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Companies growing their way through tough times

Christine Tocco and Victoria Solomon at Allen & Gerritsen in Watertown. The agency plans to add 50 additional employees when it moves to Boston next year. Christine Tocco and Victoria Solomon at Allen & Gerritsen in Watertown. The agency plans to add 50 additional employees when it moves to Boston next year. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / November 6, 2011

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There are businesses that build for a brighter future despite the sputtering economy. Take security software company Rapid7, for example. It hired 100 employees this year, doubling its size, and moved staff into new offices at the Prudential Tower, where it now occupies the entire 29th floor.

About half of Rapid7’s employees are in Boston; most were among the new hires, brought on to help serve the company’s 1,700 corporate clients, including car rental company Hertz Corp. Rapid7 has been expanding its reach to a number of industries, including health care, retail, and Internet-based companies. “We are having a ton of fun,’’ said Rapid7 chief executive Mike Tuchen.

Tuchen says passionate employees are one reason for the company’s growth. Another factor: Free products. Rapid7 has about 150,000 people using its free services, such as Metasploit, which tests to see whether a user’s computer network can be penetrated. The company then works to convert those users into paying customers for its other services.

Tuchen said Rapid7 has a superior product, adding, “By and large, our customers try it out and come to the same conclusion.’’

Another company on a hiring spree is digital marketing agency Digitas, which hired 160 workers this past year, increasing its Boston base to 700 employees .

For ad agencies, it’s clients that bring in the business. The agency, owned by Paris-based Publicis Groupe, recently added such accounts as insurance company Aflac and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., prompting the largest crop of new employees in recent years, said Barbara Goose, executive vice president and executive director of Digitas’s Boston and Detroit offices.

There’s also been more business from existing clients, including Buick, Procter & Gamble, and local brands such as Stop & Shop Supermarket Co., as those businesses look to broaden their advertising beyond traditional television and print media, Goose said.

In September, for example, the firm launched a branding campaign for Samsung Electronics Co., a Digitas client since 2006. The agency recruited YouTube.com star FreddieW (Freddie Wong) to promote a new Samsung smartphone aimed at consumers between the ages of 18 and 34, who enjoy video gaming and online videos.

Viewers were asked to identify the video games Wong referenced in the video, and which scenes were shot with Samsung’s smartphone. Since its Sept. 10 debut, the video has attracted 9 million views and 23,000 comments.

Like Digitas, Watertown-based ad agency Allen & Gerritsen is growing thanks to more digital work from its 22 clients, including the Boston Celtics, Bright Horizons Family Solutions - the number one large employer in this year’s Top Places survey - and the Ninety Nine Restaurants chain.

“A lot of the momentum is with current clients and their need to evolve and grow,’’ said Andrew Graff, chief executive of the 25-year-old company, named the best ad agency in the country by industry publication Advertising Age.

Graff said advertising is “no longer limited to just TV, print, or outdoor. It’s mobile, it’s social. It’s experiential.’’

The agency plans to add 50 employees next year as it relocates to South Boston’s Innovation District, a move designed to make the agency more attractive to potential recruits who may want to live and work in the city. “We will be way more accessible,’’ said Graff.

To cultivate new talent, the agency has partnered with Bentley University for a semester-long competition called “Tech Apprentice,’’ modeled after the NBC business reality show.

Each week, the 50 students are given a series of challenges related to social media and technology. They have to come up with marketing ideas related to the task. At the end of the program, the winner will receive a paid internship at the ad shop - a potential path to a position with a growing company.

Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@globe.com.