Little-known Bluffton firm wins multi-million contract

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Little-known Bluffton firm wins multi-million contract

By GINA SMITH
gsmith@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, January 19, 2013   |  1004 Words  |  

Two non-descript buildings in greater Bluffton could pass for drywall factories or machine shops.

But walk inside.

Rows of 20-something artists, surrounded by graffiti-covered walls, are brainstorming about national marketing campaigns for Coca-Cola, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Hanes Brands, Ace Hardware and others.

The buildings off Buckingham Plantation Drive are home to BFG Communications, a creative cocoon unlike anything else in the area. Employees crank out work on their laptops while their dogs -- welcome at the office -- sit under foot. They shoot hoops on a basketball goal during their lunch breaks between puffs on cigarettes, or scoot off for group surf sessions in the summer. They race coolers they've converted into race cars in their down time and dine from food trucks their boss lures from Charleston.

But most importantly, these graphic artists, web developers and copywriters get the job done.

Their work for BFG -- which runs the gamut from building the new Harry Potter website that was just rolled out nationally to overhauling the Facebook page for the soft drink Mello Yello -- is nationally-acclaimed.

And now, they're branching into new turf, recently nabbing a $57 million contract with the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to brand South Carolina as a hot tourist destination.

The strangest part: Few area residents have heard of BFG or its founder and president Kevin Meany, a laid-back Long Island native who moved to Hilton Head 17 years ago to start his own marketing firm in his living room.

"Few people know we're here, and that's fine with me," said Meany, who wears jeans to the office every day and has never before given an interview to local media.

He thinks his firm is not well-known locally because most of its clients are national. Over the years, BFG has paired with those clients to do digital work for the TV show "American Idol," marketing campaigns for Captain Morgan Rum and a stream of carnival-style parties at major universities to promote Adult Swim, cartoons for young adults that air on Cartoon Network.

"Our creative culture is our most valuable asset," said Scott Seymour, chief creative officer and BFG's second-in-command. "What we've realized is the more fun people are having, the better work they do."

A NEW DAY

The new gig with Parks, Recreation and Tourism is making Meany a bit more open, happy to give a tour of his ultra-modern office, where guitars and skateboards, featuring original designs from his team, line the walls. It's one of Meany's many creative projects ginned up to spark his team.

BFG now has more than 20 offices nationally, including ones in Atlanta, New York, Tampa and the Bluffton headquarters with its 160 employees.

He feels a connection with his new project of promoting the state's tourist destinations, creating a campaign that will mix traditional and new-media strategies with public relations to promote the state's $15 billion tourism industry -- which supports one in 10 jobs in the state, according to PRT.

Like many parts of South Carolina, "we're an undiscovered part of the state, too," Meany says wryly.

It's a challenge the married father of two grown children is stoked about. He talks excitedly about the diversity of the state's travel spots and attractions: beaches, mountains, the Gullah culture, culinary hot spots, Civil War history, boating.

"You don't have that kind of stretchability in most brands. It's really unique," said Meany, who expects BFG's work to roll out in late summer or early fall.

He downplays the $57 million value on the contract. It's to be spread across six and a half years. And as much as 90 percent of the money will likely go toward buying TV, radio and print ads, not into BFG's pocket, he said.

NEW CHALLENGE

For nearly 30 years, a Greenville-based marketing firm, bounce , held the state contract, but recently announced it was closing.

That stirred the state's marketing firms into a frenzy; they geared up for a rare opportunity to win a big contract.

BFG's creativity sealed the deal, said PRT director Duane Parrish.

"They were this under-the-radar firm who went above and beyond what the others did," said Parrish, who was impressed with BFG's idea to create a barbecue trail to give culinary visitors a road map to every out-of-the-way, hidden barbecue hut in the state. BFG also pitched a "Man Up Trail" to lead male visitors to manly fun across the state.

One tour starts in the Upstate, cheering on Clemson at a football game, then gives a tip of the hat to Shoeless Joe Jackson at his baseball museum in Greenville, followed by a spin around the raceway at the Richard Petty Driving Experience in Darlington, a wild-boar huntin the Midlands, pistol and rifle shooting at the ATP Gunshop and Range in Summerville, and a lesson in Marine Corps history at the Parris Island Museum.

"We want them to reach out to two types of visitors," Parrish said. "There's the person already on the way to the beach and letting them know there are things to see on the way. And then there's that niche visitor who wants an authentic South Carolina experience, like hunters or equestrian people or what I call foodies who are interested in a culinary experience."

He added that the state will rate BFG's success by tracking hotel stays, sales tax revenue, visits to state parks and feedback from the state's businesses and tourist spots.

"We've got big expectations," he said.

Follow reporter Gina Smith at twitter.com/GinaNSmith.

Related content:

Bluffton firm wins $57 million state contract, Jan. 3, 2012