Brad Casper, 58, was recently named CEO of OH Partners, an advertising agency that goes beyond traditional advertising. OH Partners includes Matter Films, a production company; OH Predictive Insights, which does polling and research; and OH Strategic Communication, which does work in communication and public affairs, often working with grassroots movements and ballot initiatives.
Previously, the executive chairman of the company, Casper — a former CEO of Dial Corp and president of the Phoenix Suns — is taking on a new role as the agency’s co-founders Matt Owens and Scott Harkey become managing partners. Casper, a 6-foot-6-inch former basketball player looms large over the company just like the OH Partners brand — in the form of the company’s logo at the top of a downtown mid-rise — looms large over metro Phoenix with its bright blue logo affixed.
I was the executive chairman. I convinced Matt Owens, CEO, and Scott Harkey, president, in 2016 that they needed a boss and I came in as an executive chairman. They had all these big ideas for the company, but it wasn’t clear to me after eight years that they were on their way to realizing all of them.
What are the tangible differences between executive chairman and CEO?
Now as CEO, I will be operating the company and making all the operating decisions on a daily basis. Strategy, hiring, policy, procedures, and all the officers of the company now report to me. In the past, none of them did.
It seems rare to have an advertising company with a polling entity. How did that happen?
Scott Harkey and Mike Noble had a pre-existing friendship from ASU. Mike was running his own consulting firm and had as big of aspirations for his firm and polling and research as Scott did for the agency. Scott could see the intersection between research, polling and advertising. Probably about a week before I was announced as the executive chairman, Scott announced that Mike Noble was coming in and OH Predictive Insights was born.
Have you seen any other partnership like that across the country?
I don’t know that I have.
What’s next for OH Partners?
Our ambition was never to be just the largest agency in Arizona. We wanted to be the best agency in the western United States, and the only way we can do that is to prove to ourselves that we’re that good is to get clients from California, and Colorado and Utah and Seattle and Portland and all these places where there are other great agencies.
Is working in an ad agency similar to what I’ve seen on “Mad Men?”
Probably yes and no. It is a dynamic culture. There’s a lot of energy. Sixty-five percent of our employees are women. Seventy percent are millennials. As the day wears on, people express themselves, they have fun. We have a very fun culture. There’s no drinking. There’s none of the fraternization that was happening in “Mad Men.” I think it’s fun – we call ourselves daytime roommates, but with no fringe benefits. But the idea of finding a new client, sourcing a new business, developing a campaign that they fall in love with. That’s where there are similarities.
You mentioned the Arizona Lottery is one of your clients – do you do work for other state agencies?
We do a lot of work for the Department of Health Services. It’s more of a quasi agency, but we also do work for SRP. We do work for other, smaller state agencies in the state of Arizona, but nothing major. Our largest client is the Gila River Hotels and Casinos.
What was it like leaving the Phoenix Suns?
When one of the vice chairman [of the Suns] asked me one day, ‘”Hey, would you like to be president?” I said, “You want me to be president of the Phoenix Suns? Are you kidding me?” I’m a former basketball player, though not at the professional level. So the idea of being around basketball, like so many young men, was like a dream.
I only stayed one year, and it was an interesting year. There were a lot of things I loved about it. I loved interaction with members of the team, the coaching staff and the training staff. That satisfied my curiosity of, what is it like to be in professional sports.
There were some other things that I can’t quite talk about that I didn’t love as much. I was told by the commissioner of the NBA that it’s sometimes really hard for people who come in at my level to really integrate and feel like they’re part of it.
Will the Phoenix Suns start winning again soon?
I think so. I think they hit bottom. I think the draft choices they picked up, including the kid from the University of Arizona, Deandre Ayton, I think he’s a major piece of the puzzle.
Is there anything that you’ve learned that sticks with you through whatever job you’re doing?
Two things stand out. One, it starts with you can’t do it all alone so hire great people. The second is the power of culture. Culture is one of those elusive concepts. It’s not about ping-pong tables, it’s not about free iced coffee. It’s about all the different ways in which you treat people and how people interact with one another.
I have to ask about the OH sign on the outside of the building. How did you manage that?
We’re really proud of that. All credit goes to Matt Owens who, many years ago with the owner of this building and the management company said, “I would love to pay to put an OH in the corner.” At the time, we were renting, I kid you not, less than 5,000 square feet of the building. It looked like it was the OH tower.
When I started in April of that year, I was impressed by the sign. I said, “How did you do that?” He said, “I asked.”