The Times of Trenton (circulation 40,399) featured an article on CMA’s 25th anniversary as the lead story on the cover of the Business section on Sunday, March 25, 2012.
The unlikely inspiration that launched Jeffrey Barnhart’s advertising career was the situation comedy “Bewitched,” televised on ABC from 1964 to 1972.
“I would watch ‘Bewitched’ on television, and Darrin Stevens worked in advertising. That attracted me,” said Barnhart, the founder, president and chief executive of Creative Marketing Alliance, a marketing communications company based in Princeton Junction.
In addition to “Bewitched,” Barnhart was also drawn to television commercials as a youngster, and he wanted to know what went into them.
In 1987, despite a recession, Barnhart realized his dream, founding CMA in Princeton Junction.
Twenty-five years later, CMA is a thriving business with 30 employees, and the company has kicked off a year-long celebration of its 25th anniversary with the launch of a newly designed website reflecting its services and accomplishments at GoToCMA.com, and an event April 25 with clients, New Jersey dignitaries and friends at 191 Clarksville Road.
Barnhart, a Robbinsville resident, graduated from Rider University in 1978 with a degree in journalism, and he went on to become director of marketing communications for Philips Lighting Co., part of N.V. Philips, a Dutch multinational corporation.
Through Philips, Barnhart discovered he had a knack for writing and creating a brand for products. He had a vision for a different kind of marketing communications firm — one that would deliver a wide range of pragmatic, results-oriented services to meet client, not agency, objectives.
At first, it was just Barnhart, his wife, and family members working the phones of his fledgling agency with Philips Lighting, his first client. The economy had taken a downturn, and people told him he was crazy.
Still, he managed to create a campaign for a new product Philips was introducing — flourescent lighting. His little firm soon began to attract the attention of energy companies outside of New Jersey.
One agency hired CMA to explain to chief financial officers of office buildings that they could save money on their monthly energy bills by switching to more energy-efficient lighting. Instead of getting technical, CMA mailed silver dollars in a jewelry box with a note, telling the officers that they “found a buck — maybe we could find more.” Then, the company mailed out magician boxes that churned out a dollar bill, followed by brochures explaining that more efficient energy could save $1 per square foot in a building.
“The response was phenomenal,” he said, noting that soon other companies as far away as Illinois began ringing up CMA to tap its expertise.
“I remember one client from Chicago asked if we had a fax machine,” he laughed, marveling at how technology has changed the advertising game.
Ad executives once had to travel in “planes, trains, and automobiles” carrying thousands of dollars worth of artwork and ad presentations. Today, ads can go to market much more quickly — electronically with just the click of a keyboard button.
CMA now partners with companies in various industries. Some are based in the Mercer County area. Other partners are national and international corporations and nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Barnhart’s plan for the next 25 years involves watching his staff evolve into mentors for future employees.
So he makes it a point to hire people who are not only passionate about their work, but who also care just as much as he does about helping clients through successful campaigns that stimulate growth.
Barnhart said he is proud that his company has survived while others have folded or been reduced to mere shells of their former selves by the down economy.
“We have managed to buck the trend,” he said.
As proof, Creative Marketing Alliance last year won 17 awards, including Best of Show in 2011 from the New Jersey Communications, Advertising and Marketing Association.