AKQA has become the second digital agency in as many weeks to win through-the-line responsibilities for a brand.
Autodesk, a Silicon Valley-based maker of design software, chose AKQA as its global lead agency after a review that sources said included Euro RSCG, Tribal DDB, Godfrey Q & Partners and incumbent WongDoody. AKQA's assignment includes digital and traditional advertising.
Autodesk is not a big advertiser. It spent $900,000 last year in major measured media, excluding Internet ads, according to Nielsen. In addition, Autodesk's business-to-business ad spend in '08 was $1 million, and $800,000 through Sept. '09.
AKQA's strong background in digital was a key factor in the shop's selection, said Pam Pollace, vp of corporate communications. "Their roots are in digital, so they come at this by a different perspective," she said.
AKQA's win follows R/GA's assignment as the lead agency for financial services company Ameriprise. In that case, too, R/GA competed with traditional shops for the job.
"I believe R/GA has some terrific strategic marketing and brand skills," said Kim Sharan, Ameriprise's chief marketing officer. "I don't think you can make a blanket statement that a digital agency doesn't have those."
A survey released by Forrester yesterday found that 23 percent of interactive marketers believe their digital agencies are ready to lead brand strategy.
Tom Bedecarre, CEO of AKQA, said he finds the number encouraging, since digital shops acting in the lead role is still rare.
"When you're selling software, it's a product that is all about technology," he said. "We understand their product and technology, and we can communicate in any medium they need."
In addition to Autodesk, AKQA serves as the lead agency for retailer Claire's. It was previously named lead shop for Flip, though since Cisco acquired the camcorder company, it has shifted responsibilities, recently running an ad campaign without AKQA's participation.
Bedecarre said he is not "obsessed" with attaining lead agency status, focusing instead on becoming the most important marketing partner for clients. Yet he sees a trend leading to more clients seeing digital partners as their most important allies as digital becomes critical to their future.
"It's the inevitable direction of where the business is heading," he said.