Personalities of Pittsburgh: Chemistry Communications CEO Ned Show has a formula for growth



It sounds like a lab experiment gone right. Big agency veteran Ned Show combined his year-old startup, SpaceBoy Interactive, with Gray Baumgarten Layport Inc., one of Pittsburgh’s premier creative boutiques of the 1980s and 1990s, to create Chemistry Communications in 2009. With Show at the helm, revenue at the merged entity has increased more than five-fold. Now the city’s fifth-largest advertising agency, Chemistry has expanded into Atlanta, and industry tome Ad Age named it as a small agency of the year in 2016 and 2018. 


Ad Age recently honored Chemistry for the second time in two years. What does that mean to you?

We all get great T-shirts. The creative guys love to make T-shirts. Seriously, it’s amazing recognition. When I was starting out in the business, long before the internet, I’d go to work on Monday morning and the new issue of Ad Age would arrive, all big and glossy, and, for a kid in Pittsburgh, it looked so glamorous. I couldn’t wait to read it.


What do you know now you wish you’d known in 1992 when you started out as an account exec at Marc USA?

It’s all about the people. That’s the only thing that matters. If you have great people, you’ll be great; lousy people and you’ll be lousy.


What’s been your biggest professional challenge to date?

Integrating cultures after an acquisition, going about the day-to-day practical tasks to build trust and getting people to believe and pull in the same direction.


Why did the merger that created Chemistry work?

I’d put that on Geoff Tolley (chief creative officer). I respect him so much; we’d worked together well in the past, and if I was going to be in business with anyone, it would be Geoff. A lot of times, creative people want tight control and their fingerprints on everything, and it took a savvy, intelligent person like Geoff to understand the opportunities with digital and be willing to take the risk to merge.


Why call it Chemistry?

We spent hours trying to come up with a name. We just circled around the idea of what, at the end of the day, makes client and agency click. Why do they find each other and work well together? It’s intangible. But you know it when you have it. It’s all chemistry.


Chemistry grew by more than 50 percent in 2017, adding 24 new clients and projects. What’s driving this?

Two things. Atlanta is on fire and, having a talented group of people in a market like that, we’re finding clients. We also do an amazing job with serial clients. We had a client at PNC who went to H&R Block and brought us work there and then went to another company and we continued with them.


Chemistry’s done two acquisitions in Atlanta, so are you looking at other regions?

We are in negotiations now with a number of opportunities in the Miami market. And through Miami, we’d use that as an entry to serve Latin America, the Caribbean, Mexico. My hope would be that, by the end of this year, we close a deal.



The multicultural dimensions of marketing are enormous and it’s only going to get bigger.


Where do you want to take Chemistry eventually?

I’d want it to be one of the prominent national independent agencies. I’m not tying that to a number, whether that be revenue or people, because the business has changed. You can become a prominent independent agency working with blue-chip brands and companies and be a 150-person shop.


What do you like best about what you do?

Helping a business overcome a problem. It’s enormously satisfying. I’m blessed to work with amazing, creative people, and every morning when I get out of bed, I’m happy to go to work.


Is there a road not taken?

I always thought when I graduated from college that I’d be working for a TV station. I wanted to be Ron Burgundy. Well, Tom Brokaw. From afar, it looked like such an interesting profession.


If you could change jobs with anyone for a day who would it be — and why?

(Actor) Jon Hamm from “Mad Men.” My wife has a crush on him. We can keep the marriage intact and I can be Jon Hamm for a day.


What haven’t you done that you still want to accomplish?

I would love to shoot an even par round of golf because I’m a long way from that.


Your undergraduate degree is from Penn State and your MBA is from the University of Pittsburgh. Where does that put you in football season?

Sometimes I root for Pitt, but to be completely honest, I’m a die-hard Nittany Lion fan.



Title: CEO, Chemistry Communications

Age: 50

Education: B.A., journalism, Pennsylvania State University; MBA, University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business

Residence: Mt. Lebanon

First job: Newspaper delivery

Family: Wife Erika; son Ethan, 13; daughter Vivienne, 8

Hobbies: Sailing, golf and tennis


Original article here.