On November 10, 2006, Sara and Steve Eisner gathered their roughly 50 employees and told them the rumors were true: Eisner Communications—once the city's biggest ad firm—was broke and was closing.
Bob Berkebile, 28, had been through this before. Four years ago, he lost his job when the agency he was working for folded. It took him eight months to find another advertising job. "It was horrible scraping by," he says.
So that night, Berkebile, a web developer, created a site called The Voice of Eisner where his newly jobless colleagues could post their resumes. Since then, several former Eisner employees have found new jobs, while dozens of others have been flooded with calls and e-mails from recruiters.
Despite the trauma of the closing, many former employees miss the place.
"I really enjoyed my time there," says Mark Schofield, who was brought in as executive VP to turn around the company. "The reason I came to the place was because of how smart the people were and the high character of the people."
Steve Eisner's dad, Henry Eisner, bought the agency in 1975. The firm, for much of its history, was the best-known in Baltimore with high-profile clients such as the Maryland Lottery and the National Aquarium. But in recent years, its fortunes fell. In 2005, Eisner's revenue dropped 40 percent, to $18.3 million, according to
Advertising Age. In October of that year, Eisner lost one of its biggest accounts when US Airways merged with America West.
Roger Gray, the CEO of GKV Communications, says Baltimore's advertising community had been hearing rumors about trouble at Eisner as far back as last year. As late as October, GKV had been in merger talks with Eisner. But Gray says that negotiations fell apart after his firm determined that Eisner was financially unhealthy. GKV has hired 11 former employees and acquired one of Eisner's biggest accounts, Provident Bank.
Meantime, as they look for jobs, several employees have joined together in an attempt to reclaim their final paychecks. "We've grown even closer since Eisner shut down," says former account executive Laurie Farrell. "We're like a family. It's a testament to the character of everyone that we've all joined together."