This Man Is Not Alex Bogusky. And That's OK

How Andrew Keller is reshaping CP+B

Andrew Keller | Photos: Matt Nager

The first time Andrew Keller interviewed at Crispin Porter + Bogusky, in 1996, Alex Bogusky didn’t give him the gig.

“Alex used to have a trick interview question, which was basically, ‘If you weren’t doing advertising, what would you do?’” recalls Keller. “Your answer was supposed to be, ‘There wouldn’t be anything.’ I fell for it the first time. I was like, ‘I think I’d be in a band.’”

The second time around, in 1998, Keller got it right. “That question came floating by, and he was wise enough to avoid the trap,” recalls Bogusky with a laugh.

Fast-forward to 2013, and the would-be rock star, who started as an art director, is marking his third anniversary as CEO of CP+B—helming an agency many times bigger than the one that initially rejected him.

CP+B has come a long way from the Bogusky era when the agency raked in accolades for flashy, high-wattage creative and landed trendy accounts like Volkswagen—but also developed a reputation as an often-puerile one-trick pony that couldn’t consistently hit business high notes for its clients.

When Keller took the reins in October 2010, the career CP+B creative—who once led accounts like Volkswagen and Burger King—faced the unenviable task of steering a rapidly expanded, 1,000-person shop out from Bogusky’s long shadow, amid the aftershocks of the recession and a rapidly shifting industry. More importantly, Keller needed to establish a new equilibrium, a pace that better suits marketers’ needs, including strategically driven goals.

The 43-year-old has settled into the role. “I do want the job—I love the job,” the CEO says. “It’s taken a while to get there, partially because it’s taken a while to understand the job.”

The agency has taken its share of knocks during his tenure. Burger King, closely associated with the hard-hitting CP+B creative of yore, departed in 2011 after changing ownership. This past summer, Crispin lost another longtime, big-spending client in Old Navy, after surviving years of churn in the retailer’s marketing ranks. Other, smaller pieces of business, including AmEx Open and Coke Zero, also have moved on. The agency suffered a painful talent drain, with veterans like former chief creative officer Jeff Benjamin bolting for JWT and a trio of top creative, tech and design execs—Dave Schiff, Scott Prindle and John Kieselhorst—peeling off to launch Made Movement, a Boulder, Colo.-based agency startup backed by Bogusky.

Since 2010, Crispin, which now has five offices, has seen its total head count shrink to around 700. “We’ve had to become so much leaner and more efficient than we’ve ever been, and those things are not creative words,” says Keller. “It used to just be bodies on top of bodies of creative people, just going at everything, and the industry just doesn’t support that anymore.”

Adaptation under Keller’s watch has spawned successes, too. CP+B is poised for its second-best business year ever—Adweek estimates it will generate $150 million in revenue in 2013. It has grown its relationship with cornerstone client Microsoft, adding work on the Bing search engine and Xbox console. The agency has also expanded its work with Kraft to seven brands, including Jell-O and A1. Last year, CP+B beat out three shops for Applebee’s, which spent $152 million across media in 2012, per Kantar. And this year, it became lead agency for Charles Schwab, a $118 million annual media spender that’s helped fuel the reboot of CP+B’s Los Angeles office. Arby’s and Fruit of the Loom also have arrived since Keller took over.

But its work for Domino’s, a client since 2007, perhaps best tells the story of the agency’s evolution. Few would mistake the suburban pizza chain for a sexy creative account. And yet the client’s turnaround has become a textbook case of honesty in advertising. Domino’s sales have climbed ever since it launched its transparency campaign in 2009, gaining 3 percent last year alone. “Domino’s is the best example of what can happen when CP+B and a brand partner deliver on all channels,” as Keller puts it.

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