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If ever there was a time to start an ad agency around a shared passion, it’s now. Which may sound odd given the state of the world. But it’s what led to the launch of Barnato, a new digital design and social marketing agency for the automotive universe.

We’ve all spent a lot of time working on digital and social advertising and despite those channels being nothing new, we’ve watched plenty of auto and auto-adjacent brands—regardless of size—struggle with them for years.

It was obvious there was an opportunity out there to help those brands improve their understanding of and execution on social media and digital design, while expanding their creative horizons. We just couldn’t put our finger on it.

Then 2020 happened.

Barnato grew out of the subsequent tumult, spurred by three questions asked by five colleagues in light of everything that changed over the course of one year. What kind of infrastructure does an agency really need to start out these days? What’s the staffing arrangement look like? What about cost structure?

Our answers: minimal; lean, but able to access additional resources when needed; and different. It’s the last point that marks a real break with the established agency model. We’ve developed a scalable à la carte menu of core services from which clients can pick and choose. That means no long-term contracts, just the right service at the right time at an upfront price.

The logic behind the à la carte menu has to do with one of the ironies of advertising, namely that the brands that could most benefit from big agency expertise oftentimes can’t afford it. (Indeed, big agencies oftentimes can’t afford to work with them—they have bottom lines to maintain, after all.) But by changing how experienced advertising services are priced, we can increase accessibility to them.

Put another way: our costs are less, so we can sell for less.

Our aim isn’t to unseat Ford’s AOR. (Although if Ford wants us to do a job, hey, get in touch!) We want to make big agency digital and social expertise accessible to auto industry and industry-adjacent clients no matter the size of their business or their budget.

Some might call it democratization of services; we call it meeting an unmet need among startup and challenger brands in the automotive universe for effective, professional digital marketing.

Anyway, we’ve already ordered business cards so this better work.

Phillip McCarthy