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Growth is the word at Pipitone advertising agency

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Scott Pipitone, front, CEO of the Pipitone Group, along with Jeff Piatt, right front, Ron Moehler, back left, and Gary Adams, back right, at their Observatory Hill business Thursday, August 15, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Scott Pipitone, bottom right, CEO of the Pipitone Group, with Gary Adams, left of him, Ron Moehler (blue shirt), and Jeff Piatt, top right, in their business in Observatory Hill Thursday, August 15, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Scott Pipitone, CEO of the Pipitone Group in Observatory Hill Thursday, August 15, 2013.

Pipitone Group's unasssuming, three-story headquarters nestled in a Pittsburgh neighborhood had been an appliance store, a grocery store, then a video store before Scott Pipitone renovated it for his advertising agency in 1999.

Now, the Observatory Hill office houses the former Vance Wright Adams ad agency that Pipitone Group acquired in mid-July. The deal added 11 employees to Pipitone's 30, and bolstered Pipitone's position as one of the largest ad agencies in Western Pennsylvania, especially in the area of online marketing, or digital media.

“The merger was about adding fire power and more bench strength,” said Pipitone from inside the building's sleek, modern interior.

Pipitone is especially strong in digital media, while Vance Wright Adams adds depth to design, packaging and direct-mail capabilities. Plus, the two had only one common client (PPG Industries Inc.), so the merger represented a net positive for business volume, he said.

The agency's client base is “very diversified” in manufacturing, higher education, banking and finance, health care and nonprofits, Pipitone said. No single client represents more than 10 percent of revenue, which was about $5.3 million last year, he said.

“I suspect the merger will be good for both firms,” said Rob Deaner, president of the Pittsburgh Advertising Federation and founding partner of Market Street Sound, an audio production company, Downtown.

Deaner said the combined depth of design and digital media capabilities means Pipitone can work within “budgets constrained by clients and the economy” because they don't need to involve third parties for production.

Aside from PPG, clients include H.J. Heinz Co., Giant Eagle, Grove City College, Highmark Foundation and the Northside Leadership Conference.

Pipitone's digital media employees do Web page development, mobile app design and website analytics, which enable clients to discern who is visiting their website and for what reason.

For example, Pipitone's Web analytics helped PPG increase sales of flat glass by monitoring visitors' activity on the manufacturer's website and scoring the activity in terms of readiness to make a purchase.

“We alert the client's sales force when a (prospect) scores high, and they are ripe for a sale,” Pipitone said. “People don't want to be called until they are ready to buy.”

The ad agency, which designed PPG's flat-glass website in 2006, has kept the paint, glass and specialty products manufacturer “on the leading edge” in terms of web tools and content, said Robert Struble, manager of brand and communication strategy at PPG's Flat Glass unit in Harmar.

“In commercial construction, nothing happens until the architect has a sample in his hands,” Struble said. “Very quickly, we know that works.”

In early July, Pipitone and client PPG received the 2013 Excellence in Advertising Award from McGraw-Hill Construction Media and Architectural Record magazine for the agency's online promotion of PPG paint and glass products.

Axiall Water Treatment Products, Monroeville, became a Pipitone client in 1994 with the agency providing label designs, said Frank Schiffman, senior marketing manager at Axiall, which manufactures water-treatment systems for residential, commercial and industrial markets.

“Now, they do everything from brochures to website development, package design and strategic planning — a whole menu of services,” Schiffman said.

Such capabilities are a long way from Pipitone's tool kit when he founded the agency in the living room of his apartment in the North Side in 1992 while working as a graphics designer for a local company.

Today, with more growth in his plan, Pipitone is focused on his next acquisition: a three-story building next door, which he hopes to renovate for more space to expand.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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