Spotlight on a Native Business: Red Circle Agency

Chad Germann founded Red Circle Agency 19 years ago after a career in marketing for his tribe’s (the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe of Minnesota) casinos. Over those years, Red Circle has grown to 50 full-time staff and has worked with over 125 different Native-owned casinos on brand strategy, creative advertising, and media buying. Like many companies, COVID-19 forced Red Circle to close its offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and its employees to work from home. Through that transition Red Circle has continued to adapt to client needs, focusing on analysis and strategy work while casinos look to ensure their best customers are taken care of.

As the needs of casinos change in this unpredictable time, so will Red Circle. We talked to Founder and CEO Chad Germann about some of the changes happening at Red Circle, how COVID-19 has affected the business model, and more. We hope you enjoy learning more about Red Circle Agency!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your business

My name is Chad Germann, I am an enrolled member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe of Minnesota and Founder and CEO of Red Circle Agency. I started my career working in marketing for my tribe’s casinos, but then started my own company, Red Circle Agency, 19 years ago. We are a full-service creative and media agency that specializes in Native-owned casinos. If a casino needs brand strategy, creative advertising, or media buying, that’s what we do all day, every day. In the nearly 20 years we’ve been in business, we’ve worked with more than 125 different Native casinos of all shapes and sizes, from all parts of the United States. Red Circle’s 50-person full-time staff works out of an office building I own in downtown Minneapolis, MN, and we are currently active with more than 20 casinos.

2. How has The National Center helped your business?

I come to National Center events to network and meet people. It’s a chance to meet other Native businesspeople and make connections that I hope lead to business.

3. How has your business been affected by COVID-19?

We sent everyone to work from home right away. Before any of our casino clients were sending people home, we had already set up operations from our own homes, where we remain now. Everyone works from home and will continue to until it’s completely safe to do otherwise. No reason for us not to.

Of course, our clients are spending less money than in the past — which is to be expected. However, we’ve found that our experience with data analysis and planning has proven helpful to our clients as they manage the changes in their operations.

The agency is making less, but we only lost one client — who was replaced by a new one we picked up — and so we haven’t had to let anyone go, which is a blessing.

4. How has your business model changed since the pandemic started?

We are doing more database analysis and strategy work and less television and radio ads. Casinos are experiencing a decrease in player volume, so the effort on their part — and the help they are asking of us — is related to making sure their best players are taken care of. We’re also making sure we aren’t spending money on those players who are no longer as valuable.

That said, our clients are all still producing marketing materials, so although the volume of the work is less, we are still doing the same work we’ve always done. I think as casino traffic ramps up, our work will ramp up.

5. What advice would you give to other aspiring Native entrepreneurs?

I speak to Native youth groups and college kids all the time, and my advice is always the same: become an expert in something. And not just anything, pick something that has value. Get really good at that one thing, demonstrate that your expertise is worth something and then go out and sell that thing. Maybe at first what you sell is your value as an employee in someone else’s company where you build up experience and build a book of work. When you are ready, then pivot out and start selling your expertise under your own name/business. Work hard, keep working to get better and better, and you will have a shot. It’s never easy. You might have to starve for a while, and maybe do double duty for a while (working for others, working for yourself), but that’s the formula.

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