By Stephanie Trotter
If you walk fast, you might miss it: an understated glass door sandwiched between Aloft and Caviar & Bananas, in the heart of downtown Greenville. But the work taking place inside FerebeeLane is rippling across continents, influencing consumer purchasing decisions and operations at multimillion-dollar companies. “I may tell my mother this is an advertising agency,” says co-founder, partner, and director of account strategy Josh Lane. “But we are really a brand communications firm. Everything we do starts with a brand’s position.”
It’s been that way since Lane and Matt Ferebee (pronounced “fair-bee”), struck out on their own after meeting at Erwin Penland in 2001. “Yeah, my first impression of him was very smart, and will we get along?” laughs Lane. “He was a writer and I was an account person. We found very quickly we wanted the same thing.” Ferebee adds, “We are both competitive. Very unwilling to stay the same in any way that isn’t optimal, isn’t perfect. If something’s not the best it can be, we are going to push it to make it better.”
FerebeeLane’s been pushing for 14 years now, amassing almost $10 million in accounts. Half hold parent companies in other countries, like Miele, BMW, and Chimay, with many seeking consumers with discerning tastes, including legacy clients Le Creuset and Blackberry Farm. Lane and Ferebee credit the creative agency’s success to their ability to tell a compelling story for clients. “The notion of storytelling is much less about being contrived; we don’t do that,” says Ferebee, director of creative strategy and a writer at heart. “Ours is more of, let’s create a narrative that people can internally connect with and bring to life, that can be operationalized for a brand, and used to help break down the barriers that would normally exist.” And my, how they’ve learned to make those connections, persuading consumers to act. Exhibit A: Prompting people to purchase a $310 cast iron Dutch oven because it’s made in France and pretty. Exhibit B: Encouraging travelers to spend $1,200 a night on a hotel in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee (Walland — you can look it up), to seize some Great Smoky Mountain R&R.
“My dad’s an Episcopal priest,” says Ferebee. “I’ve watched over the years when you take something abstract and emotional and give it shape and form through a story, and with that, you facilitate some sort of desired outcome and reaction. I think that’s what we do differently in our efforts to leverage the consumer.”
The duo started small back in 2005. They had one client, Hickory Chair, and worked without a company name, nor business cards, for two months. Nowadays, the FerebeeLane team tops out at 25 employees. They’re settling into a relatively new 10,000-square-foot space overlooking ONE City Plaza, with room for traditional advertising and PR teams, as well as squads running social influence, photography, animation, and motion graphics.
The day we visited, associate creative director Chris Bradley was spritzing a field of clover under a fluorescent light, encouraging seedlings to bloom for an upcoming product shoot. He’s one of the more recent hires. A few years ago, an industry colleague encouraged Ferebee and Lane to grow the firm, instructing them to hire people with skills in rapidly advancing areas (like social media), or presenting writing and management talents as strong as theirs, so the founders would be free to work on other tasks. The agency increased in size by 25 percent and is now breaking beyond the three-hour footprint that holds most U.S. headquarters of their clients – Atlanta to Raleigh, North Carolina; Charleston to Knoxville, Tennessee.
While the firm’s cemented a niche with connoisseur home-and-hearth companies, it’s also landed clients in banking (Wells Fargo), finance (Dixon Hughes Goodman), and manufacturing (Milliken). FerebeeLane is working both the consumer and retail side of health care with CaroMont Health in Gastonia, North Carolina, where their brand communication even guides how leaders lead 4,000 employees. “The fact we help internally operationalize, that sort of thing happens; it’s well beyond my expectations,” says Ferebee.
Lane sees it as one more step toward the future. “I look at Henderson as the first great creative agency, and Erwin Penland was absolutely the second greatest,” he says. “Who’s going to be that third great agency? That’s what we aspire to be. We may not be the biggest, may not be the largest, but if we can be one of the most respected agencies in the Southeast, that’s what we’re striving to be.”
They’re well on their way.