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Barnes agency opens Huntington office as part of anniversary celebration

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By JAMES E. CASTO
For The State Journal

HUNTINGTON — The Barnes Agency is 10 years old this year, and the Hurricane-based advertising, marketing and public relations agency is celebrating its landmark birthday by expanding to an office in downtown Huntington. 

Huntington is familiar turf to Jeff Barnes, the agency's founder, president and sole owner. Barnes grew up in Charleston but moved to Huntington in 1996 to become vice president of marketing at St. Mary's Medical Center. Later, he played a similar role with Genesis Hospital System, the short-lived affiliation of St. Mary's, Cabell Huntington and Pleasant Valley hospitals. 

In 2003, he opened his own ad agency in Hurricane, figuring that the Putnam County location would make it convenient to serve clients in both Charleston and Huntington.

Not surprisingly, given Barnes' background, most of the firm's early clients were in the health care field. Since then, the agency's client list has dramatically expanded to include names in the banking industry, the legal profession, retailing, tourism and manufacturing. A list of clients on the agency's web site includes more than 50 names, including heavy-hitters such as West Virginia United Health System and The Greenbrier resort.

Initially, the firm employed three people. Today, it employs eight people and is looking to add additional staff. 

The agency's Huntington-area client list includes Marshall University and MU athletics, the Big Sandy Superstore Arena and First State Bank of Barboursville. Even before cutting the ribbon at its new office suite at 3rd Avenue and 10th Street, the agency landed the Huntington law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel as a new client. 

Barnes said he could have expanded his agency into Charleston instead of Huntington but noted that when he sounded out members of the Huntington business community about the possible move "without exception they were excited by the prospect of having us." That enthusiasm made his decision an easy one, he said. 

Tracy Straub will manage the agency's Huntington office as director of client services. A public relations and marketing professional with more than 15 years of experience, Straub came to the agency from Marshall University, where she managed the school's scholarship and endowment programs. Prior to that, she worked with the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

"We are eager to put our skills to work helping businesses in our community become more successful," Straub said. "If our activity over the past few weeks is an indicator of how successful we are going to be in the Huntington region, then we are in for one heck of a ride." 

The agency's new office is located only a few doors away from the former Stone & Thomas department store that's being redeveloped by Marshall as a downtown center for its visual arts programs. Barnes says he's negotiating with Marshall to work closely with the new center by adding two paid student interns to the office staff. 

Barnes noted his agency has a long history of doing pro bono work for nonprofit organizations and said he intends to expand that role in Huntington. As a first step, he has joined the board of directors of the Huntington Area Food Bank and is assisting it with a revamped public relations and marketing effort, including the design of a new logo, soon to be introduced. 

Susan Barnes, the agency's vice president and chief operating officer, is also president of the board of directors for the Ronald McDonald House in Huntington.

"Philanthropy is very important to the Barnes Agency," Straub said. "Jeff made that clear during my interview and I knew, at that moment, that this was the job for me. 

"I am thrilled to be part of such a talented staff and to work for an agency that makes giving back to their community a priority."