Sometimes the best way forward is to take a step back.
The concept might not make much sense on its face, but when transferred to the world of business, the idea of giving up the sure contract for unseen riches down the road can pay off handsomely.
Tirrell D. Whittley (pictured), principal and CEO of Liquid Soul Media, an Atlanta-based marketing agency, used that philosophy to build a successful firm providing marketing solutions, unique design, and award-winning campaigns for its clients that include entertainment, faith-based, corporate, sports and non-profit organizations.
Not long after Whittley founded Liquid Soul in 2001 with his business partner, Nick Nelson, the company’s creative campaigns, which stressed cross-cultural appeal, caught the eye of several large companies, including restaurant giant Denny’s.
“We had Denny’s and other great clients, but it became clear to me that while we were growing, we were all over the map,” Whittley said. “We had actually bit off more than we could chew.”
Whittley said he then made the fateful decision that turned out to be the blueprint for Liquid Soul’s success: pass on all contracts — no matter the size — to concentrate solely on the growing film and entertainment portion of the business.
“It was a hard decision and it caused some short-lived pain for us. At the time, Nick and I still had jobs with other companies. Taking the step back meant we couldn’t quit our other jobs.”
Whittley, 40, said the decision meant putting in 16- and- 18-hour days working his main job while changing course at his fledgling firm.
“It’s not like we were going hungry,” he said. “But it expanded the amount of time we had to work for others. I knew if we made that decision at the time, we could stand the impact of the lost revenue and build it back over time.”
Liquid Soul threw itself behind the 2005 release of the movie “The Gospel,” starring Idris Elba. Whittley said the movie with the $4 million budget earned nearly $8 million in its opening weekend alone.
And Liquid Soul, which employed a strong strategy for grassroots and the faith community around the movie release, was credited for creating the good buzz around the movie for its premiere.
“It turned out to be the best decision we could have made. There simply are not a lot of African-American agencies in the area providing marketing strategy, publicity, media buying, community relations, social media outreach on the level we are.
“It proved you have to be an expert at something,” said Whittley. “We became the best agency in our area. We took it over.”
The company has gone on to develop marketing campaigns for other films, including “Precious,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and “Stomp the Yard.
In addition, its television portfolio includes Tyler Perry‘s “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns” as well as CNN‘s “Black in America” and “Latino in America” series.
Whittley said the decision to become a leader in the entertainment area led to an unexpected bonus. When potential clients saw what the company achieved within its field, they sought out Liquid Soul to branch out and work on their campaigns.
“We’ve been able to cut over to other industries and get back some of the sectors we had moved away from earlier to concentrate on entertainment,” Whittley said. “We now have WalMart, General Mills, and the WNBA as clients. We’ve been able to cut across at high levels.”
Whittley said that revenue has grown 120 percent from 2005 to 2010 and the company now has 40 employees up from the four that helped launch the company.
“Looking back, it was a small sacrifice, but we analyzed it. We knew we were going to make it,” he said.
A married graduate of Florida A&M University, the Father of two says he has had an entrepreneur spirit from his early days.
Whether it was cutting hair, cutting lawns, or starting a web technology business while still attending college, the Milwaukee native knew that working for others was not part of his long-term future.
“As a young executive rising up in business in corporate America, I never felt I was being given full value for my work,” he said. “I was always very ambitious so I used corporate America as a training ground until I found the right avenue to building my own business. I learned all the skills of managing teams, closing on deals, writing and managing budgets that I would need.”
Whittley said his goal is to double Liquid Soul’s revenue in the next five years while developing deeper relationships with existing clients.
And he believes Atlanta is the right place to nurture that growth.
“I always tell people that Atlanta is fertile ground for Black business,” Whittley said. “The city is home to a lot of progressive Black organizations, so it isn’t hard to find a support system. You just have to find your base of support and go at it hard.”