Published on May 9, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.
by Allie Binford.
The University of Alabama is nationally renowned for its top 5 public relations program (as ranked by PRWeek), but that’s not all the state of Alabama has to offer the PR world. Birmingham is home to BIG Communications, an integrated marketing firm nestled in the heart of Iron City. BIG works with a mix of local and national brands, with names like Valvoline Motor Oil and Sloss Music & Arts Festival filed under the “work” tab on its website.
BIG began in 1995 with its founder and CEO, John Montgomery. Montgomery was a 27-year-old who had worked in different agencies in Birmingham only to find himself wanting a place where he could mix his PR expertise with the world of advertising. Montgomery decided to strike out on his own with a new “hybrid” agency, called BIG.
“Traditionally, agencies had been partners’ last names, and I wanted to do something a little disruptive and different at the offset. I was a little bigger at the time, myself in stature, and I thought it was kind of fun to be a one-man show and call your company BIG. I also thought it was a great adjective of energy and optimism and thinking. We’re still true to that today for sure. BIG is known as being big and scrappy, even when we weren’t so big,” Montgomery explained.
BIG has come a long way in its 23 years of business. Just this year the firm’s “Never Idle” campaign for Valvoline won Best In Show at the Birmingham ADDYs and at the Regional ADDYs in Jackson, Mississippi. The campaign is moving on to the National ADDYs in Chicago in June. In addition to its work with Valvoline, BIG brought home 18 other trophies from the Birmingham ADDYs.
BIG is more than the awards it has won, however.
“One of our company philosophies is ‘Make a difference and make a living.’ BIG does a lot of nonprofit work and a lot of pro-bono work to make Birmingham and Alabama cool. We’ve had a symbiotic relationship with our hometown in a very positive way for years,” Montgomery said.
From creating the brand for the Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail for the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement to digitally reviving the Veterans Day Parade, BIG works hard to give back to Iron City by doing the work its staff does best.
BIG started the #BringAtoB campaign in hopes of bringing Amazon’s second headquarters to Birmingham. Although the city didn’t make the final cut, BIG’s interactive Amazon Dash buttons and larger-than-life Amazon Boxes stirred up excitement and made locals feel a personal connection the competition.
PR lead Ashley Foster, APR, has been with BIG for over four years.
“BIG — no matter how vast or impressive our client roster currently is or will be in the future — is first and foremost an agency for Birmingham. Our leadership ensures that we are continuously and conscientiously supporting programs, projects or people in the Birmingham community,” Foster said.
What really sets BIG apart is the people.
The firm’s partners — John Montgomery, Ford Wiles and Mark Ervin — come from different backgrounds but work together to direct the creative agency that is BIG Communications.
“I think collaboratively at BIG, we really work together through the disciplines [of PR, advertising and marketing] to come up with really innovative solutions for our clients. Not really just running the same old playbook. Some people talk about different fancy tricks and things like that, but we don’t have proprietary systems. I think we just have a depth of really innovative thinkers here at BIG that like to bring innovation to the solutions,” Montgomery explained.
Fitting neatly into a box is never something that BIG as an agency ever intended to do, so it makes sense that the same would be expected of BIG’s employees. But ensuring seamless teamwork between disciplines and talents isn’t possible with out intentional planning.
According to Montgomery, BIG started a corporate culture initiative called “Culture Club” three years ago. Representatives from each department of the agency work together to unite the different creatives through things like field trips and making Bring Your Dog to Work Day every day.
BIG also brings its creatives together through something as simple as rebranding the typical staff meeting, said Montgomery. Rather than calling the monthly meeting in the office, BIG takes the meeting out into the community. In March the team met at the Alabama Theatre with guest speaker Paul Janeway of St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
While a star-studded staff meeting is a major perk, it all comes down to the creatives and the personality that pulses behind the scenes at BIG.
“The people I have the pleasure to work with daily are the most endearing aspect of our agency. BIG is full of creative, innovative, hardworking and driven employees. Each person has his or her own strengths, and collectively, we produce what I believe is some of the most engaging and effective work in advertising and PR today,” Foster said.