Thursday, March 25, 2010

Iain Tait on Incubators

Poke founder, Iain Tait was interviewed in the "Mover and Shaker" section of Boards about his move to Wieden+Kennedy as their digital ECD.

He pointed out that "in an advertising agency, the structure is there to produce advertising. In a digital agency it's there to produce things."

He went on to talk about W+K's Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) and Platform:

"Wieden is like an incubator: they'll give [small technology firms] space and resources at minimal or very low cost. In exchange they get them involved in projects, problem solving and doing workshops. I think that's something that's going to pay dividends if they do it right. Again, they're taking risks."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I was very inspired by Warren Berger's recent article in CA (Design Annual 50) about New York agency SS+K. Here’s why:

It’s a very cool, and unexpected evolution of CCO Marty Cooke. Here’s a guy who is featured in the D&AD’s Copywriter’s Bible, who joins a new agency and begins to have his doubts about it:

“I felt like I’d gone off the grid,” he says. Cook was used to doing a lot of high-profile commercials nad print ads, but that wasn’t the goal at SS+K. “This was not the place to come and build your TV reel,” Cooke says.

But he’s since been involved in amazing work like texting posters for Credo and NewsBreaker Live for That’s not just putting more work in your book. That’s pushing boundaries of what an ad agency is capable of.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, they embrace their DC roots. So many of us in advertising look down on political advertising as pedantic. Haughtily, we ask “What would happen if a political candidate had the guts to hire Goodby?” But SS+K finds the best of what works with DC-style advertising and runs with it.

Because of that, they clearly offer something different. So many agencies seem to be me-too agencies. “We do print, TV, online, and offer strategic marketing solutions with breakthrough creative blah blah blah.” But SS+K can put their stake in the ground and say, “We get political, and we can rally brands around a politically-charged cause and help them make money.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Traditional vs. Big Table Agencies

The latest issue of Communication Arts (Photography Annual 50) profiles Boone/Oakley, which I believe is one of the coolest, smartest boutiques to come along since VitroRobertson. They've got some solid print and TV, as well as some great ambient and outdoor stuff. And although I kind of miss the music and interaction of their old website, their latest homepage is downright brilliant.

The profile talks about their multi-player creative approach to each assignment, which involves more than just a copywriter/art director team reporting to a creative director. From the article:

"Think about how Bill Bernback revolutionized our industry simply by pairing a copywriter and an art director," Boone said. "Now the creative team is the copywriter, art director, interactive person, media person and the strategist/planner/account person. That's our industry's revolution today."

This reminds me of another CA article from this year's Interactive Annual (May/June issue) called "The Big Table: A New Model for Creative Work" by a freelance writer named Joe Shepter.

Shepter says the traditional model of AD/CW reporting to a CD "rests on the belief that creative ideas are independent from production. Copywriters and art directors are not required to have an intimate understanding of how work is produced." It's hard for me to disagree with that. I'm used to using my producers as a crutch (which is why I've always tried to surround myself with great ones).

Shepter uses the term "Big Table" to describe collaboration like Boone/Oakley's: "The list of participants varies, but usually includes writers, designers, Flash coders, database programmers, creative directors and, sometimes, even the receptionists who greet clients on their way in the door."

My initial reaction to this is resistance, and it's based on three of my favorite quotes:

A small group of A people can run circles around a large group of B people.

-Steve Jobs

A camel is a horse designed by committe.

-Sir Alec Issigonis

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.

-Dave Barry

To me, Big Table gatherings are open invitations for Design by Committee and it's big brother, Groupthink. I'd rather be in the more nimble, decisive A group. Even if it were just me and my partner.

But here's the thing. There are two statements in Shepter's article that clearly make the case for Big Table agencies. Here they are:

"Big Table agencies...believe that media is evolving so quickly that it's impossible for a copywriter and art director to know every way that ideas can be deployed...The only way to ensure that you have the best possible idea is to bring in creators and producers at the onset."

And he quotes an anonymous creative director saying, "The things we build aren't what an art director and copywriter can dream up. They wouldn't know that it was possible."

Again, it's hard for me to disagree with either of those. There are people out there writing code that goes over my head and blows my mind at the same time. Obviously this stuff can be used in fantastically cool ways to sell products and solve clients' problems. And most AD/CW teams I know would have a hard time going beyond, "Maybe we could do an iPhone app."

