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A Small Army with Big Ideas…and a Bigger Heart

November 1, 2010

"This taught us all the importance of listening to our hearts and doing the right thing.  While it brought about many challenges, it made us better leaders, better partners, better people and, ultimately, a better agency."

- Jeff Freedman, Co-founder and CEO, Small Army

When Jeff Freedman created Small Army, a full-service marketing agency in Boston, he and co-founder Mike Connell had a vision to develop compelling stories for their clients, not just produce award-winning advertising.  Through an abundance of progressive leadership, creativity, and risk-taking, Small Army is experiencing dramatic success.  Since its inception in 2002, it has grown rapidly to become the 15th largest advertising agency in New England, according to the Boston Business Journal.

But when sharing his team's achievements during recent remarks in IBS Senior Lecturer Grace Zimmerman's Marketing Management class, it was not the firm's commercial success that inspired the students.  Rather, it was the admirable and substantial way in which Freedman and his team supported Connell during his two year illness and subsequently honored his life.  The firm's former Creative Principal died in 2007 after a heroic battle with cancer.

As the leader of a relatively small and entrepreneurial endeavor at the time of his partner's sickness, Freedman was faced with a myriad of complicated decisions on how to ensure that his firm continued to serve its clients, while also providing his partner with a much needed safety net. Putting aside immediate business considerations, he decided to continue Connell's full-time employment throughout his illness.  Freedman resolved that Connell would continue to receive his salary and benefits despite lengthy absences from the office. "That decision meant we could not bring on anyone full time to fulfill his functions," Freedman said. "But it was about hope-giving Mike and the agency hope," he continued.

Freedman was deeply struck by the reservoir of courage and strength exhibited by his business partner in the face of the disease.  He was also touched by the closeness of the Boston advertising community during this difficult time.  Recognizing that Small Army was operating without the benefit of Connell's full energy and time, local advertising agencies (some of which competed with Freedman's firm) offered resources to support Connell and his team. Through the help of freelancers and Paul Norwood, a former partner of Connell's, Small Army continued to produce award-winning work for its growing client base.  

After his partner's passing, Freedman continued his commitment to help Connell's family. Along with members of the Boston advertising community, he helped create an education fund for Connell's children.  Not content to solely help ease the pain faced by the individuals directly impacted by his partner's death, Freedman also founded Small Army for a Cause, a nonprofit organization which raises funds for cancer research in honor of Connell.

Through a nationwide campaign called "Be Bold, Be Bald," the organization recruits participants who agree to wear bald caps for one day as a tool to raise funds for organizations dedicated to eradicating cancer. "This taught us all the importance of listening to our hearts and doing the right thing.  While it brought about many challenges, it made us better leaders, better partners, better people and, ultimately, a better agency," Freedman said

Zimmerman shared that her students were profoundly impacted by Freedman and the Small Army story. "In the face of potentially very negative business implications, Jeff's actions illustrate an incredibly powerful example someone doing the right thing, for the right reasons. I can't think of a better example of the types of leaders we are trying to prepare here at IBS." 

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