Modernista! Sets the Standard

In less than two years, Modernista! has established itself as New England’s fastest-growing shop. Now, buoyed by recent additions Avon and Converse, the Boston agency appears positioned to sustain momentum despite the slumping economy.

Avon, the direct seller of beauty products, last week tapped the shop for creative chores on its global “Let’s talk” campaign. Spending is estimated at around $30 million; Bcom3’s MediaVest unit in New York handles media planning and buying. Creative work, which was assigned following a review of undisclosed shops, had been fashioned in-house.

Modernista!’s first effort for Avon will launch in the spring and will likely be print-based. Rather than tout specific products, it will use fashion models and glitzy imagery to refine Avon’s overall brand image, said agency co-founder Lance Jensen said. Last year, Avon used tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in its “Let’s talk” television spots.

The shop signed up Avon less than a week after adding the estimated $5-10 million Converse account [Adweek, Nov. 5].

Formed as 2000 began by former Arnold creative director Jensen and former Wieden + Kennedy executive Gary Koepke, Modernista! also counts the Gap, General Motors’ Hummer, MTV, Rossignol and Roxio among its clients.

As Modernista! was adding those brands, regional heavyweights such as Arnold, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos and Mullen saw their new-business initiatives slow significantly. Thirty-person Modernista!, though not yet in the league of those established shops, has benefitted from its ability to reach the young-adult market. This specialization gives the shop a broad base of potential clients to draw from—cars, soft-drink companies, alcoholic beverages, candy, fashion, retailers—and could allow the agency to sustain growth despite the sluggish economy, industry executives said.

Marc Gallucci, president and creative director of small shop Fort Franklin, Boston, said that Modernista!’s success is “encouraging for small businesses.”

Some startups “see themselves as small New England agencies; these guys saw themselves from day one as national players,” said Mike Sheehan, president and chief creative officer of Hill, Holliday, Boston.

However, injecting a note of caution, Sheehan said, “You can mine it for a few years. I don’t think you can mine it forever.”