The ebb and flow of agency fame is nothing new. The “hot shop” concept may have started in the early Doyle Dayne Bernbach days — and has evolved into a veritable carousel of agencies that have inhabited the spotlight.
Wieden+Kennedy, Chiat\Day, Deutsch, 72andSunny, R/GA are just a few of the many (deserving) shops that have laid claim and gained ink for the honor. Today, Droga5 seems to be one that nabs the headlines in the same way McGarryBowen did a few years back.
About a decade ago, there was no denying that Crispin, Porter + Bogusky (CP+B) was one of the darlings of the business. Talk about a hot streak. From a regional shop in Miami to gaining global acclaim for pushing the boundaries of just about everything advertising knew for clients like Burger King (“Subservient Chicken” and “Whopper Freakout”), Domino’s, Kraft and others.
All told, CP+B has won the highest number of Cannes Grand Prix awards in the last 16 years, including being the only agency to win the Titanium Grand Prix three times and was named “Agency of the Decade” and “Agency of the Year” in various trade publications.
“I think there are two kinds of agencies that get hot,” said Chuck Porter, CP+B chairman. “One is an emerging agency no one has ever heard of — [then] suddenly they win some big awards or they do a really interesting, arresting campaign or win a huge client, which is how McGarryBowen got hot, and everyone’s talking about it.”
“The other one is an agency that maybe has been around forever — an example is Grey,” noted Porter. “Grey was sort of where advertising people went to play golf for a long, long time, and then they got hot for a while based on essentially three campaigns, which is as far as I can see, is what it takes. Two or three hot campaigns from someone that you've either never heard of, or you would never expect it from, and kaboom. And it's because the press writes about it, and that's okay.”
True, the marketing press is enamored with the bright lights of big creative awards and Porter acknowledges that CP+B, like all agencies, went and continues to go through its phases but did, in fact, provide something valuable to the business when it was going at its frenetic pace.
“I think we went through a phase where we began to read our own press a little bit, and we began to think that, ‘Okay, we are really reinventing this industry.’ And I think maybe in a very small way we helped to do that, but I think that we maybe thought we were a little bit more influential than we were. But I think we did do some stuff that people looked at and said, ‘Wow, this is a better way to do this.’”
A revival of sorts — with a Brazilian twist
To some of the current CP+B leadership in Miami, there is truth to what Porter said, but external forces have been at play — competition being much tougher than it was almost 10 years ago, for example. But CP+B, to be fair, has never “gone away”. In existence for almost 30 years, it’s remained a desirable destination for talent and has continually cranked out work meant to impact culture, from their 10 offices dotted around the globe.
For CP+B in Miami, though, the tailwind came not from New York, but down south in Brazil. In 2014, CP+B Brazil opened up shop in Sao Paulo, with Brazilian creative powerhouses Andre Kassu and Marcos Medeiros joining Vinicius Reis, who serves as CEO, running both offices since September 2016.
At present, the agency is AOR on Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, popular classifieds app Letgo and national dentistry company Aspen Dental, among other clients.
Tom Adams, CP+B executive creative director in Miami, saw the move and returned to CP+B after a nine-year hiatus. In the agency’s more “formative years” he was responsible for the highly-awarded and impactful anti-smoking “Truth” campaign in the late 90s but set off on a creative walkabout of sorts, founding his own shop and landing in LA at Deutsch as executive creative director before returning to Miami.
To Adams, the business may have changed, but the ethos and spirit of CP+B is what drew him back.
“Agencies live and breathe, they morph,” said Adams. “We always try to change culture and be a part of culture and I don’t think that’s changed at all since I started here.”
“It’s something about the energy,” said Claudia Machado, VP and group account director and a 17-year veteran of the agency. “We have this movement happening now where it is bringing together people who really jive and are on the same page as to what good creative is.”
Added Marci Miller, VP and group account director who has a 13 year tenure with the agency, “With this core group, there is trust and respect and that’s what clients see and is part of the reason why they want to work with us.”
