“If it’s Easy, I’ll Know I’m Doing it Wrong” – A Look Back at Brownstein Before the Red Door

April, 2014 – There’s a painting hanging on the wall of Berny Brownstein’s corner office; hues of dark blue in quick strokes, turbulent, drawing your eye to a faint center speck of white that seems to lead out. One floor below, his son Marc’s office is bathed in light, a large semi-circle couch invites you to sit down, relax, talk about your needs.

Welcome to Brownstein Group.

“Entrepreneurs are crazy people,” said Berny Brownstein, who at 78 still keeps regular business hours. “They’re brimming with self-confidence and there’s no reasoning with them. You can’t talk to them about failure.”

In a way, he’s describing himself. Berny founded Brownstein Group in 1964 during what has been referred to as the “Creative Revolution,” a time when pioneers like Bill Bernbach convinced companies like Volkswagen to commit to daring ads that caused young executives to question everything they’d been taught, to take risks and challenge convention.

“Creativity is motivation; we create trends and stimulate audiences,” said the elder Brownstein. “We take companies and make them leaders, change perceptions about our clients’ products. Who doesn’t want to be in that business?”

With this mindset, Brownstein Group embarks on its 50th year, now the longest-running independent brand communication firm in Philadelphia. Their first hire was in 1965 and the roster has since grown, now including more than 70 employees on three floors that almost resemble five agencies in one – advertising, public relations, digital services, social media and brand strategy.

As the agency expanded, so too did its leadership. Marc Brownstein was already a successful advertising executive at Ogilvy + Mather in New York when his father tapped him to come back to the family business. It was 1989, and Marc saw potential.

“I’ve always believed that the time to evolve is before it’s time to evolve,” he said, leaning forward to stress the point. Marc has an ability to draw people in, to get you to nod along with him. It’s something he attributes to his extroverted nature and the fact he’s in a business that still very much depends on relationships, both with the clients he represents and the employees he hires.

“We talk a lot about living our values and because we’ve stayed independent we have the advantage of surrounding ourselves with likeminded people, creating a unique family culture. An incredible vitality springs from this, a place where talented individuals come together as a team because they want to produce something truly great, something that hasn’t been done before.”

Brownstein Group has been at the forefront of “what hasn’t been done before” for years, launching one of the first digital practices in the late ’90s, adopting social media in 2004, measurement technology in 2006 and now getting more heavily involved in content marketing, where Marc sees promise in the development of sub-specialties like search and native advertising. He has a tendency to take “smart, measured risks,” something that has become part of the agency dynamic.

Walking down the halls of Brownstein Group, one has the potential to be struck both figuratively by buzzing enthusiasm, and literally by errant Nerf projectiles. You pass passionate pitches in glass conference rooms, sporadic eruptions of laughter, harried project managers on deadline. Phone-to-ear PR executives clack keyboards while strategists strategize on squeaking whiteboards, all drowned out by the headphones of countless flannel-clad copywriters, designers and programmers. Dinging elevators reveal bicycles, props for photo shoots and visiting coffee-laden clients, there for a meeting and to see what’s been going on, which is apparently everything at once, a carousel of creativity which they’ve paid to ride.

What’s next for Brownstein Group?

“If it’s easy, I’ll know I’m doing it wrong,” Berny will answer, staring at you until a wry smile appears.

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This article originally appeared in Philly Ad News in April of 2014 under the title “The Business of Creative” and was written by Sean Carney. Among the many significant accomplishments since then, the agency has expanded to nearly 100 employees, added another floor and won a prestigious Ad Age ‘Agency of the Year’ award in 2018

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