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Writing - Features

CEO Cobb's 'Wonderful Life'

Written Oct. 21, 2013
By: Daniel Fortune

It looks like a posh spot to dine out Saturday night. Mahogany booths form a maze through midnight-blue carpeting. Oversized lounge chairs sit atop clean hardwood floors in front of a black granite bar.

But there are a few problems.

For one, the bar doesn’t serve drinks. In lieu of bottles of liquor, golden Emmy award trophies line the wall behind the counter.

The booths hardly invite diners either. Most of the tables are covered with computers and scattered papers.

This architectural quagmire is the headquarters of DBA, a full-service advertising agency and production company, as CEO/Founder Dan Cobb, 45, describes.

“It’s all in-house, and that’s quite rare,” Cobb says. “Typically, the ad agency is a separate business that’s the idea engine, and then the production company executes their ideas. And typically those are two different companies, but DBA has both in-house. And we act as one.”

When working with Hungry Howie’s Pizza, for example, Cobb says his company covered everything from taste-testing pizzas, designing advertisements based on the feedback, to then producing those advertisements in their offices, which include a professional film studio.

Cobb says DBA designs and produces everything from TV commercials, websites, billboards, print ads, logos, packaging, and even some marketing-based entertainment programs that appear on television - "branded entertainment," as he explains.

"It’s not just TV shows for the sake of TV shows," Cobb says. "It’s a show about a hospital, or doctors, or we’ll do a show about financial planners. It’s for a purpose of selling their product, like a documentary."

Cobb says this unique workplace is the culmination of a lifelong vision and faith in God.

“I had this idea,” Cobb says. “It was put inside of me when I was probably in elementary school, and it came through. I had visions of things like this since I was a little kid, and I believe that goes back to the faith thing. I really do believe that I had a spiritual quest.”

Cobb went on to study advertising at Michigan State University, where he graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science. Beginning his career as art director for advertising agencies, Cobb says he found himself out of work just two years into his career. He began working directly for clients out of his apartment bedroom, Cobb says, with the help of his wife and four other people he eventually hired and moved into a house together. He says the turning point came at an innocuous time.

“It was one night when my wife and I were sitting on the couch on a Friday night and watching movies,” Cobb says. “And a guy unlocks the door and walks by us down to work in the basement. It was an employee, well intentioned. But that was the end of the home business.”

Cobb says he subsequently found a traditional office building in Troy for his expanding company, but found they still needed more work space. He says it was not until one night dining out with his wife in downtown Rochester that he found his company’s proper home.

“I was eating some steak and sitting in this building,” Cobb says of the former restaurant Schmidty's, owned by Jimmy Schmidt of The RattleSnack Club in downtown Detroit. “And I said, ‘Gosh, this would be a really cool building to form an agency out of, because it’s already got a cool look to it.’ And my wife said, ‘Maybe they’ll go out of business.’ And within a week of that, there was a sign on the door. It was for sale. It had gone out of business.”

The rest is history, says Cobb, who bought the restaurant and turned it into the headquarters of his steadily growing company. He says the timing of the restaurant closing was more than mere coincidence in his eyes.

“I saw it as a real spiritual moment,” Cobb says. “You have to. I have a deep faith in every step we’ve taken. And when I say ‘we,’ originally it was just my wife and I. And now it’s a group of probably 50 people who work here and another 20 or so out in our LA office that we work with. We feel a constant sense that we have a guiding call, and that comes from God.”

Today DBA is especially renowned for producing ABC’s ongoing award-winning special “Minds of Medicine,” but Cobb neglects to mention the Emmys when explaining why he’s proud of his company.

“I think we’ve maintained our commitment to have a purpose in what we do,” Cobb says. “We’re not simply an agency for the sake of making money. We believe in helping brands to better the human condition. That’s actually a slogan we have here: ‘Better brands for a better human condition.’ And we work with brands like healthcare systems and family-related retail environments, like Chick-fil-A, Hungry Howie’s Pizza. They all stand for something good in some way, and we help them accomplish those things.”

Cobb is the father of five children, and says he enjoys family vacations that involve various extreme sports, from snowboarding to wakeboarding.

His favorite movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Cobb says, as he points to a large framed poster of the film that hangs against the wall in his office.

"It's about living a life of purpose," Cobb explains. "And seeing that there is a reward at the end."