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Portsmouth on track to becoming known as the 'eCoast' in advertising

Union Leader Correspondent

January 10. 2016 1:21AM
Advertising agency Stout Heart, whose sign can be seen between those for RSG and LeRoux Kitchen on Market Street, is nestled in historic downtown Portsmouth. The Seacoast has become a magnet for advertising companies. (KIMBERLY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

Mariah Keith Morgan launched advertising agency Stout Heart in Portsmouth five months ago after relocating to the Seacoast from San Francisco. (KIMBERLY HAAS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

PORTSMOUTH — Starting a full-service advertising agency in a city like Portsmouth, where the competition is fierce, is not easy, but Mariah Keith Morgan is determined to make Stout Heart work.

Morgan said the name of her relationship-driven agency comes from an old English way of describing a person who is brave.

“I felt really strongly that it be a place that stands up for its own ideals,” Morgan said from her office on Market Street last Monday. “We are looking to create positive, long-standing relationships with clients, rather than just doing what the client orders.”

Stout Heart is the latest addition to the Seacoast’s growing advertising sector, which is attracting professionals who might have previously looked to Boston or New York to set up shop. They’re finding Portsmouth has the quality of life they seek and the cosmopolitan ethos that attracts both employees and clients.

Morgan, 32, of Portsmouth, cut her teeth in San Francisco and learned by working for clients such as Chevron that she did not want to sacrifice her ethical standards to make a living. So, four years ago, she moved to the Seacoast with her husband, Nat, and began to plan out her own business.

Morgan said that her company, which is five months old, provides print, radio and television advertising. It also provides website development. Inbound marketing, which pulls users in, rather than pushing content out, is a primary focus for her team.

“Millennials want authenticity. They don’t like feeling like they are being sold to,” Morgan said. “They want to be emotionally vested in some way.”

Morgan said that finding the right talent, and raising awareness about the business opportunities in Portsmouth, are two of her major challenges, but it is worth it to be in business on New Hampshire’s seacoast.

Drew Schulthess, a strategy director and partner at CatchFire Creative, said Portsmouth is the perfect location for any company. It is close to the beach, mountains and is just an hour from Boston and Portland, Maine.

The digital design and marketing team at CatchFire Creative specializes in driving results through authentic storytelling and digital media, Schulthess said.

“Our clients want an agency partnership that produces results through meaningful brand experiences,” Schulthess said. “We work with many New England based companies, including nonprofits, but also have clients across the country. This past year we opened our second office in Brooklyn, N.Y., and it has helped to foster many new relationships.”

Schulthess said Portsmouth is becoming known as the ‘eCoast,’ attracting a growing community of technologists, artists and entrepreneurs.

Duncan Craig, a partner at Raka, said that Portsmouth attracts vibrant and artistic people because of the food, entertainment and art.

“Agencies need creative people, and creative people want to be in a place like Portsmouth that has all the charm of a New England town with all the energy of a major city,” Craig said.

When he and his business partner founded Raka in 2004, they figured they would move to Boston eventually, but found that their clients did not care where they were located, and the company grew to 20 employees.

“While we have a small office in Boston now, we can’t imagine our core team being anywhere but Portsmouth,” Craig said.

Raka specializes in inbound marketing, Web development and user experience design.

“Our fastest-growing department is our inbound marketing team, which is made mostly of former reporters who want to bring the best types of content to our client’s audiences. We define the right buyer personas for your brand and then put together a full strategy on how to best reach them,” Craig said.

Matthias Roberge, creative director at Boldwerks, says the volume of agencies in Portsmouth helps foster the creative climate and, in turn, generates more local talent and better work.

Boldwerks serves clients from many different industries, including finance, technology, retail stores and manufacturing facilities. Health care has always been a strong market for them.

When asked what his modern clients want, Roberge said most work these days is interactive-driven.

“Modern clients want powerful, responsive websites with great search engine optimization,” Roberge said. “The latest trends for us have focused on unique content creation and building out a client’s overall web presence beyond their website, through social media, public relations, online marketing and more.”

Kevin Stickney, founder of Calypso Communications, said his clients want to know the best possible strategic mix to drive value, revenues, brand positioning, reputation and market share.

“The latest trends involve ways for agency partners such as Calypso to help clients increasingly become their own brand ambassadors, by evoking distinctive thought leadership, generating high-profile social media presence, aggressively managing threats to reputation and image, and producing high-level written and visual content that tells a compelling story and builds consumer and stakeholder loyalty,” Stickney said.

Stickney has been doing business in Portsmouth for 15 years, and has grown his global company to 15 employees. Calypso serves entrepreneurs, early stage startups, Fortune 100 companies, nonprofit organizations, and institutions in industries that range from healthcare to private equity, to power and energy, to technology, Stickney said.

“The main attraction in Portsmouth is as a source for creative, enthusiastic and highly educated employees — people who value work/life balance, enjoy being in the forefront of communications strategy and creative innovation, and who want to be part of a highly unique and collaborative agency environment,” Stickney said.

More of Portsmouth’s advertising agencies can be found on the Chamber of Commerce website, There are 65 businesses listed under the advertising and media tab.

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