Avrett Free Ginsberg Aims For New Outlook On Advertising

The first ad Scott Carlson worked on as an art director was a self-promotion for his employer, Deutsch. It showed a “For sale” sign posted on a brain.

As the new executive creative director of Avrett Free Ginsberg, Carlson now has the task of not only selling his agency to potential clients but modernizing the AFG brand.

Frank Ginsberg, CEO of the Interpublic Group shop, said Carlson’s arrival ends a nine-month search for a creative chief who can bring a new way of thinking and alternative-media sensibilities to an agency he acknowledged is still grounded in traditional ways of doing business.

Carlson, 40, said that while his new workplace is “a very smart agency as far as how they manage their clients and how they care for their clients,” he wants to get it to a place where, “When you say ‘AFG,’ you’ll have a clear point of view of what kind of work they do.”

Ginsberg is handing off his creative director’s title and responsibilities to Carlson. Ginsberg also gave away some of his new-business responsibilities in March 2003, naming Stuart Grau president. But he made clear neither appointment is part of an exit strategy.

“I have no intention of going anywhere,” said Ginsberg, 59. “I’m too much in love with what I do on a day-to-day basis. I have a working title—I’m really an art director.”

Carlson was most recently cd at the Love Collective, a New York independent. Before that, he was an ecd at Deutsch’s dRush and a group creative director at Omnicom Group’s TBWA\Chiat\ Day in New York, where his clients included Wonderbra and New York Life.

AFG has a knack for holding on to long-term clients—both Enterprise and Goya have partnered with the shop for more than 20 years—but has had trouble converting new-business pitches. Last year the shop, which had an estimated $270 million in billings, picked up the estimated $10 million Casual Male account, the $10 million Lebanon Seaboard account and the $4 million Webster Bank business. But it fell short in the Popeyes ($20 million) and Casio ($5-10 million) reviews, and lost its $10 million Bacardi Flavors account to davidandgoliath.

This year, the agency lost out in the Petsmart ($30 million) and Stetson’s ($10 million) reviews. It won Fortunoff’s $10 million business.

To address the new-business issue, AFG recently hired former Roth consultant Ken Robinson as vp of business development, who Grau said is contributing “insider insight into what it takes to win.”

While chief marketing officer Jamie Korsen said the shop is “pleased with our new-business success,” Ginsberg acknowledged that falling short in the Casio review “was a wake-up call.” Sources said the shop failed to impress during initial chemistry visits with the client—and that generally, AFG fails to package itself as a contemporary shop with dynamic creative.

Carlson has experience with nontraditional advertising approaches. At the Love Collective, he and his team covered “masculine” objects such as bricks and barbershop poles in hip New York neighborhoods with stickers that read, “This is an ad for Jack Space,” a men’s accessories retailer. At dRush, he oversaw a campaign for Courvoisier that included putting on art and fashion shows in a gallery space where bartenders created Courvoisier-based drinks.

“We basically created a lifestyle and a culture that Busta Rhymes and P. Diddy wrote and sang a song about,” said Carlson, who started at the shop in mid-May. Last week he presented work to Bacardi, for which AFG handles the Dewars signature brands.

Of his new agency home, Carlson said, “They do responsible work here for all their clients across the board, from packaged goods to luxury.”

Responsible, Ginsberg acknowledged, but not breathtaking. “I want to go from good to great,” he said.