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

How Andrew Keller is reshaping CP+B

It seems CP+B has fought even harder to win smaller accounts than the likes of Volkswagen and Burger King—clients that were handed to the agency, without review, during its heyday. And some Crispin accounts today—Microsoft, Schwab, Arby’s—would seem less likely to embrace the more brazen (and Cannes Lion-winning) work that helped gain the shop notoriety under Bogusky. At the same time, CP+B has buckled down on its clients’ business, forgoing the adolescent spirit and top-down ethos of the past.

“They’re a much better business partner,” says Russel Wohlwerth, principal at External View Consulting Group, which managed Schwab’s review. “The reputation of Crispin previously was great creative work, and when it hits, it’s a home run. Problem was, it didn’t always and their business retention record was not great.”

“We’ve begun a new phase, and we’re excited about that,” says Keller. “To have a client like Charles Schwab, to be able to work with brands like Kraft. Whereas maybe what the reputation of the agency was before, where it would be like ‘It’s super edgy, it’s for guys, it’s this and that,’ we’ve been able to demonstrate that what’s at the core of what we do as a company is relevant for all sorts of brands, and we can transition into all sorts of voices.”

That doesn’t mean that the agency has lost its mojo. “I think they’re doing as many creative[ly] genius things as they used to,” says Miles Nadal, chairman and CEO of MDC Partners, CP+B’s parent company. “The only thing is that people now expect it of them, but before it was a surprise because they weren’t recognized the way they are now.”

“I don’t think the old style has gone away,” adds Wohlwerth. “They’ve just got more arrows in the quiver now. They’re much more versatile than they were.”

Keller has also plugged the brain drain, attracting creative talent like Bob Winter, former chief creative officer of Young & Rubicam Chicago, to lead Miami’s creative department, and Sue Anderson from TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York as co-ecd of CP+B’s rebooted L.A. outpost. The agency’s expanded London office, once just a Burger King service station, is now a 50-person creative hub that’s won clients like Kraft’s Milka (now part of Mondelez) and Turkish Airlines.

In 2006, Crispin Porter + Bogusky moved its center of gravity from Miami—already off the beaten path—even further afield to Boulder, in part because Bogusky wanted to live there. At the time, CEO Jeff Hicks compared the agency to “a gangly teenager.” Today, Keller describes CP+B—which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary (counting from when Chuck Porter’s name joined Sam Crispin’s on the door)—as more a “recent college graduate that’s hungry to get a job and is looking to start a company and sell it for a billion dollars.”

In actuality, CP+B’s founders long ago sold to a larger company. MDC Partners took a 49 percent stake in 2001 and gradually upped its equity to full ownership in 2009—CP+B’s biggest year in revenue. By that point, Bogusky, who took a co-chair title and handed the creative reins to Keller and co-executive creative director Rob Reilly in early 2008, was already phasing out of the business. Bogusky took a larger MDC role in early 2010 and was gone by July of that year. Keller took over three months later.

At the outset, the CEO struggled with financial pressures related to a big holding company, as well as the scope and scale of the job. “I think when he first started, he was very overwhelmed because we have this holding company,” says Porter, chairman of CP+B and chief strategist at MDC, guiding its acquisitions. “We have [a] big organization, big enterprise, [in] different countries.”

A generally bad financial year in 2012, driven by client losses, left Keller—not a career-path CEO—distracted by numbers as he sought to find his footing. “He stepped into a situation that had a lot of problems, and as those problems have been resolved, he’s been able to get himself out of it,” notes Porter. “I think he’s able to focus more and more on what he’s really brilliant at.”

Keller’s style was apparent from his earlier days at the agency. In 2001, the shop won Mini Cooper’s creative account, a seminal moment for the agency, and Keller. “About six months into it, Andrew was really stepping up and taking on a lot of the meetings and all the grind of it and everything,” recalls Bogusky. “He earned [a] nickname on the client side. Mini called him The Agency. … He was everything. He was the account person; he was the creative.”

“That account really was where he cut his teeth I think, in terms of being a leader and fully taking on the ultimate responsibility for things, which is something that I think a lot of people just don’t feel comfortable doing,” says Bogusky.

Keller’s trajectory wasn’t lost on his colleagues. “When I started [at CP+B 10 years ago], it was clear that he was the next person in command, more or less acting as partner to Alex and then becoming a core leader later as Alex began his process of moving on,” remembers CP+B alum Tiffany Rolfe, who in 2012 left her post as co-ecd at the agency’s L.A. office to join Co: Collective in New York. “[Keller] was always very big picture.”

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