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McClatchy-Tribune  08/04/2014 12:40 PM ET
Cary-based Ignite Social Media plans layoffs after losing largest account [The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) :: ]

Aug. 04--Ignite Social Media, a Cary-based social media marketing agency whose fortunes soared in recent years, is anticipating laying off 50-plus employees -- or nearly half its staff -- after losing its largest client.

The brunt of the job cuts stemming from losing major automaker Chrysler Group as a client will be in the agency's Detroit office, but there also will be some layoffs at the Cary headquarters, said Jim Tobin, the agency's founder and president.

"It' a rough business, the agency world," Tobin said.

Today Ignite has about 110 employees, split roughly evenly between Cary and Detroit. Tobin said the agency expects to cut "a little over 50" jobs.

After the layoffs are completed, Tobin said, Ignite still will have more employees than the 35 workers it had when it was awarded the Chrysler account in 2011.

"We are bigger and stronger than we were before Chrysler," he said.

"It's a blow any time you lose an account the size of an auto company, but we're in good shape for the future," Tobin added. "We've got some fantastic new clients and some fantastic opportunities in the pipeline."

Clients that Ignite has landed in the past three years include ConAgra Foods, Kay Jewelers and Staples. Other clients include Microsoft, Hair Cuttery and Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, whose brands include Radisson and Country Inns and Suites.

It's not unusual for marketing and advertising agencies to ramp up their staffs when they win a big account, or to switch into reverse when they lose a big one. Indeed, when Ignite won the Chrysler account it announced plans to hire more than 40 workers.

Tobin said the agency was notified by Chrysler about two weeks ago that the relationship would end Aug. 31.

"They indicated that they were going to take a different direction to social (media)," Tobin said. "I don't know exactly what that approach is."

Tobin said he regretted most that the agency is being forced to cut some great workers who contributed to the agency's growth -- so much so that Ignite is making an unusual offer to prospective employers.

If an employer hires a laid-off Ignite employee who worked at Ignite for at least a year and then ends up terminating them within 90 days because of "performance or character issues," Ignite will pay that company $5,000.

"We have some good people and we're trying to do everything we can to help them land on their feet," Tobin said. "We're trying to make the best of a not-great situation."

Ignite also lost Samsung as a client about nine months ago.

"We were able to replace all of that income without a single layoff," said Tobin. "We were rather proud of that."

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