London Agency Dares Expansion in N.Y.

NEW YORK Every day brings news of more agency cutbacks as the economy continues to wallow in recession. But not all agencies are retrenching.

Top London digital shop Dare is making its first foray abroad by opening operations in New York. It has tapped its former creative director James Cooper to lead its U.S. efforts. Cooper, 36, returned to Dare after a year at Another Anomaly, where he was one of the shop’s founding partners.

The bet: its savvy in digital branding that’s lured clients like Sony, BMW and Vodafone will attract opportunities in the U.S. market which is dominated by large shops rooted in Web design.

“I don’t think there are many good digital strategic, creative agencies out there,” Cooper said. “The days of people saying you can’t build a brand online are over. You can definitely build a brand online.”

The time is right for an expansion for Dare, which has been named Agency of the Year four out of five years by Campaign magazine, he said. In 2007, Cooper’s last year at the shop, Dare won all three pitches it competed in and turned away 122, according to Cooper.

“Dare London is so ridiculously solid,” he said. “They can switch on the new business tap at any time.”

Dare joins other successful U.K. digital shops looking to break into the U.S. market. Poke launched a New York outpost in 2007. Fellow U.K. digital shops Steak Media and Agency Republic opened in New York last year.

Of course, success in one market does not mean it will translate into another. Cooper will act as an “advance guard” to see what opportunities exist for Dare in the U.S. market, according to John Owen, a partner at Dare in London.

“We are very much prepared to refine our thinking as we go,” he said. “We’re in beta at the moment. We’re very hopeful that this is the precursor to something magnificent.”

Dare New York plans to take a page out of Anomaly’s book by taking a stake in businesses and tying compensation to business generated, particularly for new brands. Cooper estimates this type of arrangement will eventually represent up to 30 percent of Dare New York’s business.

“We’ll have one foot in the [intellectual proerty],” said Cooper. “I’m still hugely keen on it. I know a lot more how to go about that and what the pitfalls are.”

Cooper spent two years at Dare, following stints at Agency Republic, Ogilvy & Mather and D’Arcy. He relocated to New York to join Another Anomaly in November 2007.

To begin, Dare New York has a pair of clients. One is Lauren Luke, a Manchester woman who has become a YouTube sensation with her no-nonsense beauty tip videos. Anomaly is working with Luke to develop a line of cosmetics that is due to launch in March. Dare will handle the digital strategy for Luke, establishing her Web hub for her videos and cosmetic products. It will also work on developing a social media strategy to complement the product launch.

Another client is Help Remedies, a range of over-the-counter pharmaceutical products that is playing against the tide of specialization in favor of simplicity. Its first products are “Help I’ve cut myself” bandages and “Help I have a headache” pain reliever. Dare will craft a social media campaign to build buzz around the brand, which hopes to become the “Method of pharmaceutical” with a focus on good design, sustainability and simplicity.

The clients both share their origins as digital brands, according to Cooper. Dare will seek out clients that are using digital not as an extension of their traditional marketing efforts, but as a core part of their existence, he said.

Cooper is recruiting partners for the shop, which he envisions growing to 10-20 people in a year’s time. It will partner with Dare in London and other shops owned by Cossette Communications, Dare’s parent company, as well as freelancers, to execute work, he said.

“There are clients that want top agency thinking and creativity in the digital space,” Cooper said.