r/GA: PUshing technology forward
Fully one-third of Interpublic Group-owned R/GA's 315 employees are technologists, which explains its ability to create cutting-edge campaigns. But those tech-minded people need to know what the other hand is doing, which is why chairman and CEO Bob Greenberg is breaking down the agency's departments in favor of a group structure, with technologist sitting side-by-side with creative director, writer, art director and account manager.
"We're being structured to take advantage of the direction we read about every day, where marketing and messaging are going to happen in so many new parts of the interactive channel," says Greenberg.
R/GA took this approach and applied it to the most humble of creative palettes: the billboard. In just four months, R/GA built a multiplayer video game on the 23-story Reuters digital sign in New York's Times Square to promote the launch of Yahoo! Autos. Passers-by called a number on their cell phones, then used their keypads to navigate cars in a virtual race around Times Square. John Mayo-Smith, R/GA's vp of technology, sees the Yahoo! project as part of "an advertising arms race being fueled by technology and creativity." R/GA's technology expertise enabled it to create the software that controls the sign, a program to queue players, the telephony to route cell calls, and the video game itself.
R/GA's tech focus drove its 28 percent growth in 2004 (revenue climbed to an estimated $87 million), expanding its work with major clients like Nike. It built a mass-customization Web site for the launch of the Nike iD that allows customers to design their own shoe, which is delivered within a month. "We're waiting for the brands to catch up to us," boasts Mayo-Smith.
R/GA has supplemented trailblazing creative work with an expanded focus on e-commerce sites. It redesigned sites for retail giants Target and Circuit City, and is working with sister IPG agencies Draft and ID Media on Verizon, which expanded spending with R/GA 20 percent last year. "We really are integrating with above- and below-the-line agencies," Greenberg says.
With 30 offices in 21 countries stretching from Sydney to São Paolo, Tribal DDB benefited from the global presence of parent DDB Worldwide and has a footprint few of its competitors can match. The Omnicom Group-owned agency expanded even farther afield in 2004, adding nine new offices in six international markets, including Delhi and Bangalore in India and Tribal's first Middle East office, in Dubai.
"We're one of the few worldwide networks in the interactive space," notes Matt Freeman, Tribal DDB Worldwide CEO. "Because the Internet and interactive are so global, the need is almost more accentuated in our world than in the traditional advertising world," he says. That expansion definitely appealed to clients, who helped the agency increase revenue a whopping 47 percent over 2003, to $100 million.
For McDonald's, Tribal was able to extend its successful "I'm lovin' it" campaign to fit a dozen international markets. In Europe, Tribal offices crafted campaigns that made heavy use of instant messaging and mobile phones. In Hong Kong, the agency created an online video game that taught diners how to dip their "Fish McDippers" by using interactive martial arts maneuvers. In the United States, Tribal Chicago had McDonald's sponsor fantasy sports sections on ESPN.com and CBS SportsLine.com, supplying an automated "smack talker" that let fans e-mail putdowns to friends.
This global approach helped Tribal extend client engagements to other regions in 2004. Pepsi signed on with Tribal in Canada in addition to the United States. The agency also won Phillips' global branding campaign and six regional assignments. Freeman expects the proliferation of broadband connections will give interactive agencies a bigger canvas on which to work with video games and animation.
"The entertainment value of brands online is increasing and will increase more dramatically in the next year," he predicts.organic: customer experience
Like a teacher grading papers, Mark Kingdon regularly pores over essays. The CEO of San Francisco-based Organic requires all job applicants to write a composition detailing a great customer experience. "We very much believe you have to create a compelling experience" for brands online, he says. "We think it's important to be focused on big ideas that have real impact."
Organic, part of the Omnicom Group, has translated this into integrated ad campaigns. In a push for longtime client DaimlerChrysler, it created a branded video game on the Jeep Web site. The "Jeep 4 x4 Trail Rated Challenge" lets prospective customers navigate six different Jeep models through snow, rain and mud. "People are getting away from thinking about online ad campaigns or Web sites and are starting to think about more holistic digital experiences," Kingdon says.
