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From Copywriting Shop to Full-Service Ad Agency in 3 Years
Right Place, Right Time, Right Commitment to the Craft
full service agency
known today as Lincoln Digital Group began in 2010 as Business Writing Solutions. Founder Justin Cerone was in his final year of undergrad at college, and was scheduled to graduate early.
Translation: He had a lot of free time on his hands. He was also very motivated, and had previously spent his late teens selling original audio productions to rap, pop and dance artists. (Read about the phone call 19-year-old Justin once received from a Grammy-winning team
Soon, the enterprising English major had an idea for “business writing.” The premise was simple: businesses need clear, well-written messaging, and most businesses have neither the time nor expertise in-house to do so. More pressing, many businesses were launching websites and blogs at the time, and they needed to speak to their online audience with effective copy.
Who better than an English major with an understanding for the digital age, and a hunger to grow, to help this solve this problem?
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So, with a specific focus on writing high-quality articles, blogs and newsletters for business websites —
, for all intents and purposes — Business Writing Solutions gained a handful of customers during its first few months of operation in 2010.
First, Justin wrote all the content himself. In fact, he very clearly remembers spending the entire first week of the World Cup 2010 writing all of the main pages (eg. Home, about, services, etc.) for a client’s brand new website. A few months after that, he hired a former classmate from one of his English classes to help with the work. By the 4th Quarter of 2010, things were trending up — even though his income left much to be desired since demand was not yet “full time.”
With a hunger to use his time wisely and survive in this fledging business, he began spending his free working hours in digital marketing webinars and reading case studies. He also consumed everything he could from the website
. For about the next 6 months, he spent just as much time consuming marketing knowledge as he did actually delivering marketing work to clients.
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Slowly, he gained opportunities to share some of his more recently-found knowledge. Those audiences found value in what he had learned and could knowledgeably discuss.
Soon after that, a few of his clients began repeatedly asking him what he knew about two things in particular: email marketing, and “this thing called Facebook.” This was 2011, mind you, and digital marketing was in the beginning of its ascendancy.
Taking what he’d learned over the past 18 months, he began consulting, then delivering on, a few aspects of social media and email marketing services. Back then, both involved writing and Justin’s work was effective. So, he decided to formalize them as service lines at his “copywriting shop.”
Mobile Marketing Changed Everything for Us
Next, in 2012, came the major sea changes — and springboard to a full-service agency business model.
Mobile was here, and in a big way. Between mobile websites and mobile apps, Justin was getting peppered with questions about how to acquire and engage smartphone users on retail websites, as well as how to build mobile apps (
how to build mobile apps
. Mobile was a natural dovetail with Facebook, and it was something Justin was very intrigued by and passionate about, so he decided to make it his primary focus.
He voraciously consumed mobile marketing information and data trends, and knew he could be an expert in the mobile space, especially for automotive. Mobile was such a focus for him that at one point, he strongly considered learning how to write code for mobile apps.
Then, in the first half of 2012, he had sold his first “mobile agency of record” marketing contract — which included strategy, media, creative and attribution services — and Business Writing Solutions’ wings were spreading.
From Copywriting Shop to Nascent Digital Agency…but What About the Name?
Far from just a copywriting shop anymore, the two and a half year old business was now providing multiple lines of marketing services to clients on retainer — and largely unbeknownst to young Justin, it began to act and operate as full service
digital marketing agency
— despite the “writing-centric” name.
Over the next 6 months or so, three big things began to take hold for the business:
The amount of graphic design and other creative work for websites and email was exponentially increasing, thanks in large part to our first Art Director, Christina.
The amount of mobile website development was significantly increasing, thanks in large part to our first CTO, Charles.
It was tasked with leading the design and development of a first-of-its-kind automotive smartphone app. The key differentiator of this app was that it was the first of its kind to directly integrate with an ADP DMS, something no other dealer app had ever done. It was an intensive, sometimes grueling, process that orchestrated 4 different companies, and that Automotive Success magazine later asked him to write an article about.
According to Justin: “I was responsible for a near-six-figure budget and managing adults who would eat me alive if they could. This project forced the business to grow up quickly. A ton of breakthroughs. A ton of stress. A friendly trip to California. Numerous yelling phone calls.
An app that users ultimately rated 5/5 stars.
And a major lesson to never be afraid to hold people accountable for the benefit of your client.
By March, 2013, that app was live in the Apple Store and Google Play for the world to download. To Justin, this cemented that the name Business Writing Solutions no longer effectively represented what the business did, and it was time to evolve.
Lincoln Digital Group™, the Full-Service Agency, is Born
A few short months later, discussing with his parents what he wanted his business to become while on a walk in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, his father said aloud
“I got it! Lincoln Digital Group.”
For a few reasons, the name instantly connected with Justin on a level he never knew a brand name could.
On May 13th, 2013, Justin filed a “doing business as” license with the State of Illinois for the name Lincoln Digital Group.
We’ve been operating as a full-service ad agency ever since…
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