5 things we learned about staying power from ad legend Joanne Harmelin - Technical.ly Philly


Jan. 24, 2018 12:11 pm

5 things we learned about staying power from ad legend Joanne Harmelin

Her 35-year-old media company acts more like a tech shop than you might think.

Harmelin Media founder Joanne Harmelin.

(Courtesy photo)

At Technical.ly, we cover a lot of tech startups and founders who tout constant, rapid evolution.

A counterpart to the tech startup resides in a well-established Philadelphia media marketing agency, Harmelin Media. This company is embracing a similar adaptive approach and evolving from its media roots, which started 35 years ago.

While most Philadelphians might recognize Harmelin Media for its office, which has long-towered over the Schuylkill Expressway, they might not be as familiar with the work the Philadelphia mainstay has done since it was established in 1982.

There are lots of lessons to be learned from a decades-old media company that has managed to thrive well into the Digital Age. Here are five from founder Joanne Harmelin.

1. Versatility is an asset

  • Harmelin’s expertise is a mix of old and new.

Dramatic changes have taken place since the company first opened its doors and have only accelerated during the last 15 years.

According to Harmelin, we are now living in an era where media channels need to constantly evolve in order to stay relevant. Fragmentation is at an all-time high and is not expected to plateau. Media plans have become increasingly more complex and the availability of data has created a new level of accountability for media spend.

“As we’ve seen digital media emerge, we’ve been putting more emphasis on layering our digital product on top of other mediums to make a more multifaceted marketing plan for our clients,” the founder said.

2. Data-savvy clients are your compass

  • Clients are more informed than ever before. That means they come to the table with different expectations.

Chelsea Fletcher, a solutions engineer with Harmelin, said the company’s clients have an increasing understanding of data.

That’s a good thing.

“The fact that our clients are asking us more data-savvy and data-relevant questions informs us on the changes we have to make internally to answer those questions,” she said. “The questions that are being asked are on a larger, bigger scale because more information is now available. We have to work harder to answer them.”

3. Client needs drive your technical hiring

  • The startups we cover prize client feedback. They iterate their way to growth. Harmelin is no different.

The company has also focused on improving client relationships by soliciting feedback every year and becoming more involved in understanding individual business goals. Using root cause analysis, data science and technology, the company can provide its clients with better, more robust services.


“We have many people from different parts of the company connecting with clients and many more touch points,” Harmelin said. “Whatever the problem is, we want to know about it to help move the client’s business forward.”

That means the company has created positions outside once-standard media buying roles, including a team of project engineers who build software and tools that can be used to optimize communication between clients and Harmelin Media. Communication improves in part because of the tools they develop, but also because they’ve prioritized staffing the positions with a mix of media expertise and technological prowess.

Fletcher is an example of Harmelin’s philosophy to evolve. She started working at Harmelin in 2012 on the company’s TV and radio broadcast buying team, then switched to the business intelligence (BI) department. More recently, Fletcher became one of the founding members of Harmelin’s reporting and analytics team, which now runs all of the campaign reporting that goes through the company.

In three years, Harmelin’s BI department has grown to 13 full-time employees including consultants, analysts, data scientists and an in-house software engineer that complement the work of the company’s 180 media professionals.

Fletcher said her job involves a lot of flexibility, adapting to changes with an open mind and being quick on her feet.

“Thirty-five years ago, that would be unheard of for a media company,” Harmelin said. “It takes a village. It’s not just one person’s responsibility any longer.”

4. Clients and employees are your partners

  • When it comes to relationships, Harmelin takes the long-view.

Harmelin Media’s company-client relationship lasts for about five years on average, but Harmelin herself said the company still serves clients that have been around for 20 to 30 years.

“We try to look at our clients as partners, not as a client-agency relationship,” she said. “From the day we opened our doors, our mantra has always been customer service. I think that has a lot to do with why our clients have stayed with us for so long.”

Relationships with clients are not the only long-standing relationships Harmelin Media forms. Just ask the folks who work there.

Outside of the monthly prize lottery, office softball team and other cultural benefits at Harmelin Media, the company allows for flexible time schedules to accommodate for busy parents and families. Harmelin also offers to pay for extra-curricular classes for employees interested in broadening their horizons and lifelong learning.

“We try to make sure our employees have a good work-life balance,” Harmelin said. “If all you do is work all the time, you’re not going to have a happy life.”

Harmelin’s investment in its employees is how long people choose to stay at Harmelin. The first employee Joanne Harmelin ever hired is retiring this year. Not exactly typical for a 35-year-old media company.

5. Adapt to trends, don’t chase them

  • At Harmelin, patience is a virtue.

“We have a grasp on the way the industry is moving and we’re prepared to adapt to any trends we see on the horizon,” she said. “What I learned yesterday might not be relevant next week.”

But ultimately, it’s all about perspective.

It can be valuable to sometimes “watch from a step back” to and see how new ideas and industry trends are adopted and evolve before committing to them, Fletcher says.

“Not everything that’s brand new and sparkly will be the new replacement,” she added. “Once you get confident in a product and you can see the benefits over what you’ve been working with in the past … it makes it easier for other people to get on-board.”

Take it from Harmelin.

Companies: Harmelin Media
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