I'm not sure how to reconcile this yet. Maybe it's a Big Table agency with a benevolent dictator at the helm. Maybe it's separating teams and even agencies (like BBDO and ProximityBBDO). But it's pretty clear old school creative teams are more likely to be confined by old school solutions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

42 Entertainment

42 Entertainment is a pretty fascinating company.

They're best known for the "I Love Bees" ARG which launched Halo 2, as well as the "Why So Serious?" work they did as a teaser for The Dark Knight.

They're also behind the "Flynn Lives" site that's teasing the new Tron movie.

If you go on their home page, you can opt in to follow them down the rabbit hole into their own ARG by providing your email address and phone number to receive text messages and other hints.

While their work is frequently featured in Creativity and other pubs of the ad industry, I'm not sure you'd call them an advertising agency. Their Wikipedia entry says they specialize in "creating and producing alternate reality games." Which means they know how to work online and do ambient/guerilla media - two areas traditional agencies have been trying to master themselves.

They probably don't pitch for accounts against traditional agencies like Chiat or Goodby. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some clients would work with 42 Entertainment and their agency of record on certain projects.

So while they may not be the next evolution of ad agencies, they're definitely a social media-catalyzed mutation. And their Grand Prix win at Cannes this year shows that mutation is pretty legitimate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How Coke views big agency networks

The August issue of the UK's Creative Review features an article titled "Coke: a simple story" which features Pio Schunker, Coca-Cola's "senior vice president for creative excellence, North America." Schunker, who used to work for Ogilvy New York, oversees a roster that includes Widen + Kennedy, Mother, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and Turner Duckworth. He's also responsible for approving Coke's new look and "steadily piloting the idea through the Coke labyrinth."

"Their biggest battle, convincing Coke marketers that, no, it wasn't necessary to have a picture of some bubbles on the side of the can. People know Coke is a fizzy drink."
Two ideas about agencies really stood out to me in this piece:

  1. Schunker (remember a former Ogilvy guy) deliberately went with independents like Wieden and Mother. "The big networks, he says, were just giving Coke what they thought it wanted, not what they themselves believed in. He wanted to work with agencies and design studios who would, rather than simply 'stick around for the pay cheque', believe in what they were doing and walk away if they didn't get to do it."
  2. Schunker sees a problem with big agencies because of their well-intended, but fractured departments. "Big networks, he has said, typically present themselves as the 360 degree solutions ' but tend to be a loose confederation of completely disjointed companies that are so busy fighting with each other to figure out who gets the business, they can't be bothered to figure out how to solve our business.'"
As recent posts have shown, more agencies are diversifying their interests when they can. They buy design or interactive shops, or branch out into product development. But having "360 degree solutions" isn't really a solution if each tentacle is grasping for its own interest instead of the client's.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Long Tail of Agencies

When I left portfolio school, the hot shops to work for were Wieden + Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Cliff Freeman & Partners, Fallon McElligott, and TBWA Chiat/Day. Places like VitroRobertson and Loeffler Ketchum Mountjoy rounded out the boutique-y list.

Most of those big shops are still on top after a decade. But I think this list has vastly expanded. Ask one portfolio student where he wants to end up and he may give a similar list of tradition agencies.

But another may say his top picks are R/GA, AKQA, Anomaly or Atmosphere BBDO.

Another may say she wants to end up at BBH Labs, Lean Mean Fighting Machine, Poke or Dare Digital.

I wouldn't be surprised if some students graduate portfolio schools wanting to work at Google or Facebook.

Suddenly, Chris Anderson's Long Tail is beginning to make a lot of sense in the world of job-hunting students, as well as the kind of agencies clients need, and the kind of work agencies want to do.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Can Agencies Make Money on Free?

I've been listening to Chris Anderson's new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price (which I downloaded free off iTunes).

You can hear what Anderson has to say about free here and here. You can read Malcolm Gladwell's dissent here. And Seth Godin's counter here.

But if you're in a hurry, the synopsis is that more and more companies are making more and more money giving things away for free. And the book is full of examples from Google to Webkins to Radiohead to Ryanair to the UC Berkeley.

But there are no examples of advertising agencies (unless you count Google). And if Anderson is right, sometime in the near future, someone is going to figure out how advertising agencies can adopt free. Maybe it's an agency giving free brand consultation. Or creative. Or strategic planning. They already do this to painful extremes when pitching new business. But maybe there's a way to do it with paying clients.

Here's a noble attempt rising from the primordial soup of the free economy. True, they're a creative team and not an agency. But it's a start.

If this all sounds counterintuitive, read Anderson's book. It may change your mind. And if you're willing to share any ideas on how agencies can use "free" to their advantage, I'd love to hear them. I'll post mine as soon as they come to me.