The premise behind The Fearless Group–a new agency whose partners include Jerry Judge and Robin Kent: marketers need direction, clarity, and alacrity in a fast-moving age of increasing consumer control.
Whether the New York shop delivers, of course, remains to be seen. And in a marketplace suddenly flooded with startups that include Co Collective, Barton F. Graf 9000 and People Ideas & Culture, Fearless will have to hustle to stand out.
"Thirty years of being in the business, I haven’t seen so many independent agencies as we've seen in the last couple of years," said Brian Martin, of the Source Martin agency search consultancy in New York. "It is cyclical. I think more than ever before clients are letting new entities have a seat at their table. At the same time, there are a lot of good people from the ad industry who are no longer associated with an agency who want to get back into the game."
Beyond Judge, former CEO of Lowe, and Kent, ex-CEO of Universal McCann, Fearless' partners are Mike Head, a former division chief at Johnson & Johnson; Tim Walsh, CEO of Access Trade Management; Peter Gibb, a former creative director at Young & Rubicam; Robert Davidman, CEO of EarthQuake Media; and Cunning leaders Mark Voysey and Floyd Hayes.
At the onset, the shop—which Judge describes as a "capitalist commune"—offers guerrilla marketing (Cunning), channel planning (Kent), brand bartering (Walsh), brand management (Head and Judge), advertising (Gibb), and digital media (Davidman). What’s lacking is digital creative depth; Judge is scouting for a possible acquisition.
Each partner has an equal stake in the self-financed shop and in time, their individual business names (Access, EarthQuake) will dissolve into Fearless. One exception, however, may be Cunning, whose 13-year-old London and New York operation still has a flow of business from marketers and other agencies.
Early Fearless clients represent challenger brands—Pure Foods (a lesser-known FreshDirect) and Phone.com (a Vonage-like offering)—but the shop’s goal is to forge relationships with major marketers, ideally at levels above the chief marketing officer position.
"The CMO has a limited lifespan and when you get in with the CMO, it doesn’t necessary mean that you’re going to be there for a long time," said Davidman, who in the late 1990s steered marketing for Broadcast.com, the business that Mark Cuban sold to Yahoo for $5.9 billion. "But if you're in the other departments where people have a greater longevity—you have the opportunity of retaining the business, especially if you become more of a revenue-generating business than just an expense.”
The inspiration for the agency name came from the question, "Why is there so much average advertising?" said Judge. "Fear is a major contributor to bad decision-making—decisions which cost companies billions of dollars."