2 Veteran DDB Creatives Leaving to Launch New Boutique Shop Highdive

By Patrick Coffee 

Mark Gross and Chad Broude, both longtime veterans of DDB Chicago, recently announced their plans to leave that agency and launch their own boutique unit called Highdive. Wednesday will be their last day at DDB.

The operation, which will be based in downtown Chicago, has already received project-based assignments from several clients including Google-owned smart home company Nest, online tuxedo rental company Xedo and Jawzone, a forthcoming “social powered online destination for sports related conversation and debate.”

Gross has spent the majority of his career (22 years) with DDB Chicago and ran creative on some of the office’s biggest accounts including Capital One, Cars.com, Bud Light and Mars-Wrigley. He tells us that he’s probably best known for the late-’90s “Real Men of Genius” campaign for Bud.

Broude spent 8 years as a copywriter and creative director at the office, where he worked on many of the same accounts: State Farm, Skittles, Lifelock and Capital One. His work has won various awards, and he has played a key role in such recent campaigns as the State Farm relaunch, the Capital One series starring Charles Barkley and the Steven Tyler Skittles spot from last year’s Super Bowl.

“It’s always been a dream of ours to run our own creatively led shop … that’s about good creative and fewer layers,” Gross says in explaining the pair’s decision to break off from DDB. Broude adds, “As more work goes project-based and budgets get tighter, it’s more important that every dollar goes to good creative. Going independent is a better way to do that.” He says that a boutique operation like theirs is “more equipped to handle some of the project work.”

We’ve encountered variations on that line quite a bit in recent months: examples include Boulder’s Work in Progress, Miami’s Markham & Stein, New York’s Joan, San Francisco’s Partners in Crime, Erich & Kallman and many others that we should now apologize for not remembering.

Regarding this trend, Broude says, “You’re seeing the shift [to smaller independent agencies] more and more because there less of a barrier to entry. You don’t have to win the whole piece of business to get on a client’s agency roster.”

Gross thinks the Windy City could use some boutiques of its own: “Over the past few years the perception seems to be that the majority of great advertising is coming out of the East and West coasts. We plan on changing that by building an award-winning boutique right here in Chicago.”

The name Highdive was inspired by the concept of taking a great risk, either through executing a difficult physical feat or attempting to make great advertising. The agency does not yet have work ready to share publicly, but Gross tells us his operation’s first campaign will go live soon.

For the time being, Gross and Broude are Highdive’s only full-time employees, but like many other such operations they are drawing on a pool of freelance talent. Gross says that the idea is to choose the strategist and/or account person best fit to a given client, adding that this also helps the team develop a more diverse group of partners and to “Build the perfect team for the perfect assignment.”

“Advertising has always been a challenging industry with a lot of client turnover. That’s what scares people,” Gross says when asked about the most difficult things facing his new operation. “Obviously the financial part of taking a risk on any business and building it is a daunting task. Our goal is to build client relationships … growth is our biggest challenge.”

Eventually, Highdive seeks to turn some of these relationships into agency of record agreements. For now it will focus on project-based assignments for clients centered on ecommerce and various other online services.