NEW YORK In late 2004, AKQA's newly installed executive creative director Lars Bastholm found himself sitting in a cramped office facing a wall, toiling away in a bleak stretch of lower Manhattan "so shitty," he recalls, "it doesn't have a name."
AKQA recruited Bastholm from the highly regarded Danish agency Framfab to open its New York office, part of the San Francisco-based shop's ambitious plan to build a digital creative powerhouse that would capture major accounts.
In his first days on the job -- sitting there, facing that wall -- Bastholm wondered if he'd made the right choice. He didn't have to wait long to get the affirmation he needed.
Bastholm and another new hire at the time, global ecd Rei Inamoto, successfully crafted a pitch for Coca-Cola that led AKQA to be tapped, in spring 2005, as the company's first lead global digital agency. Fast- forward to the present, and the agency boasts a stable of accounts including not only Coca-Cola but AOL, Motorola and Smirnoff. And AKQA's digs are somewhat improved, its New York base housed in a spanking new Soho space that's home to 60 employees.
"We have a portfolio of brands now that most agencies would kill for," says Bastholm.
For AKQA, 2007 marked the year it truly arrived. The agency's early bet that it could build an independent, global, creatively driven digital agency serving some of the world's biggest brands had finally paid off. Revenue last year spiked 45 percent to $99 million, with the agency adding Motorola and boosting its work for longtime clients including Coca-Cola, Nike and Visa. The shop also expanded its global footprint with outposts in Amsterdam and Shanghai.
AKQA's staggering growth, consistently outstanding creative, innovation in emerging digital channels and determination to follow an independent course combine to make it AdweekMedia's Digital Agency of the Year.
AKQA, from its inception, has charted its own course. It launched in February 2001, in the teeth of the dot-com meltdown, when most Web players were busy handing out pink slips. Meanwhile, San Francisco integrated agency Citron Haligman Bedecarre and U.K. Web player AKQA New Media joined forces with U.S. Web shop Magnet Interactive and Asian Internet agency The AdInc to create AKQA (as in "All Known Questions Answered"), with the ambitious goal to build a global integrated marketing agency with digital at its core.
"Our timing just sucked," says Tom Bedecarre, AKQA's CEO.
Creating immersive experiences is the hallmark of AKQA. Take "The Happiness Factory," the agency's re-creation of Wieden + Kennedy's award-winning spot featuring a virtual world inside a Coke machine. AKQA, working with "Happiness Factory" animation house Psyop and gaming company Shift Control, created a virtual factory where users could "apply" for work. As part of the concept, AKQA pitched potential "employees" via ads on job-recruitment sites like Monster.com. Since the site is global, AKQA devised a made-up "Happiness Factory" language, translated into subtitles according to market. The result is a wondrous, whiz-bang experience, combining casual gaming with a hyper-colorful, imaginary world inside a vending machine.
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