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Advertising seniors start own agency

Nov 1, 2016

Posted in: News

By | William Lineberry

They were not sure what to call it at first. They weren’t even quite sure how they ended up there in the first place. Was it mutual chemistry? Right place right time? Fate? Whatever it was, the one sure thing was that they had just started their own advertising agency together before they even graduated with their bachelor’s degrees.

This is what the beginning was like for Ari Abad, Isabelle Cabral and Arthur Olivarez, three advertising students in the Robertson School who founded CAO Advertising Agency, before graduating.

“We started as classmates in the 100-level advertising classes in the School,” Abad said. “After that, and some group projects, we became really close friends and one day last spring we thought what it would be like if we had our own advertising agency. The next thing that happened was getting our LLC registered and started getting clients.”

It was a bit of a snowball start for the trio. The first client came and then that led to a referral from another and so forth. Before the three nascent business owners knew it, they had secured four clients in just less than six months.

The idea was to take the creative and entrepreneurial skills they had been taught by advertising professors and apply them in real-time with real-life clients and projects, Abad said. Each member of the team recognized the others’ talent and did not want to see that applied only toward class projects, she said.

“Our professors, especially Scott Sherman and Sarah Trickey, were really inspiring,” Abad said. “They made us really understand that we are able to do things that we don’t think we were capable of doing.”

In Richmond, Abad said, she had seen others start their own businesses based off of a need they saw, so when she saw small businesses in Richmond that were great but lacking in focused advertising and marketing, she jumped at the opportunity to start the agency.

“We kind of formed this agency to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit,” Olivarez said. “We want to help small businesses that are going up against bigger chains. We want to celebrate those businesses and all their quirks that make them different.”

Abad said the origin of CAO’s logo, “celebrating differences,” came from the idea that the agency wants to help small businesses get their ideas and products better exposure. The agency wants to help level the playing field a little between those at the top of the market and those that are just starting out.

The clients for CAO have been a mixed bag thus far: a flooring company, a Richmond cultural organization, a real-estate company and a development company. The agency also does the layout and design for the Church Hill People’s News monthly newsletter.

“I admire many things about the three,” said advertising professor Scott Sherman. “They make a fantastic team. It is fantastic that they are doing this while still in school. Many students think about it, but few follow through and do it.”

When asked about how they manage to juggle course work along with running an agency, Abad, Cabral and Olivarez all broke out into laughter at the same time.

“There is no balance,” Abad said quickly.

“Your ‘free time’ just ends up becoming your work time,” Olivarez added. “We use the time between classes to send each other updates about the company and clients and things like that. You just kind of have to find the time.”

“It helps because we’re really good friends,” Cabral concluded. “So doing work doesn’t really feel like doing work when we’re doing it together.”

Olivarez and Cabral will graduate this December and Abad will graduate in the spring. In the short term, they plan on getting new clients while continuing to work with their pre-existing ones. For the long term, all three plan on applying to attend the VCU Brandcenter to pursue their master’s degrees.