Organic's annual revenue is estimated to have grown 21 percent to $52 million; its three top clients are increasing their total online spend more than 50 percent, the agency says. It is also branching into Hollywood, opening a Los Angeles office to service new client 20th Century Fox. Sources say Organic could help launch about 50 movies for Fox this year.
Now Kingdon plans to open up Organic's conversations on great user experiences to the wider world. In a few weeks, the agency will move its internal e-mail list—where employees share good and bad customer experiences—into a blog, with most posts accessible outside the agency. He wants to highlight Organic's thoughtful approach to interactive marketing. "We think differently," he says.
For its 10th anniversary this year, Agency.com has created a new, unified brand identity. It's meant to assure clients that Agency.com has fully integrated its itraffic and Exile on Seventh acquisitions to become a true full-service agency.
"Other people are talking about full service and integration, but if you look at their management structures, they're operating more as a holding company," says Don Scales, who took over from founder Chan Suh as CEO of the Omnicom Group-owned i-shop in July 2004. Agency increased revenue between 2003 and 2004 by an estimated 23 percent to $103 million.
The key to Agency's full-service approach was combining its itraffic Internet advertising arm, which it acquired in 1999, with its Agency.com Web design specialty. Thanks to itraffic, Agency boasts a strong search marketing practice that manages 700,000 keywords for clients. With search accounting for 40 percent of ad spending in 2004, it is becoming integral to online media plans. "We see a lot of competitors in the space playing catch-up," says Julie Roth, Agency's executive vp of corporate strategy.
Agency's purchase last June of interactive ad agency Exile on Seventh brought strong media-planning capabilities, a San Francisco outpost and blue-chip clients such as eBay.
Agency put its full-service credo to work for Discovery Networks, a client since 2000. It now handles Web development and interactive advertising for 14 Discovery brands, and even multimedia presentations for Discovery's sales force. The agency ran more than 40 ad campaigns for Discovery in 2004, including a push to highlight the flagship channel's "Croc Week." Itraffic designed a Web marketing campaign that included interstitials, branded browser skins, and in-page video ads. Agency created Flash interactive ad units that mimicked comic books. The ads generated a 24 percent click-through rate; 71 percent of users saw the entire seven-to 30-second animation.
"We've learned a lot from our successes and our failures," said Scales. "We're a much better firm for having gone through the highs and the lows."
Akqa: STOCKPILING TALENT
AKQA scored a coup in October when it hired Lars Bastholm away from Stockholm-based creative powerhouse Framfab, where he did award-winning work for Nike, to be its executive creative director in New York. Three weeks later, the shop, one of the few independents with a global presence, followed up with another key creative hire, Rei Inamoto of R/GA, who came aboard as global creative director. In January, it completed the hat trick, luring P.J. Pereira, winner of 13 Cyber Lions, to come to the i-shop as executive creative director, in its San Francisco office.
To AKQA, the hires confirm the shop as a talent magnet. "We think this is a talent business," says AKQA CEO Tom Bedecarre. "We wanted to go out and consolidate the best in the industry." The new hires capped off a big year for AKQA, which grew revenue an estimated 17 percent, to $42 million. It added more than a half dozen new clients, including Domino's Pizza. Its management ranks were bolstered with the addition of Lot 21 founder Kate Everett-Thorpe as president of interactive advertising.
In November, the agency helped launch Microsoft's Xbox game "Halo 2," with an online branding campaign that spanned 19 countries and 17 languages. AKQA built a Web site based on the game that gets players to intercept messages from the Covenant, an alien race invading earth. AKQA created a Covenant language, which was decoded after bloggers spread word of the site virally. Backed by an ad campaign on gamer sites, it recorded 1.3 million visitors in the campaign's first month.
Bedecarre believes AKQA now has the global scale and talent pool to continue pushing the creative envelope. "I'm eager to fast forward 12 months and see the results," he says. Brian Morrissey is senior reporter, interactive, for Adweek.