Inside Alex Bogusky’s ‘gut-plus’ strategy for CP+B 2.0

Bogusky was live-streamed into Advertising Week New York

Crispin Porter + Bogusky is closing its LA office to consolidate its North American operations in Boulder. It’s the first move in returned founder Alex Bogusky’s master plan to redefine the agency’s offering 30 years since its inception.

CP+B founders Alex Bogusky and Chuck Porter have no shame in speaking frankly about the quiet decline of their agency. At Advertising Week New York it was Porter that stood behind a lectern and admitted his shop was not as good as it had been eight years ago when it was named agency of the decade and Bogusky departed.

CP+B’s client base had become more conservative, he said, which in turn made the agency more conservative and softened the creative edge it was famed for. Other agencies emerged – “really smart agencies” – and CP+B’s mojo was only really alive in one office: Brazil.

“We were exploding down there and not so much exploding anywhere else,” he said. “It didn't make me bitter – I'm too big a person for that – but when I looked at it, it was clear: they did what we used to do. They became the repository for our agency DNA.

“We began to think about how we ...we go forward with the same kind of thinking and philosophy that made us successful in the first place and an obvious answer was to get back the guy that created a lot of it in first place.”

And then, in a somewhat ludicrous piece of performance art, the head of Bogusky was beamed onto a mannequin to talk about his plans for revamping the agency for the modern age. His disembodied presence wasn’t explained to the audience, but 24 hours later CP+B’s LA office had closed.

Bogusky returned to CP+B after eight years away just six weeks ago (although for president Danielle Aldrich “it feels like six months”). He stated early on that his homecoming would mark a strategic refocus rather than a hopeful return to the glory days, stating that he had “zero interest in a reunion tour”. He immediately set to work figuring out what was working and what wasn’t.

CP+B LA clearly wasn’t.

“CP+B LA began as a production outpost but after my departure slowly morphed into a full-service office,” he said in a statement. “With our production capabilities through Ming LA (formerly CP+B Plus Productions) the office is redundant and distracting from our ambition to offer the absolute highest-quality creative product.”

The shutdown follows the closure of CP+B Miami – its first office. Now all North American operations will be consolidated to Boulder, Colorado.

Bringing every US staffer under one roof will speed up Bogusky’s plans to demarcate CP+B from the rest of the industry pack – to “cook in [its] own juices” once again.

“That's a phrase Chuck used many years ago about us – we were in Miami, we weren't in the normal market, we didn't hire typical people and we became really unique,” Bogusky recalled. “A lot of that's been lost. To me there seems to be a major homogenisation of agencies and culture is the most important thing in terms of us breaking that.

“All these wounds are self-inflicted and one of the most powerful levers for us to pull is to be unique.”

What will set CP+B apart? It won’t be a commitment to marketers’ elusive use of the term “risk” – in fact, it will be the opposite, with a new commitment to using data as a creative shop.

“I don’t see why a client today would take more risks when we have the ability to de-risk the process,” Bogusky explained.

“There’s a big disconnect between our industry and most of clients. Once a quarter we meet with the chief marketing officers, chief executives and chief financial officers and they're using better and more timely data to make decisions than they were eight years ago. And then agencies show up and there’s a guy like me who says, ‘trust me, I've done this before, I'm really good at this, I’ve got a good feeling about this campaign’.”

Bogusky’s big idea is to utilise data in not only in the strategy department but in the creative realm, too. CP+B has been developing “hacking tools” and developing a culture of “gut-plus”, a working practice that strengthens the intuition of a creative with instructional data.

“There's huge potential there,” he said. “The difference [in effectiveness] between two edits or two ideas early in the process might be 30%. Later in the process we can test, we can do stuff with [Kantar] Millward Brown, but [what’s] the optimisation potential that far in? You're talking about single digits.”

It’s not all change, however. Bogusky still wants to nurture the maker culture of the agency and the obvious yet sensible commitment to the “easy stuff” – hitting deadlines, coming to work on time, satisfying the day-to-day business needs. He never wants his staff to lose sight of how much money they’re dealing with and subscribes to the theory of “delusional positivity”, because – as he puts it – “even a great day in advertising features three swift kicks in the groin”.

The first time around Bogusky banned ping pong tables. He figured that no staffer worth their salt would want to break from the feeling of creating great work to spend 30 minutes hitting a plastic ball.

In the eight years he was gone a ping pong table found its way to the office: on his return, Bogusky found it folded up and tucked away.

“I thought of setting it on fire in the middle of the lobby or attacking it with an axe,” he said.

He hasn’t – yet. But then again, CP+B doesn’t require a radical gesture to know that Bogusky’s well and truly back.

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