The walls lining Thomas Becher’s office at The Becher Agency (tba), in Suite 100 along Warehouse Row on downtown Roanoke’s Norfolk Avenue, are adorned with tiny models of airplanes—a reflection of his background in aviation before he came to Roanoke about six years ago. “I was in the corporate world,” he explains, “working at Northwest Airlines before their merger with Delta. I was with a cargo airline called Atlas Air and then at Pratt & Whitney, which makes jet engines.”
Becher, a native of Canada who holds two degrees in journalism from Illinois’ Northwestern University, also worked as an AP reporter for six years before moving on to a career in public relations at the University of Connecticut. Relocating to Roanoke, he joined the John Lambert Associates organization and, when Lambert decided to move on, bought the company, rechristening it The Becher Agency, or tba.
“I call myself kind of an ‘accidental entrepreneur,’” says Becher. “I did not intend to, or plan on, owning an agency.” Since he took the helm, the company has grown steadily. Utilizing what he calls a small and smart business model, employing both core agency employees and free-lancers when necessary, The Becher Agency has been able “to tap into a lot of resources in this community and beyond.”
A full service advertising-PR firm, the agency’s essential purpose is to generate ideas that help businesses better connect with their audiences. “From a more strategic sense, we are a marketing partner for many companies, “says Becher. “They may not have the in-house resources or they may want to supplement those resources. We come in, and we can craft a plan that is in line with their business plan [and] enables them to market and sell their products and services.”
Crisis management is another Becher Agency mission. While that doesn’t necessarily signify a major catastrophe—what Becher calls a “fire truck kind of crisis”—“it means that, for a business, there’s significant change that has to be managed. The best way to do that is to use a public relations expert to manage them through this crisis, and how to communicate that to our audiences.” While working for Northwest, Becher had to help manage the company’s image during an airliner crash.
Becher has no desire for his agency to become involved in political work; “I think it only serves to maybe alienate some people—particularly clients. Our focus remains on businesses, nonprofit organizations, that sort of thing – and not [political] campaigns.”
The staff at the Becher Agency comes from numerous fields: graphic designing, public relations practioners, account service people, finances, etc. Becher describes the kind of person the agency employes as “someone with a lot of creativity, no matter what field they’re in. It’s all about creativity and ideas these days. We want someone used to sort of a pretty quick paced environment, who is going to be flexible, who is going to want to work as a team, who presents well to clients, very professional of course. We’ve got a nice mix of all of that here.”
Though he describes social media as “a great tool” for his business, Becher believes it has been over-emphasized elsewhere in the business world—“unless you’ve got measurement in place, you’ve got a strategy in place to use it, and you know how it drives traffic.” While saying that social media can be a boon to a retail shop or a restaurant, Becher adds that for businesses such as a financial services firm or a law office (both of which are governed by regulatory restrictions), social media isn’t as effective.
Still, when it comes to informing people, relaying a message, and getting them in touch with what companies have to offer, Becher feels that social media has been of great assistance and “has helped to what I sort of call ‘democratize’ the business of communications. It’s been a good listening tool for companies.”
Becher feels digital communications will be a major factor in the agency’s future. Senior care is another; “We’ve got some great experience with Friendship Retirement Community in the senior care market that we can apply elsewhere. With the boomers and many people retiring, they want to look for options for their future care, whether they’re healthy and can live independently or they’re getting assisted living. From that perspective, it’s just simple demographics tell us that that industry is going to grow and we’d like to certainly be part of that.”
Becher also cites high-tech as another growth industry. “We’ve got several clients down in the New River Valley, particularly around the Corporate Research Center at Tech, who are doing some tremendous work. And one day they’re going to be big companies, and we want to certainly be in on the ground floor with them, [and] “there are lots of opportunities outside the market as well,”