“We’re in a stage of revision,” noted Reis. “But it feels like we’re going back to those ‘great’ times and Lori [Senecal] and Chuck have a lot to do with that.”
Senecal, who came to the agency as its global CEO in 2015, saw an opportunity to unify both Miami and Sao Paolo and further an agenda that she refers to as CP+B’s “global chapter” where offices may lead a certain part of the business or clients but leverage the talent in all 10 to further the overall objectives and growth.
“Our leadership team in Brazil are incredibly creatively visionary and inventive — and they're also highly entrepreneurial and really growth-oriented,” said Senecal. “Yet Brazil is a smaller piece of geography overall for our business, so one of the intuitive things was for them to have more impact on our business. So the notion of also empowering them in Miami as well made a lot of sense.”
Indeed, the Letgo new biz lead originated in Brazil and the recently-won Embraer is a huge, global aviation player. But the relative size of the Brazilian market had its limitations. As Porter puts it, the corridor between Miami and Brazil makes sense economically (Florida is Brazil’s largest export partner) and philosophically (Miami is in many ways a Latin American city). But it was Senecal’s vision to bring them together more formally.
“[Lori] said, ‘we should leverage the enthusiasm, passion and talent of our team in Brazil on a bigger stage,” noted Porter, giving full credit for the idea to Senecal.
It isn’t just about having a Latin American presence, however, but rather an opportunity to get a unique perspective on creative and the work, especially in the US. Aspen Dental and Letgo are two accounts focused on the domestic market and each office contributes.
“This is about looking at a broader scope,” said Reis. “We share knowledge and it turns out to be a really great thing for us and the client.”
Taking chances with a “Craigslist killer”
Letgo is a particularly interesting study in resolve and rolling the dice. Backed by Naspers, a multinational internet and media group, and OLX, an online marketplace, the company was seeking additional investors in the US, a market that they were looking to crack. It took a leap of faith, leavened with a healthy dose of curiosity.
“Their initial pitch was ‘we have this brand we haven’t launched yet, it’s called Letgo — and it’s going to kill Craigslist,’” recalled Machado. “A lot of people wouldn’t talk to them — and they had looked for a couple of months.”
CP+B took the bet and helped build the strategy and vision for the brand, including building decks for potential investors — without being paid in the first three months of working with them.
“We believed it was a cool idea we should be part of,” said Machado.
After the three months, the app launched and more countries were added including Turkey, Norway and Canada — and the company claims it is on course to sales of more than $23.4bn worth of goods between June 2016 and June 2017, taking a chunk out of the reported $690m-plus revenue last year by Craigslist, according to Florida-based researcher AIM Group.
Since its 2015 launch, the company has secured $325m in funding as of January 2017 to tackle the US market that has several players, including Seattle-based OfferUp, another app that is in the throes of carving out its own “Craigslist killer”.
“We were really just excited about the brand,” said Miller. “And taking on Craigslist? Why not? It’s been an amazing ride, especially learning about the classifieds industry.”
Miami (creative) heat
CP+B’s roots were laid in Miami, and the shop expanded with its fame, yet there is a decidedly underdog feel, but one that is embraced rather than eschewed.
“I think we’ll always have that in us,” said Adams. “When I started there were 34 people. And we were down here in Miami while all the talk was in New York, Minnesota and (at) Wieden. We had a huge chip on our shoulder and we had this underdog mentality. That's just part of who we are. We’re kind of the pirate ship of the industry.”
That said, the idea of being an out in front and “famous” in the industry eye may not be as singularly important as keeping that ship pointed in the right direction charting a course for the people who matter most: clients and talent.
“I don't think it's important to be a hot agency. We have all seen hot agencies that were gone in nine months,” said Porter. “The best reason in my opinion, to enter awards shows, to want your work to be written about and to maintain a relatively high profile, is because then talented people want to come and work for you.”
“It's really important that we're hot with our talent and we're hot with our clients,” added Senecal. “What we're really trying to do is create the kinds of bold, unconventional ideas that solve some of the toughest business challenges. And if we can do that then I think we will continue to grow and attract great people to our business.”