It was the snarky voice of the social media campaign for Hollywood’s smash hit, “Deadpool 2.”
It introduced a nation of do-it-yourselfers to Lowe’s as the new home for the iconic Craftsman-brand tools.
“It” is EP+Co, formerly Erwin Penland Inc., a force in the advertising industry that has called Greenville home since it was incorporated here in 1986.
The firm has morphed over the decades, as the name refresh at least partially reflects. Now EP+Co offers its clients a host of communications services including traditional advertising campaigns; strategy and planning; media planning and buying; social media campaigns and content; unique technological innovations designed to deliver clients’ messages; and more.
“The explosion of digital and social channels — everybody is still wrestling with it and the most effective way to use it,” Allen Bosworth, EP+Co president, explained in a recent interview. “Staying ahead of all this change is a huge challenge for anybody, and if they say it’s not, then they aren’t telling you the truth.”
Helping keep old brands fresh
It can be hard for brands that once seemed to own their respective markets to maintain industry dominance or even relevance as times and tastes change.
Heritage brands — those that are 60 years old or older — make up more than 50 percent of the agency’s current clientele, according to Jeff Hoffman, EP+Co’s chief growth officer. EP+Co focuses on helping these clients continue to be successful as their respective industries evolve and new competitors appear on the landscape, Hoffman said.
John Deere and Denny’s are two of EP+Co’s biggest client-success stories in this category, and as other companies in their respective industries struggle to maintain sales, EP+Co has helped John Deere and Denny’s re-imagine their brands — and maintain their worth.
As EP+Co has rebranded and adjusted to change in the last five years, it has seen the most positive growth in the company’s long history, Bosworth said. Despite the growth and the ever-changing market, EP+Co has stayed true to the ideals on which the company was built.
“There is a big agency who’s saying is ‘It’s all about the work, the work, the work,’ and I would say ‘I couldn’t agree more, it’s all about the people, the people, the people, who make the work, the work, the work,’ because there is no ‘the work’ without the people,” Bosworth said. “We are trying to be the best we can be. We are not perfect, but we will always strive to be.”
From rough waters to smooth sailing
The list of clients the agency has added in recent years includes brands such as LinkedIn, 20th Century Fox, and Tempur Sealy International. But as the company celebrated the 30th anniversary of its incorporation in 2015, the news was not as good. The firm was reeling from the partial loss of a major client and 25 percent of the staff had been laid off.
“The great thing about being a place that revolves around people is that it revolves around people,” Bosworth recalled. “The bad thing is that when you have a downturn, your only significant cost is people. We had layoffs. We had to reimagine our company. We had to do a number of things. Let me tell you, 2015 and 2016 were a very difficult time for this company.”
Also during this time, Joe Erwin, the company’s founder and longtime public face, left to pursue other projects. It was during this period the business rebranded from Erwin Penland to EP+Co.
“It was trying in every way you can imagine,” Bosworth said. “However, coming out of that, we have really found our footing and really know who we are again. We have hit our stride.”
As proof, Hoffman pointed out that, since 2015, the company has experienced its most successful run of client growth in its history.
“We have hunkered down and identified what we are really good at and applied those resources in a way that says this is who we are, and this is what we are going to do,” he said. “To manage the volume of such large clients at a time when you’re shifting your portfolio is amazing. It’s not to be diminished that we are in the most-significant growth period that we have ever seen in this agency.”
Those clients include Morgan Stanley, Lowe’s, Tumi, and The UPS Store, all of which have come on board since 2015.
Social media darlings
EP+Co’s notable work in social media for longtime client Denny’s not only earned the company greater exposure, it helped lure several of the new clients, which were impressed by the firm’s work.
The agency’s handling of Denny’s Twitter account in particular caught the attention of companies everywhere.
“We get a lot of props for their social,” Hoffman said. “We were named by Contently magazine as the Best Corporate Social Presence on the internet for our Twitter feed. It is really funny and irreverent.”
The Denny’s twitter account gained notices from Forbes, Ranker, and Buzzfeed, and even caught the attention of 20th Century Fox. The company was working on the sequel, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” when director Matthew Vaughn noticed the Denny’s Twitter presence.
“He was looking for a particular voice for the movie’s social media and he really liked what Denny’s was doing,” Hoffman said.
EP+Co was hired to do the social media for the sequel to “Kingsman,” and went on to sign a six-movie deal with 20th Century Fox.
“We got the all-time greatest assignment in movie history, which was ‘Deadpool 2,’” Hoffman said. “If you saw social content come out from ‘Deadpool 2,’ it was either EP or Ryan Reynolds himself.”
The character of Peter in “Deadpool 2” exemplifies the everyman surrounded by the heroes of the film. When Peter joined the X-force team, EP+Co saw an opportunity.
EP+Co created Peter’s backstory through the use of social media, which caught LinkedIn’s notice.
“LinkedIn called us and asked us to pitch for their social business,” Hoffman said. “Which is weird because we are now doing the social marketing for one of the biggest social marketing companies in the world.”
EP+Co has not only expanded its client base in recent years, it continues to actively work with its valued, long-standing clients to grow their businesses, which is one of the rewards of the work, according to Hoffman.
“Men’s Wearhouse in the past year has quadrupled their stock price,” he said. “Now one in every five suits in America is a Men’s Wearhouse suit. Denny’s has had eight years of sales growth. It is great to be able to do creative work and do it in really interesting ways.”
Clients show their appreciation after accepting winning pitches
The stakes are high in the world of advertising and marketing on a national or international stage, so when an agency like EP+Co pitches to a potential client and wins a contract, those victories are times of celebration. Over the years, EP+Co has been notified in various, and sometimes unique, ways that they’ve won the right to represent a business to its public. Some of the ways companies have said “thanks” include:
The arrival of a crate at the EP+Co offices marked the beginning of the agency’s affiliation with the big-box home improvement chain.
“Our pitch was around the ability to bring the smart-home technology that Lowe’s has to life,” Hoffman said. “So they embedded all of the smart-home technology into this crate.”
The crate opened with a literal bang as confetti shot out, along with a congratulatory sign and champagne — and a Roomba to clean up the mess, Hoffman said.
The 187-year old company stayed true to its roots when it presented EP+Co with a box filled with green and yellow John Deere hats, along with a handwritten letter.
The men’s clothing giant didn’t waste time on congratulations much beyond the handshake, according to Hoffman.
The opportunity to pitch for Men’s Wearhouse initially came from a single project that grew into more. After the pitch, the Men’s Wearhouse team asked if they should keep the familiar “You’re going to like the way you look” slogan.
“We told them they needed to keep it; we just need to make it mean something,” Hoffman said.
That was good enough for Men’s Wearhouse.
“They said ‘you’re hired and we’re moving our calendar; we want to work through this for lunch right now,’” Hoffman said. “That never happens for a brand that size to award the business right there and (then) get to work.”
Denny’s is especially known for their cheeky and irreverent Twitter account, which has been recognized by Buzzfeed, Forbes, and many more. This is thanks to EP+Co.