side.

"In the summer of 2008, right before the economy was hit hard, we decided to do a very aggressive new business initiative" without knowing what lay ahead, Dixon said. "We pitched a lot of business and got a lot of new business in a time when we should have gone down or gone flat. We were very lucky."

The new business helped Dixon Schwabl's revenue grow by 34 percent, she said. In 2010, the agency had gross income from its local clients of $29.7 million.

Dixon Schwabl's major clients have included Frontier Communications Inc., Wegmans Food Markets Inc., ESL Federal

Credit Union and the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

The agency also has done a lot of work for charities. Dixon Schwabl's 2010 Benches on Parade program, for which local businesses and organizations purchased 115 fiberglass benches decorated by artists, raised more than $250,000 for the community, she said.

Last year, Dixon Schwabl spent six months creating a website and marketing push for United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.'s Roc the Day event. The 24-hour fundraising campaign raised nearly $600,000 for 650 non-profit agencies in the Finger Lakes region, United Way president Peter Carpino said.

"The people at Dixon Schwabl have done some breakthrough work for United Way, specifically around the development and promotion of ROC the Day," said Carpino. "It was a combination of combining their creativity and their energy along with our staff to make this website a reality.

"I've appreciated their willingness to think outside of the box with us, to challenge the traditional ways in which we've done business, and to really serve as a partner with us in our marketing communication efforts."

Dixon said the agency's charity work reflects its culture, which focuses on five core values: respect, integrity, teamwork, community and fun. That culture now includes three of the couple's four children.

Their oldest daughter, Courtney Dixon-Vahue, works as an account supervisor. Their two sons, Jordan Dixon and Connor Dixon-Schwabl, work as an assistant production manager and an account coordinator.

The agency has more than 80 employees. Last year, Dixon Schwabl ranked third on the annual list of best small companies to work for in the U.S., as determined by Entrepreneur.com and the Great Place to Work Institute. It was the agency's seventh consecutive year on the list.

Schwabl said several recent trends at the agency have come from employee-generated ideas, such as the company's move into engagement marketing through social media and the creation of a special events division last October.

"It's the freedom of responsibility we give our people," he said. "I love the show 'Mad Men,' but it's not like that here. We never take ourselves too seriously. We always want to do our best, but we're very lucky to do what we do, and you have to keep that in perspective."

tsmith@rbj.net / 585-546-8303

8/24/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

service@rbj.net.


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